The Office of Subsistence Management is working on changing how Alaska communities are determined as rural or non-rural as it relates to subsistence harvest of fish and game.

Only communities classified as rural are allowed to harvest animals under federal subsistence rules on federal public lands such as the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Currently, to determine whether a community is rural, the Federal Subsistence Board looks at several factors, including population and economic development.

Under the proposed rule, regional advisory councils would determine their own criteria for rural and non-rural communities.

“Instead of using only population thresholds, rural characteristics, aggregation of communities and various information sources, such as looking at census data and things like that, to get the population threshold, and attempting to apply those standards statewide, the board would rely on the councils and the public to provide information to the board and make rural determinations on a regional level,” Palma Ingles, Department of the Interior anthropologist, told the Kodiak/Aleutians Subsistence Regional Advisory Council on Wednesday in Kodiak.

Ingles said the rule change is intended to make the process more flexible and give more control to the regional advisory councils because areas in the state are so different from each other.

The proposed rule would also eliminate the current 10-year review cycle and instead, rural communities would be evaluated as to whether they were still rural when proposals to review that status are submitted to the board.

In addition, instead of having a list of criteria that make a community rural, there would be a list of criteria that makes a community non-rural, although that list has not yet been drafted, which caused concern for several council members along with the proposal process for review of rural status.

“My concern is this is so ambiguous and so grey and there’s so much unknown. I don’t even know how we can possibly say we like (the proposed rule) or we don’t like it,” said council member Rebecca Skinner. “It may be good for Kodiak, it may not be good for Kodiak. I’m concerned that there’s very few tools that I can see in what’s in front of me if we have to argue (for Kodiak to be rural). I have no idea how to do that or if we’re going to be successful.”

Council members Tom Schwantes and Pat Holmes expressed concern about people elsewhere in Alaska repeatedly bringing forward proposals to designate Kodiak as non-rural.

“We want to have this regulation so that Soldotna can’t be petitioning every other year to eliminate Kodiak as a rural area, and I can see that as a real problem,” Schwantes said. “There’s other areas that don’t want us to be rural, they don’t want us to have those subsistence rights.”

“Proposals need to originate within an individual RAC, within an individual area,” Holmes said. “In this whole process over 15 or 20 years, we’re constantly having to fight folks from an entirely different part of the state that have no comprehension so I think that’s probably crystal clear on maintaining that as one of the really important evaluative restrictions.”

Ingles said that concern has repeatedly come up and although full guidelines have yet to be developed, “from my understanding, it will have to be cleared through the regional advisory councils that are dealing with the communities within that area, so we wouldn’t look at, say, Fairbanks making a decision for Kodiak. That is my understanding.”

Skinner also wanted to limit the frequency proposals can come forward, because she didn’t think it would be hard for someone who didn’t want Kodiak to be rural to find a Kodiak resident to put forward a proposal.

“At least under the 10-year review, it was every 10 years, what I don’t want to see is for this to come up every year or every two years,” Skinner said. “I think that would be contrary to what the community is trying to achieve.”

She added, “That’s not contemplated here at all. It seems as though the assumption is, ‘Oh of course nobody from the community would request a change of status,’ when I do not think that is the case.”

During a public meeting held on Tuesday about the proposed rule change, about 12 of the approximately 35 people in attendance spoke up, and none of them were opposed to the change, although some community members expressed similar reservations to the RAC members’.

The board is continuing to seek public comment as to whether the public agrees or disagrees with the proposed rule, and concerns about the next steps in the process can be included with public comments.

Comments can be submitted until April 1 at www.regulations.gov or via mail to USFWS, Office of Subsistence Management, 1011 East Tudor Road, MS 121, Attn: Theo Matuskowitz, Anchorage, AK, 99503-6199.

Julie Herrmann is a staff reporter at the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at 486-3227 ext. 627.

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