Federal Subsistence Board restores Saxman’s rural status

The Federal Subsistence Board has ended a decade-long struggle for the Southeast Alaska village of Saxman by restoring its rural designation.

As a formally recognized rural village, Saxman residents now regain subsistence hunting and fishing rights they lost in 2007 when the board declared the village “nonrural.”

Tribal leaders expressed relief, saying their practical survival and cultural survival depend on subsistence rights.

“The importance of being recognized as a rural community is acute for Saxman and is crucial to survival,” said Lee Wallace, Tribal President of the Organized Village of Saxman, in a release. “Subsistence is an essential cultural practice, a traditional worldview that is at the heart of surviving and thriving in Saxman.”

In 2013, the Village of Saxman, near Ketchikan, filed a lawsuit against the board, the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture over a 2007 board ruling that stripped the village of federal subsistence rights with a nonrural designation.

A key part of qualifying for federal subsistence rights means having a rural designation. In 2007, the Federal Subsistence Board ruled that Saxman and its largely-Tlingit inhabitants would incorporate into the Ketchikan urban area two miles north and lose rural status, and therefore not qualify for federal subsistence rights.

The Department of the Interior updated regulations in November 2015 defining which parts of Alaska are designated as rural. The new regulations restore Southeast Alaska’s village Saxman as rural, and establish a new process for making rural designations.

The Federal Subsistence Board voted unanimously to adopt the rule proposed by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture giving the board the authority to restore subsistence rights to Saxman under a new flexibility to make the numerous designations in Alaska that require rural or nonrural designation as a matter of policy.

• Contact Alaska Journal of Commerce reporter DJ Summers at daniel.summers@alaskajournal.com.

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