Murkowski Bill Aims to Protect Rural Subsistence Status from Federal Regulators

Senator Introduces Subsistence Access Management Act Prohibiting Unilateral Federal Decisions to Determine Subsistence Preferences

Senator Lisa Murkowski today announced the introduction of the Subsistence Access Management (SACSMAN) Act to undo the federal government’s decision that determined the Alaska Native village of Saxman (population: 410) was ‘urban’ under their guidelines, a judgment deemed ‘arbitrary and capricious’ by the Organized Village of Saxman, since it barred residents from legal subsistence practices on federal lands and waters.  

The SACSMAN Act would also require Congressional approval before the federal government unilaterally decides to change the status of any communities under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Kodiak was considered for a potential shift in status as recently as 2006.

When ANILCA was crafted, it allowed ‘rural’ residents the ability to practice customary and traditional subsistence activities on federal lands and waters and prohibited ‘urban’ residents from those activities.  The urban/rural decision-making process is done by the Federal Subsistence Board within the Department of Interior, which in May 2007 controversially deemed the Alaska Native community of Saxman to have become an ‘urban’ zone and no longer eligible for subsistence preferences.

“The people of the Organized Village of Saxman have been fighting this flawed decision for going on eight years now, and despite the facts and history being on their side the federal government has yet to reconsider the decision,” said Senator Murkowski.  “I believe that the SACSMAN Act will not only right this wrong, but will provide a safeguard so that future decisions do not become official until Congressional acts.”

The SACSMAN Act would require Congressional approval for any proposal to redesignate a community from rural to urban – and no change will be official or effective until Congress formally approves it.  The bill also overturns the controversial designation for Saxman, and provides federal subsistence regulators the authority to transition a community back to rural subsistence status without any outside involvement.