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Next Wednesday and Thursday the Southcentral Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council (SASRAC) will meet via teleconference to discuss a proposed change in the designation of the Moose Pass community from nonrural to rural. The change in designation could potentially carry the privilege of subsistence use priority for Moose Pass residents over other users on federal public lands. 

Moose Pass has been considered nonrural since a 1991 federal designation aggregated the community with the city of Seward, but in 2017 the Federal Subsistence Board abandoned the practice of community aggregation when making such determinations. In 2018 Moose Pass resident Jeffrey Bryden submitted a proposal to change the community’s designation to rural. 

Office of Subsistence Management Anthropologist Robbin La Vine is a regional analyst working primarily in Southcentral and Southwest Alaska. She is scheduled to present the OSM’s analysis of Bryden’s proposal at next week’s meeting. The change, she said, will expand opportunities for Moose Pass residents to hunt and fish on federal lands closest to them. 

“Making that change is purely a federal designation,” La Vine said. “It’s a designation that impacts that arena that the board has authority over, and that’s hunting and fishing on federal public lands under federal regulations.”

The US Department of the Interior reserves subsistence priority on federal lands to only those communities it classifies as rural. The state of Alaska estimates that approximately 36.9 million pounds of wild food are harvested by subsistence users every year. Analysis of the proposed Moose Pass change at next week’s meeting will inform the advisory council’s recommendation to the Federal Subsistence Board, which is expected to make its official ruling at its upcoming January meeting. La Vine stressed that rural designation is just the first step in the process of claiming eligibility for subsistence priority. 

“If their status as rural is recognized, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” La Vine said. “They’re going to have to demonstrate that they participate in subsistence hunting and fishing, that they have a long term patten of customary and traditional use of wild foods.” 

University of Alaska Anchorage Cultural Anthropology Graduate Student Christine Brummer is working on a thesis tentatively titled Who is Rural Alaska? A Case Study of Moose Pass. Brummer’s preliminary conclusions support the notion that most Moose Pass Residents identify is rural. 

“A lot of them are saying it was basically because their access to certain resources and services were pretty limited,” she said, citing resident claims that they must travel to Seward, Soldotna or Anchorage for groceries, or to Seward, Cooper Landing or Sunrise for gas. 

Robbin La Vine added that a number of factors play into a community’s determination as rural or nonrural, but the criteria differ from region to region.

“Under the new policy you’ll see that there’s no assumption that what is rural in the far north is going to be the same as rural in the southeast,” she stated. “There’s going to be all sorts of unique characteristics from one region to the next, and we are looking to our representatives on the councils and the people who come and testify to help identify and recognize what those unique characteristics are.” 

Christine Brummer echoed the importance of community involvement. 

“It’s a very important component,” she said. “I really encourage people from the public to call in or show up at the meetings, whether it’s council meetings or the federal subsistence board meetings, because it’s a very public-driven process, and without their feedback it’s really hard for them to make decisions that are in the best interest for the public.”

“Because we are a public process, we are only as good as the amount of invested people that show up to participate,” La Vine added. “We really need the local people to come. We really need them to participate by providing public testimony. We need them to participate as members of the Regional Advisory Council because they’re our eyes, our ears, our knowledge. And that’s what guides our program.” 

The Southcentral Alaska Regional Advisory Council Meeting will convene at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9 and again at the same time the following day. Moose Pass residents are encouraged to participate via teleconference at 1-866-560-5984. The participant passcode is 12960066.