Interior, USDA Update Rural Subsistence Rule in Alaska

New, more flexible rule better meets needs of Alaska’s rural communities 

Last edited 09/29/2021

      Date: October 30, 2015
        Contact: Jessica Kershaw,

WASHINGTON – Making good on a commitment from a robust review of the effectiveness of the Federal Subsistence Management Program in Alaska, the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture today updated regulations defining which parts of the state are rural or nonrural, thus determining where federal law provides a preference for subsistence take of fish and wildlife on federal public lands and waters in Alaska.  

“The Obama Administration is fully committed to protecting the subsistence rights of rural Alaskans. We are working hard to make the process both more transparent and more flexible so it best meets the needs of these communities,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor. “This update will enable the Federal Subsistence Board, with input from Subsistence Regional Advisory Councils, federally recognized tribes, and the general public, to use more flexible criteria in the rural determination process that more accurately reflect life in Alaska.” 

This regulation provides the Federal Subsistence Board more flexibility in making rural determinations by removing absolute numeric criteria and taking into account regional differences found throughout the state. Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar initiated a review in 2009 conducted with extensive comments from Alaskans, subsistence hunters and fishermen, tribes, and agencies. The review found that areas with strong rural characteristics adjacent to nonrural communities were denied a subsistence preference by being declared nonrural under the existing regulations.  

“This is an important step in realizing a subsistence priority that has been denied to deserving areas of the state, allowing rural Alaskans to put food on the table and practice cultural traditions dating back thousands of years,” said Tim Towarak, chair of the Federal Subsistence Board.

Along with the broader rural determination process rule, the Interior and Agriculture Departments also announced a direct final Nonrural List rule, which revises the list of nonrural areas in Alaska. Accordingly, the community of Saxman and the area of Prudhoe Bay will be removed from the nonrural list, thus reinstating a subsistence preference for this community and area. The following areas continue to be nonrural, but their boundaries will return to their pre-2007 borders: the Kenai area; the Wasilla/Palmer area; the Homer area and the Ketchikan area.

Under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA), the federal government asserted a priority for subsistence hunting and fishing for rural Alaskans on federal public lands in Alaska in 1991, and later public federal waters in 1997, after a 1989 State of Alaska Supreme Court decision invalidated the state’s subsistence preference for rural Alaskans. 

On October 23, 2009, Secretary Salazar announced the initiation of a Departmental review of the Federal Subsistence Management Program in Alaska. The review focused on whether the program met the purposes and subsistence provisions under ANILCA, and whether the program served rural subsistence users as envisioned when it began in the early 1990s.

On August 31, 2010, Secretary Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the findings of the review, which included several proposed administrative and regulatory reviews and revisions to strengthen the program and make it more responsive to rural Alaskans who rely on subsistence activities in their daily lives.

Public comments can be submitted on the direct final rule nonrural list until December 2, 2015. The rural determination process becomes effective on November 2, 2015. Comments may be submitted via one of the following methods:

  • Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: and search for FWS–R7–SM–2015–0156, which is the docket number for this rulemaking
  • By hard copy: U.S. mail or hand delivery to: USFWS, Office of Subsistence Management, 1011 East Tudor Road, MS 121, Attn: Theo Matuskowitz, Anchorage, AK 99503–6199

Additional information, including board meeting transcripts, is available for review on the Federal Subsistence Management Program’s website at

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