Technically, Saxman is not rural. At least, that’s according to the federal government after the 2000 census. Following that determination, though, the feds put a hold on that decision until an official review of the entire process.

Now, that review is happening. And both the Federal Subsistence Board and the Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council are meeting in Ketchikan later this month to hear the public’s opinion.

“The real issue for Saxman is, one of the factors that the Board looks at in counting is called aggregation of communities,” says Carl Johnson, council coordination divison chief at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Subsistence Management.

He says the major factor in determining Saxman’s status as rural or not has to do with how closely related it is to Ketchikan.

“They’re grouping communities together, and the different characteristics that they consider when grouping communities together,” Johnson says. “Issues like a shared economy, shared educational facilities and things like that.”

That concept of community aggregation is part of what the federal government calls the subsistence review process.

It matters because Saxman is still for all intents and purposes a rural community in the eyes of the federal government. While the State of Alaska does not make a distinction between subsistence and personal use fishing or hunting on federal lands or waters, the national government does; that comes into play when there is a scarcity of wildlife. If the federal government puts a stop to say, salmon fishing for personal use in a given year, communities like Saxman are still allowed to fish due to their rural status.

The current process for determining what is rural or not has never actually been implemented in Alaska; the controversy over the census in 2000 effectively put a stop to the process.

Wayne Owen, Director of Wildlife, Fisheries, Ecology, Watershed, and Subsistence at the U.S. Forest Service, says that in the case of Saxman, it’s not necessarily a question of how the ruling would affect its economics, it’s a cultural concern.

“The demographics of Saxman are very different than the demographics of Ketchikan,” Owen says. “Saxman has a different cultural history than that of Ketchikan. Let’s have a discussion about that.”

The Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council meets September 24th through the 26th at the Ted Ferry Civic Center in Ketchikan. The group will come up with recommendations to present to the Federal Subsistence Board, which will accept public testimony on the night of the 24th.

The Board meets again in Anchorage in mid-April, and will consider the official recommendations for the Regional Advisory Council.