Citing the City of Saxman’s decade-long fight to regain its residents’ subsistence rights, Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a measure on Monday that would require congressional approval before a community’s rural designation could be removed in the future.

Saxman lost its rural designation during a 2007 Federal Subsistence Board review. The board decided that Saxman’s connection to the larger community of Ketchikan meant that Saxman can’t be considered rural.

Matthew Felling is a spokesman for Murkowski.

“This has been a battle that has been fought in court, this has been a battle that has been argued up and down, and this is something that, clearly, the typical process was failing this community and putting other communities all around Alaska at risk,” he said.

Following protests and eventually a lawsuit filed by the Organized Village of Saxman, the Federal Subsistence Board has proposed a new rule that would allow more flexibility when determining rural designations, and has conducted public hearings on that rule. Numerous Southeast Alaska residents commented during those hearings in support of Saxman’s claim to subsistence rights.

Felling said that while the issue is moving in a positive direction, the review has taken too long. He said the proposed bill is meant to help other communities in the future from going through a similar process.

“Bottom line, a policy that permits a village of 410 people to be classified as urban is flawed on its face, or it’s being applied poorly,” he said. “The definition of rural is not a job for a bean counter. It’s a job for those responsible and understanding, who realize the cultural and traditional values that define a people and connect them to their roots.”

Felling stressed that the bill doesn’t remove the Federal Subsistence Board’s authority.

“The Federal Subsistence Board would go on as they always do,” he said. “If they made a decision to move any community from rural to urban, it would require a congressional approval. If they wanted to dip something backwards from urban back to rural, that would require no action whatsoever, no approval from Congress.”

The Subsistence Access Management Act has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Murkowski chairs.