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Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Michael P. McConahy, Judge. Superior Court No. 4FA-11-01474 CI.
Michael C. Kramer, Borgeson & Kramer, P.C., Fairbanks, for Appellant.
Michael G. Mitchell, Sr. Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee State of Alaska.
John M. Starkey, Hobbs Straus Dean & Walker, Anchorage, for Appellee Ahtna Tene Nene'.
Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.
Regulations promulgated by the Alaska Board of Game establish two different systems of subsistence hunting for moose and caribou in Alaska's Copper Basin region: (1) community hunts for groups following a hunting pattern similar to the one traditionally practiced by members of the Ahtna Tene Nene' community; and (2) individual hunts. A private outdoors group, the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund, argues that this regulatory framework violates the equal access and equal protection clauses of the Alaska Constitution by establishing a preference for a certain user group. The Fund also argues that the regulations are not authorized by the governing statutes, that they conflict with other regulations, and that notice of important regulatory changes was not properly given to the public. But because we conclude that the Board's factual findings support a constitutionally valid distinction between patterns of subsistence use, and because the Board's regulations do not otherwise violate the law, we affirm the superior court's grant of summary judgment to the State, upholding the statute and the Board regulations against the Fund's legal challenge.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
The Copper Basin Community Hunt Area, located in Southcentral Alaska, includes Game Management Units 11 and 13 and a portion of Unit 12. After public hearings, the Board made extensive findings about the area in 2006, describing the customary and traditional subsistence use of moose and caribou. The Board recognized the existence of a community-based pattern of subsistence hunting, originating with the Ahtna Athabascan communities in the region and " later adopted by other Alaska residents." This community-based pattern, the Board found, was characterized by use of the entire caribou or moose, leaving only the antlers behind, and by events of " [w]idespread community-wide sharing" after the harvest.
In 2011 the Board made supplemental findings about a second subsistence hunting pattern in the Copper Basin. This pattern, according to the Board, was an individual use pattern that occurs " among households and families" but unlike the community-based pattern is not " linked to extensive networks of cooperation and sharing." The individual use pattern occurs mostly during the fall, and it centers upon areas accessible from the road system. Individual subsistence users, like community subsistence users, tend to return to their " well-known and long-established camping/hunting sites," but they tend to travel much farther to get there. The individual use pattern ...