The deadline for a ballot initiative to revise Alaska’s salmon habitat permitting laws is approaching, with deep divides remaining even among fishermen.
The Stand for Salmon ballot initiative would ask voters to approve a sweeping rewrite of the state’s permitting laws for projects in anadromous streams, contained within Title 16 of the Alaska statutes. If passed, the ballot initiative would increase scrutiny on permits for development projects in salmon habitat and set certain criteria for stream health.
A parallel effort is going forward in the Legislature through House Bill 199, sponsored by Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak). Stutes said at a salmon habitat policy forum held Dec. 14 in Kenai that the bill will be on the “front burner” this session.
However, the supporters of Stand for Salmon aren’t staking their hopes on that.
“I’m all for the Legislature doing something if they’re going to do something, but if it’s going to get bogged down, the citizens have to do something to take care of it,” said Dave Atcheson, who gathered signatures for the initiative.
Atcheson said he sees the ballot initiative as a preventative measure to protect Alaska’s wild salmon runs from the degradation seen in anadromous streams in the Lower 48, such as Washington’s Columbia River. Most small projects, like private docks, won’t be affected, but the larger projects will have to either address the damage or change the project plans under the rewrite.
“That just makes common sense to me, being a fish guy,” Atcheson said. “If you can’t do your project without messing up a salmon stream, then you need to change your project.”