The controversial Stand For Salmon ballot initiative aiming for a place on the November 2018 state-wide ballot has cleared an important hurdle by collecting the necessary number of signatures to make it in front of voters.
The initiative would create a more stringent permitting process for development projects on salmon habitat in Alaska, most notably the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay.
Opponents, many of them in resource extraction industries, say it is bad for business.
Supporters say they are streamlining a 60-year-old law in an attempt to protect Alaska salmon.
The ballot initiative was borne out of House Bill 199, introduced a year ago but which is still in the Alaska House Special Committee on Fisheries. It includes legislation to assure protection of fish habitat critical to the state’s economy and cultural heritage by establishing fish, wildlife and anadromous fish habitat permits in ways that do not overly restrict development.
Bob Shavelson, with Cook Inletkeeper, said the failure of HB199 to gain traction points to a broken system.
“It doesn’t look like there’s any real desire to protect fish habitat when you look at the large corporations that oppose it,” he said. “It’s all the usual players, Pebble, Donlin, Usibelli, and also the large oil and gas corporations are throwing money into it.”
Shavelson said the ballot initiative deals mostly with modifying Title 16, the fish habitat protection statute.
He said the current system does not allow for public notice to Alaskans; decisions are made in a vacuum by bureaucrats, the public does not have access to the information that went into those decisions, and are not made aware of the decisions until after they are made and the project is ready to get underway. Shavelson and others point to the many places that once had huge salmon runs that are now either extinct or greatly diminished: Europe, the East Coast, the Pacific Northwest, and warn that it could happen here, too, without proper protection.
“Alaskans say ‘we’re unique, we’ve got a wonderful management system in place,’ but the fact is that we just don’t have the density and the pressure they have in other places where wild salmon have gone away. But we’re repeating the same mistakes that were made in those other places.”
He likened it to a death by a thousand cuts.
“Punch enough holes in the sponge and it just doesn’t work anymore.”
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.