Salmon is the topic of a citizen-led measure on Alaska’s Nov. 6th statewide election ballot. The group supporting the measure, Stand for Salmon, says state regulations to protect fish habitat are inadequate. An opposition group, Stand for Alaska, though, argues the measure would hurt more than it would help.
Representatives from both sides of the issue debated pros and cons during KRBD’s on-air forum Wednesday. Here is a summary of that discussion:
Lindsey Bloom from Stand for Salmon is a second-generation fisherman living in Juneau. She’s also studied sustainable development and fish habitat. She said Ballot Measure 1 is a badly needed update to the state’s current regulations.
“Under the current law, the commissioner of Fish and Game is directed to issue a fish habitat permit as long as the project proponent can provide for the proper protection of fish and game,” she said. “That’s the term used: ‘The proper protection of fish and game.’ The current law doesn’t have a definition of what proper protection means. I see that as being a very politically driven process. And it doesn’t provide certainty or accountability in the system.”
Jaeleen Kookesh is general counsel, vice president and corporate secretary for Sealaska Corp., based in Juneau, and is co-chair for Stand for Alaska. She said the initiative was developed without input from important stakeholders, and she’s concerned the proposed regulations would increase costs and cause significant delays for all kinds of development.
“Like mines, oil and gas project, timber projects. So, yes. Those large projects will be delayed and impacted. But, worse than that are community projects, infrastructure projects in our rural communities will be impacted,” she said. “Our rural communities, our small communities in Alaska, can’t afford those delays and extra costs.”
One of the key points in the initiative is the assumption that all streams, unless they’ve been proven otherwise, are salmon streams – or at least anadromous-fish streams.
Bloom said that used to be the practice until the state created the current system. Now, she said, the Department of Fish and Game doesn’t have power to issue permits unless the sportfish division has identified a stream as anadromous. But, there are many streams in Alaska that have never been surveyed.
“The department estimates that right now, 2018, maybe 50 percent of our water bodies that have salmon in them are in the catalogue,” she said. “The catalogue is the trigger for this Title 16 fish habitat permit. So, if a water body isn’t in the catalogue it doesn’t matter if it has fish in it or not, you don’t have to get a permit.”
Kookesh said that presumption is a huge concern, because it will automatically trigger a permit requirement.
“And this doesn’t just apply to developers and large companies. This applies to any landowner. I’m concerned as a citizen who owns property in a rainforest. There’s lots of water running through my property,” she said. “And I’m also concerned as part of management of an Alaska Native corporation. Our Alaska Native corporations in Alaska own 44 million acres of private property. Our economic development projects and initiatives will be impacted by this.”
Another point in the initiative that Kookesh said is problematic is the requirement that any mitigation happen on the stream that has been affected by development. So: if a project disrupts a salmon stream, the developer must repair or make amends to that stream when the project is complete.
Bloom said mitigation on site can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Streams can be diverted but still maintained, for example. And, she said, science shows mitigation at another site doesn’t protect salmon in the long run.
So, yes or no? Alaska voters have a big decision on Nov. 6th.
Below is a recording of the entire one-hour discussion. And here is a PDF of the ballot measure language: Salmon Ballot Measure