2018 Ballot Measure 1: Alaska Salmon Habitat Initiative
This November, Alaskans will be asked to vote on Ballot Measure 1 titled, "An act providing for protection of wild salmon and fish and wildlife habitat." If passed the law would set a high bar for proposals like Pebble Mine wile allowing responsible development to advance.
All projects proposed to be developed in or near salmon habitat (such as a mine, road, or dam) require a fish habitat permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). The law requiring this permit has been on the books for nearly 60 years is not as effective as it should be. Threats to wild salmon faced by Alaska today, such as the size and scale of the proposed Pebble mine, were unimaginable at the time the state's constitution and fish habitat laws were drafted.
Today, we have intact runs of wild salmon because Alaska is a young state and unlike the Lower 48, we have not had time to mess it up. Meanwhile, over four hundred salmon populations have been drive to extinction along the United States' west coast alone. Now, we are at a critical juncture in Alaska's wild salmon future. We must learn from these mistakes a create strong laws and protective regulations that our salmon and their habitat deserve and demand.
Some of Alaska's most popular and world-renowned sportfishing destinations are threatened by projects that will have a large impact to fish habitat, such as the massive proposed Pebble mine in Bristol Bay.
Projects planned to be developed in or near salmon habitat require a fish habitat permit from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. The problem is, there is no criteria in the law for what constitutes "the proper protection of fish and game," there is no public notice required, and little opportunity for public involvement in permitting decisions. Because of this, it is very difficult for the ADF&G to deny a fish habitat permit, even for the most risky projects. For instance, under current law, it is highly likely the Agency would issue a permit for the proposed Pebble mine.
Updating Alaska's existing fish habitat permit law – which was passed more than 50 years ago – will provide new, clear, science-based guidelines for safely developing projects in or near salmon habitat. In January of 2017, the Alaska Board of Fisheries passed a resolution calling on the Legislature to update the law. During the 2017 Legislative session, Representative Stutes (R. Kodiak) introduced a bill (HB 199) to update the law, but it failed to pass and the 2018 Legislative Session is now closed. However, 49,500 Alaskans have petitioned the State to put an initiative on the November 2018 ballot so that updating the law is in the hands of Alaskan voters.
Among other minor changes, there are four significant updates to existing law included in the initiative.
Updates to Alaska's Law Would Include
1. Differentiates between projects with "major" and "minor" impacts.
Creates a two-tier permitting system to streamline permits for minor activities, while increasing scrutiny for projects such as Pebble that could cause major adverse impacts.
Responsible resource development projects that meet guidelines and scientific standards for protecting salmon habitat can proceed.
Avoids burdening everyday Alaskans with complicated permit applications by allowing Fish and Game to exempt activities, or to authorize 'general permits' for activities with insignificant impacts (e.g. ATV use, trails, docks, etc.)
2. Involves Alaskans in the process.
The Alaska Constitution requires that "fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use." If passed, the new law would require increased government transparency by mandating that ADF&G provide public notice for all permits issued, and a public comment period for projects that fall into the "major" category.
3. Increases certainty in the permit process.
Science-based standards guide how projects will be permitted. For example, projects must provide adequate water quality, temperature and flow, as well as fish passage and access to critical habitat.
This provides certainty for the public and a developer by setting clear expectations for what must be met to move forward with a project, while also safeguarding fish habitat.
4. Save the State of Alaska money.
The initiative decreases costs associated with anadromous fish habitat catalog nominations
Requires project developers, not the taxpayer, to pay for the costs associated with administering fish habitat permits
States in the Pacific Northwest spend billions each year trying to restore their wild salmon runs, which were decimated in large part due to unchecked development in salmon habitat. We recognize that Alaska needs mining and other development projects. However, we also know that our economy is heavily based on fishing, recreation, and tourism. If projects that cause lasting significant harm to our salmon rivers proceed, our state’s salmon populations will plummet. When salmon become scarce, we can expect what we’ve witnessed in the Lower 48 - more government mandates, costly restoration or mitigation efforts, and lost economic opportunity.
(of a fish, such as the salmon) migrating up rivers from the sea to spawn. For example: salmon, Dolly Varden, steelhead
TROUT UNLIMITED SUPPORTS Ballot measure 1
The mission of Trout Unlimited is to conserve, protect and restore coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Alaska's Bristol Bay has one of the best in the world, which is why we have worked for years to protect it from the proposed Pebble mine. We have long recognized that Alaska needs both salmon and development of our state's natural resources. But in order to sustain our salmon, we need to ensure development is done responsibly. The initiative, if passed, would set a high bar for mega-development projects like Pebble that will cause significant damage, while allowing other development that doesn't significantly impact our fisheries to advance.
Alaska's elected officials have had many opportunities to both fix this broken permitting system and stop the Pebble Mine, yet they haven’t. With Pebble Mine applying for major mining permits and advancing as quickly as they can in 2018; we can’t afford to wait any longer. The initiative puts Alaskans in the drivers' seat on defining what it means to develop responsibly in salmon habitat. Better salmon habitat laws are good for fish, good for business, good for fishing, and good for Alaska.
Trout Unlimited supports ballot measure 1 and urges hunters and anglers and Alaska residents to vote yes on prop. 1 during the Alaska General Election on Tuesday, November 6.
Paid for By Trout Unlimited Alaska, Anchorage, AK. Nelli Williams Director, approved this message. Top Three Donors are Dan Michels, Wasilla, AK; Alaska Fishing Unlimited, Port Alsworth, AK; and Josh Grieser, Anchorage, AK.
All photos by FlyOut Media