Salmon initiative supporters disappointed in rejected ballot application
September 15th 9:53 am | Carey Restino
The state of Alaska this week rejected an application for a ballot initiative that proposed updating Alaska's law governing development in salmon habitat. Dubbed the "Stand for Salmon" ballot initiative, proponents say the proposed changes would have promoted responsible resource development, while creating clear standards for protection of Alaska's wild salmon. The regulation changes would also have created more opportunity for public comment on salmon-related development issues.
"We are deeply disappointed that Governor Walker's administration has chosen to play politics and cater to the short-term interests of outside, multinational mining companies instead of Alaskans and the salmon we depend on," the organization said in a release Monday.
The initiative petition filed in May was sponsored by two veterans of the Pebble mine fight and a third who opposed a hydroelectric dam on the Susitna River: Gayla Hoseth, a tribal chief in Dillingham; Bryan Kraft, a Bristol Bay fishing lodge owner; and Mike Wood, a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman who led efforts against the Susitna project.
The initiative would have create a two-tier permitting system for activity in spawning fish habitat, with "minor" or "major" permits depending on the potential impact.
It would also have classified as spawning fish habitat all tributaries and upstream reaches of water bodies already defined as important spawning fish habitat — unless the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, at the request of a permit applicant, found otherwise.
The measure was almost a mirror opposite of House Bill 77, a pro-development measure pushed by former Gov. Sean Parnell in 2013. That bill came close to passage, but was ultimately killed in the Alaska Senate the following year.
The initiative would have added public notice and comment requirements that currently do not exist under state law, and it would allow the Fish and Game to bill permit applicants for administrative costs.
The initiative sponsors criticized the governor for denying Alaskans the constitutional right to gather signatures and put the issue before voters, and said lobbying and pressure from corporate representatives and lawyers manipulated the public process.
The group said it would continue to evaluate its options moving forward.
"We, and thousands of Alaskans who are deeply invested in the future of our state, remain 100 percent committed to modernizing our outdated salmon habitat law," the group said in a release.
The Alaska Dispatch News contributed to this story.