These Corporations Have Rigged the Salmon Protection System
By Bob Shavelson, Advocacy Director
I’ve been working on water quality and salmon habitat issues in Alaska for over 20 years. And over all this time, I’ve learned a few painful but obvious lessons.
First, our governments have stopped trying to protect our fish habitat. Yes, we hear all the talk about the “rigorous permitting system,” but we now know it’s called a permitting system for one simple reason: it’s designed to issue permits.
In fact, after reviewing hundreds and hundreds of permits over the past two decades, I have NEVER – let me repeat, NEVER – seen a state or federal agency deny a development permit in order to protect water quality or salmon habitat in Alaska.
Maybe all the proposed projects were perfectly designed, and had zero effect on our water or fish. That’s certainly one scenario.
But the more likely scenario is that our agencies simply bend under pressure from the corporations (and the politicians who take the corporate money) and look the other way.
Second, Alaskans have virtually no legal rights to protect habitat. Here’s a great example: a few years ago, I tried to stop Hilcorp from mining boulders from a salmon stream. But the Alaska Department of Fish & Game ruled I had no standing to challenge the permit. In other words, despite the fact Hilcorp was destroying salmon habitat – which is owned by all Alaskans collectively under Article VIII of the Alaska Constitution – I could not appeal the decision.
Finally, it’s clear who’s against protecting Alaska salmon habitat. And it’s the same people and groups who don’t want pesky Alaskans involved in decisions affecting our fish. Just check out the APOC report for the trade groups and corporations fighting the Stand for Salmon Initiative– it’s like a murderers row for wild salmon: Usibelli Coal, Pebble, Donlin Gold, BP, Conocophillips, Alaska Miners Association and the Alaska Oil & Gas Association. And the list goes on.
None of these groups has done anything to proactively protect salmon habitat. Sure, they toss some money at restoration after things are messed up, but they never work honestly and openly to protect our fisheries. Why? Because it’s cheaper and easier to plow through salmon habitat, and spending more money on proper safeguards is not in their corporate self-interest.
Today, we are at a turning point. Alaska is the last remaining salmon stronghold in the nation, and wild salmon define who we are as Alaskans. The future of Alaska’s salmon is up to us.