Recent filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission reveal the many corporations and trade groups opposed to the Stand for Salmon Initiative, which is the ballot measure sponsored by Alaskans to update our 60-year old fish habitat laws.
No one should be surprised our corporate “partners” oppose stronger safeguards for our salmon streams, because protecting salmon habitat costs money – money that could otherwise be spent on executive salaries or shareholder profits.
But as we continue to make the same habitat management mistakes that lead to the demise of wild salmon everywhere else in the world, we’re ignoring a central question:
Are we truly capable of protecting the things we love?
It’s indisputable Alaskans love salmon. Regardless of race and religion and politics and money, salmon unite us like no other resource. At the most basic level, salmon define who we are as Alaskans.
So, why can’t we learn from the mistakes of others, and finally do it right in Alaska? It’s not as if we don’t know better.
In his book “King of Fish,” Dave Montgomery laments not just the negligence that destroyed salmon runs from Europe to New England to the Pacific Northwest, but more importantly, the willful ignorance that accompanied it. In other words, we knew better yet we still dug gravel pits by the rivers, we still dumped sewage into spawning grounds, and we still mined water from the fish streams to feed our fields.
Here in Cook Inlet, the warning isn’t new. In 1996, biologists Ken Tarbox and Terry Bendock hit the nail on the head in a paper entitled “Can Alaska Balance Economic Growth with Fish Habitat Protection?”:
“Will Alaskans consciously chose to have salmon in their future, or will we find ourselves on the same downhill track as our neighbors to the south? The strong populations we have today will not survive without our efforts, our sacrifice, and our determination. Alaskans certainly agree that salmon are of great importance to our culture, our economic future, and our well-being, but the all-is-well illusion accepted by many political leaders and the general public has led to complacency. This myth must be abandoned if we chose to have salmon…. Alaska’s sparse populations and remoteness has [sic] sheltered us from many of the difficulties experienced by our neighbors to the south, yet upon closer examination, we continue to see similar outcomes from comparable actions. Our wild salmon populations are doomed to follow the same pattern of loss as those in the rest of the Pacific Northwest only if we apathetically and myopically continue to practice the permissive policies of the past.”
Fast forward to today. A group of Alaskans is pushing the Stand for Salmon Initiative because our permitting system is broken. We can point to many factors, but perhaps most importantly, some of the richest corporations on the planet have captured our agencies, and their independence and integrity have been corrupted.
A good example unfolded recently.
Alaska law allows everyday Alaskans to secure “instream flow reservations” to keep water in streams to protect fish and wildlife; the law also allows us to take water from the streams and put it to a beneficial use, such as for drinking water.
In December 2017, DNR Commissioner Andy Mack reversed a decision by his own staff to give Alaskans the right to reserve water in a stream on the west side of Cook Inlet to protect salmon. Why? Mack argued the Outside coal company which had threatened to pollute the salmon stream had packed it bags and left the state, and such “changed circumstances” required an entirely new decision.
The group pursuing the instream flow reservation – the Chuitna Citizens Coalition – filed its water rights application in 2009, and it took 9 years of delay and litigation to force DNR to obey the law. So why did Mack make such an illogical and legally-suspect decision after stringing Alaskans along for so many years? Because he bought into the arguments from the Alaska Miners Association and other corporate trade groups, who loathe the notion of Alaskans having rights to protect salmon.
The irony of course lies in the fact Outside corporations routinely take large volumes of water out of our salmon streams to build mines and cool engines, yet companies like Usibelli, Donlin and Pebble don’t want to see us pesky Alaskans keeping water in our streams to protect salmon.
In every other place where salmon once filled the rivers, they heard the same stories we’re hearing now.
The only question left for us today is: Are we capable of protecting the things we love? The fate of wild salmon in Alaska hangs on the answer.
If you think we can do it, if you think we have an obligation to everyone who comes after us, learn more about the Stand for Salmon Initiative and GET INVOLVED TODAY!