For the past 23 years, Cook Inletkeeper has worked hard for clean water and healthy habitat in Cook Inlet and around Alaska. When we worked alongside residents in Tyonek and Beluga to prevent a coal company from Texas from mining through 14 miles of salmon streams on the west side of Cook Inlet, we witnessed first-hand the complicated relationship between Native Corporations and Native Tribes. To say that relationships between Alaska Native Corporations, tribes, shareholders and tribal members are unique and complex is an understatement. But healthy relationships should be based on honesty and trust.
In a recent meeting of the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) in Bethel, representatives of the Calista Corporation made a presentation urging their shareholders to vote “no” on the Stand for Salmon Ballot Measure 1. Calista is a partner in the controversial Donlin Gold mine along the Kuskokwim River, arguably Alaska’s most important subsistence river. Calista even went so far as to co-host a reception with Donlin Gold during the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) to pump-up the Donlin mine and talk about Ballot Measure 1.
Not surprisingly, Calista opposes Ballot Measure 1. But disturbingly, Calista is resorting to gross distortions – bordering on outright lies – to fool their shareholders into voting against stronger salmon protections.
Check out the slide in Calista’s presentation (above). So, what are the untruths about Ballot Measure 1 here?
False Statement No. 1: No input. No public discussion.
Fact: Ballot Measure 1 is the result of a multi-year, transparent stakeholder engagement process. In 2014, the Governor appointed a team of 30 fisheries leaders from around the state, representing subsistence, commercial and sportfishing interests, to make recommendations on solving key fishing-related issues. Their number 1 recommendation was for the State of Alaska to implement a clear “Fish First Policy” for Alaska based on objective, scientific criteria rather than politics.
From 2016 – 2017, the Alaska Board of Fish deliberated on a proposal to update Alaska’s Fish Habitat Permitting law, the Anadromous Fish Act, also known as Title 16. The question they asked was whether or not Alaska’s Sustainable Salmon Policy, which as a policy is unenforceable, and which was championed by Bethel’s own Dr. White while he was on the Board of Fish, should be put into statute so it could actually be implemented. The Board of Fish held public hearings on the issue in Soldotna, Homer, Kodiak and Anchorage, and received written comments from around the state. They heard expert testimony from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Native Village of Eklutna, and many others. Ultimately, the Board of Fish unanimously concluded Alaska’s fish habitat law needed to be updated to adequately protect Alaska’s salmon. The Board of Fish letter to the Legislature can be found here.
From 2017-2018 the Alaska Legislature considered HB 199, the “Wild Salmon Legacy Act,” a bill that looked much like the current Stand for Salmon Ballot Measure 1. Over two years, HB 199 received numerous hearings and countless hours of public testimony in the House Fisheries Committee. Tribal Governments from around the state as well as thousands of Alaskans testified in support of the bill. Despite the huge groundswell of public support, the bill failed to move from committee due largely to heavy pressure from oil, gas and mining corporate interests.
Because the Legislature could not or would not act, over 40,000 Alaskans signed a petition in 2018 to put the salmon initiative on the ballot. The initiative was written by a team of Alaskan experts who represented tribes, conservation and fishing interests, and relied on the testimony and feedback heard during the Board of Fish and Legislative processes. So clearly, there was a lot of public input and discussion in the lead-up to Ballot Measure 1.
But perhaps the most disturbing thing about Calista’s misinformation here is that Ballot Measure 1 requires public notice and opportunity to comment on fish habitat permits. The current law does not. As a result, under the current law, Alaskans are left in the dark about permits that will impact or destroy fish habitat in their local waters. This is what happened with the fish habitat permits for the massive Donlin mine, and local tribes have objected strenuously to being silenced in that permitting process. See the Tribes’ letter here. Ballot Measure 1 makes this process more transparent by requiring ADF&G to tell Alaskans about fish habitat permits, and to require ADF&G to listen to local concerns.
False Statement No. 2: No science.
Fact: Ballot measure injects objective scientific standards into the fish habitat permitting system where none exist now. Under current law, the state need only find a project affords “proper protection” for fish habitat before issuing a permit, but “proper protection” is not defined. If you combine this vague standard with the fact current fish habitat permits do not get public notice and comment, you get political decisions made under corporate influence behind closed doors.
To correct this problem, Ballot Measure 1 adds the following scientific standards to the permitting process:
(1) water quality and water temperature necessary to support anadromous fish habitat;
(2) instream flows, the duration of flows, and natural and seasonal flow regimes;
3) safe, timely and efficient upstream and downstream passage of anadromous and native resident fish species to spawning, rearing, migration, and overwintering habitat;
(4) habitat-dependent connections between anadromous fish habitat including surfacegroundwater connections;
(5) stream, river and lake bank and bed stability;
(6) aquatic habitat diversity, productivity, stability and function;
(7) riparian areas that support adjacent fish and wildlife habitat;
False Statement No. 3: Stops or Increases Costs for fuel, sewage lagoons and flush system toilets.
Fact: Ballot Measure does not stop development. Instead, it embraces the same three-part system used by the federal wetlands permitting system, but applies it to fish streams. First, a project must work to avoid impacting salmon habitat. Next, if it cannot avoid fish habitat impacts, it must minimize them. Finally, if there will still be impacts to salmon habitat, the project must mitigate those impacts by improving or repairing habitat. While there may be some cost increases to certain activities to improve salmon habitat, it’s important to remember one thing: salmon have been wiped out across the globe under the same careless type of oversight we have now, and our salmon can feed us forever if we treat them properly.
Of course, Calista is not alone in spreading fear and misinformation to Native shareholders. A presentation by the ANCSA Regional Association earlier this year in Kodiak revealed similar misleading information.
So, Calista Corporation has joined Pebble, Exxon and other large oil, gas and mining companies in an $11 million ad blitz to scare and confuse Alaskans into voting against salmon habitat protection on Ballot Measure 1.
The only question now is: why is Calista misleading its shareholders?
Here are the many Native Tribes and groups supporting the Stand for Salmon Ballot Measure 1:
Bristol Bay Native Association
Native Village of Kwigillingok
Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission
Chickaloon Village Traditional Council
Nondalton Tribal Council
Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak
Curyung Tribal Council
Norton Bay Inter-Tribal Watershed Council
United Tribes of Bristol Bay
Hydaburg Cooperative Association
Organized Village of Kake
Tanana Chiefs Conference
Levelock Village Council
Organized Village of Kasaan
Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation
Loudon Tribal Council
Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council
Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council