Court clears Stand for Salmon ballot initiative for signature gathering
By MARY KAUFFMAN
October 12, 2017
The Superior Court for the State of Alaska ruled Monday in favor of "Stand for Salmon" and approved the printing of petition books for the Stand for Salmon Ballot Initiative, a measure that proposes updates to Alaska’s 60-year-old law governing development in salmon habitat. According to "Stand for Salmon", the proposed updates would bring certainty and stability to the permitting process and promote responsible resource development in a growing and changing Alaska. The application was submitted by three Alaskans with deep ties to the state’s fisheries – Mike Wood, Brian Kraft and Gayla Hoseth.
In September, Lieutenant Governor Mallott declined to certify the “Stand for Salmon” initiative after receiving a legal opinion that the initiative would limit the ability of the Alaska Legislature to allocate state assets. Trustees for Alaska took the decision to court and Monday Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner issued his ruling allowing the initiative process to proceed.
“We live in an owner state and Alaskans have the right to have their voices heard. This ballot measure is an important step back to the levels of protection for salmon that were intended by the authors of the Alaska constitution. These are needed updates to an outdated law that will balance responsible development with protecting Alaska’s wild salmon, one of the state’s most vital natural resources from a cultural, economic and recreational perspective,” said Gayla Hoseth, one of the initiative sponsors, from Dillingham.
Currently, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issues fish habitat permits for development activities in or near salmon streams based on a simple standard that calls for “... the proper protection of fish and game.” But without a clear definition of “proper protection,” many argue that the standard is increasingly open to wide interpretation, leading to a confusing and volatile permitting process.
The updates proposed in the Stand for Salmon Ballot Initiative would create clear standards for protection and increase transparency in government by requiring public notification for fish habitat permits. They would also give Alaskans a voice in the process by providing an opportunity for input on major projects. Additionally, the initiative proposes a two-track “major” and “minor” permitting process to guide responsible development.
Alaska’s population has more than tripled since the 60-year-old law was written. According to "Stand for Salmon", in a 2016 poll, 75 percent of Alaskans supported clarifying standards to protect the strong legacy of Alaska salmon for future generations.
“We need to have clear rules for projects proposed in sensitive salmon habitat to ensure they’re being done responsibly – as well as provide more certainty in the permitting process for the industry proposing the project. That’s exactly what this measure calls for. It works to ensure a prosperous economy for all Alaskans by bringing balance to our approach for permitting,” said Mike Wood, one of the initiative sponsors and a commercial fishermen who set nets in Upper Cook Inlet.
“The once abundant salmon stocks in Scotland and New England were decimated because of short-sighted decisions that resulted in massive habitat loss. I stand with the thousands of Alaskans determined not to let that happen in Alaska,” said Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), Co-Chair of the Alaska House Resources Committee.
“Alaska is synonymous with wild salmon, and that should never change. Keeping our abundant salmon stocks healthy requires diligence and adherence to the best practices to protect habitat. The Save our Salmon initiative does just that while still allowing the Alaska Department of Fish and Game the freedom to determine the specifics of how habitat protections will work and what they will look like,” said Rep. Josephson.
Rep. Josephson is the cosponsor of legislation to update Alaska’s fish habitat protection and permitting law, which has not been updated since statehood. The “Stand for Salmon” initiative would update the law in a similar fashion to House Bill 199.
While the state of Alaska may challenge this decision, Monday's ruling clears the way for the Stand for Salmon initiative sponsors to collect the required 32,000 signatures for the proposed measure to appear on the 2018 ballot.
When the “Stand for Salmon” initiative was denied by the Walker administration in September 2017, the group stated in a news release they were "deeply disappointed that Governor Walker’s administration had 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."
Quoting the September 2017 news release, "Thousands of Alaskans support this update. The decision to deny us our constitutional right as Alaskans to gather signatures and put this issue before voters is stunning, particularly from a governor who once promised to support fish first policies. Instead, Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallot have done next to nothing to uphold their promises to Alaskans who depend on salmon for jobs, culture, recreation and way of life. "
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