by Ryan Schryver, Campaign Director for Stand for Salmon
It’s no secret that an Alaska without salmon would be an Alaska with a hole in its heart. Unthinkable, actually, for anyone who’s connected to our fish. Yet we live in a time that demands we take a steely-eyed look at what lies ahead for our salmon.
The truth is, our salmon have never been more valuable than they are today. Where else can you go out your door and harvest a fish for dinner let alone enough to get through an entire winter, or make a living in a thriving salmon fishing industry worth $2 billion a year? Throughout the historic range of wild salmon – that is, in the Pacific Northwest and beyond – opportunities to live the salmon life, as we do in Alaska, were lost long ago.
Why would Alaska ever even toy with a similar fate? Too often, salmon and the people who depend on them pay the price when the effects of development on habitats, clean water and river systems aren’t fully considered.
The fact is, Alaska’s current salmon habitat protections were written for a different time: When commercial harvest happened on sailboats, America had yet to put a man on the moon, and Alaska’s population wasn’t even a third of what it is today.
Times have changed, development projects larger than anything our ancestors imagined are proposed and that is why the Alaska Board of Fisheries asked the Legislature to update the state salmon habitat laws in 2017. The board asked for clear, enforceable standards and ways to inform the public when development gets proposed in freshwater salmon habitat.
Alaska Rep. Louise Stutes (R), from Kodiak, introduced a bill seeking to do just that – guard salmon habitat from encroaching development – but Alaska’s do-nothing Legislature had the audacity to ignore it even as public pressure to protect salmon habitat was building more than ever before.
That Legislative inaction could have spelled a dead-end for Alaska salmon, but fortunately the Alaska Constitution allows for a workaround in the form of a citizens’ initiative. It’s as if signers of the Constitution knew there’d be a day when the people themselves would need to step up to defend Alaska’s most cherished resources.
So the Yes for Salmon citizen’s initiative was born, in a perfect example of government by the people, for the people – and for the future of Alaska’s salmon. More than 40,000 Alaskans from all across the state stepped up for the future of salmon by signing on to the Yes for Salmon initiative.
It’s important to remember that Alaska’s salmon have never been a sideline issue in the 49th state – we’re fighting for the very heart of Alaska. Alaska statehood was motivated, in large part, by a populist push to keep Outside interests from greedily controlling Alaska’s salmon fisheries. Among their preferred tools of destruction: fish traps built to indiscriminately rob creeks of the spawning salmon that healthy runs require for a sustainable future.
The Alaska Constitution is a fisherman’s friend. The very first action of the state’s constitutional convention, once they had basic housekeeping out of the way, outlawed the fish traps run by Outside interests. Article 8 outlines a forward-looking vision for natural resource sustainability. Yet when it came to the rules that govern the day-to-day management of salmon habitat across the state, well, it was written for a time when salmon didn’t face today’s challenges.
This is why Yes for Salmon commits to these key updates to bolster Alaska’s ability to defend salmon habitat from the kinds of development that have already ransacked salmon runs throughout most of their former range.
The key provisions of the Yes for Salmon citizen’s initiative appearing on the November ballot in Alaska:
•Ensure that current salmon habitat protection laws are truly consistent with the Alaska Constitution and its vision for natural resources conservation;
•Replace vague habitat policy with clear standards for development in salmon habitat;
•Ensure that vital rural infrastructure projects (roads, airports, pipelines and sewer and water facilities) can move forward;
•Balance economic development with salmon habitat protection – creating clear and fair rules that bring certainty and stability to major development projects in Alaska; and
•Ensure foreign mining corporations clean up their mess so that Alaskan taxpayers won’t be left holding the bill.
Now that the Yes for Salmon initiative is on the November ballot, the next step is up to you. You can stand for salmon and vote at your local polling place to make a better future for Alaska salmon, securing its legacy for future generations of Alaskans.
Ryan Schryver is the Campaign Director for Stand for Salmon.