Last fall, a young man approached me as I was walking out of the airport. “Are you registered to vote?” he asked. I nodded. “Then, I’m sure you will sign our initiative to protect Alaska’s salmon.”
He opened a large folder containing a lengthy list of signatures. Normally, I would have politely declined and continued to my car, but I was familiar with the initiative and wanted to hear his pitch. Besides, who doesn’t want to protect our salmon resources?
I asked him if he was registered to vote in Alaska. He said no; he’d just moved here and hadn’t registered yet.
I read the preamble to the petition. It stated that Alaska was not protecting our valuable salmon when developing our natural resources. The initiative would direct the state legislature to create new regulations to define a “healthy” river, promote responsible development, ensure all streams receive salmon protection and give Alaskans a voice. I knew from experience that these broad goals would require a new governing body to implement them. I shook my head as I handed it back to the man. “Sorry. Alaska has a proven process to protect our natural resources, including salmon. We don’t need another,” I said.
The young man was trained not to argue and was obviously not from here. He asked if I would be interested in signing another petition on another matter. He was a professional at gathering signatures. Most signature gatherers today aren’t volunteers who live down the street in our neighborhoods. They aren’t the idealistic meadow muffins who come here to save Alaska. They aren’t engaged in the work of citizen democracy. Professional signature gatherers can be paid over $10 for each signature they get from voters. Their aim is to make money getting as many names on as many petitions they can.
Like the young man who accosted me, many paid signature-gatherers can shill for a couple different paid initiatives at a time, resulting in a bigger paycheck. This is all business for them. It’s also business for the deep environmental pockets backing many of these proposals.
The reality of much of the environmental lobby today is motivation consisting of part environmental movement and part environmental business. The reward of developing a motivated and generous donor base often overshadows the cause.
The environmental movement that had its beginning at the grassroot level has benefited us well, but the business of industrial environmentalism has swung the pendulum too far.
The phrase “Stand for Salmon” grabs. Who doesn’t want to protect our fisheries resources and stand for salmon? The upcoming initiative states there is a problem we need to react to. I have no idea what the problem is. Some recent salmon returns have been poor, but this is not new. We have a history of cyclical returns, some predictable and some not. This past years’ poor returns had nothing to do with our shoreside development activities. Development and habitat loss are the cause of poor salmon runs in California, Oregon and Washington. They are not the problem in Alaska. Salmon hatch and rear in the freshwater streams and go out to sea where they mature. What happens at sea is largely a mystery to biologists.
Alaska Statute Title 16.05.871 requires all projects that affect anadromous fish habitats to go through a permitting process. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game habitat division implements the statute by reviewing projects and working with developers. Their multi-tier process is to first avoid, then minimize and finally to mitigate potential impacts. The regional habitat division offices in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau regulate project impacts across our enormous state. In addition to permitting, the habitat division manages the huge task of mapping salmon habitats throughout the state. Developers use this valuable resource to avoid these critical habitats.
Initiative backers argue that laws protecting salmon are 60 years old and haven’t been changed. That may be true; our fisheries laws were developed shortly after statehood when the state took over fisheries management from the federal government. Those laws may be unchanged, but since statehood there have been many layers of additional federal and state laws that encompass multiple layers of reviews, protections and accountability on top of the original Title 16 laws.
The review process, including Title 16, is vigorous and it works. So, why create another layer of bureaucracy and grow government?
Alaska has faced four years of serious budget problems, and we’re not out of the red ink yet. This is not the time to grow government and create more regulatory processes.
We have existing procedures to protect our fisheries. We have a process in place that works and works well. We have world-class mines and oilfield development, and they have been allowed to develop while our world-class fisheries have flourished. We take care of our lands and resources. We don’t need Outside interests telling us how to manage our business.
Alaska is a resource state, and that means all our resources. One resource should not be developed at the expense of another resource nor should one resource preclude the development of another resource. Oil and gas, mining, fishing, tourism and timber: It’s a big sandbox — we can all get along.
I ask you to Stand for Alaska, support our economy and oppose the Salmon Initiative.