Middle Creek in Upper Cook Inlet      Credit:   trustees.org

The proposed ballot initiative aimed at modernizing salmon habitat protections and permitting laws got the go ahead this week by a Superior Court judge after it was initially rejected last month by Lieutenant Governor Mallott.

The measure, pushed by the group Stand for Salmon, would update the laws for the first time in 60 years.  Representative Louise Stutes of Kodiak had this response –

“I was delighted. I was jumping for joy.”  

Stutes, who also chairs the House fisheries committee, introduced a similar measure last year as House Bill 199, the Wild Salmon Legacy Act. The Act presumes that all state waterways are anadromous, meaning for salmon to return from the ocean to spawn in home streams. The burden of proving a stream is not anadromous would fall to a developer.

Stutes says the pending voter initiative will fire up action by policy makers, notably, those on the senate resource committee who are adamantly opposed to any measure that might curtail oil and gas development -.

“They would probably just shelve it and it would not go anywhere. But now, it’s a very popular bill with the public, the initiative is very popular and highly supported. People in this state want to maintain clean, clear waters for a sustainable fishery, overwhelmingly so. 

 Now we have some leverage because it’s like ‘you don’t want to work with us, ok then you’re going to get the initiative and the public is not as accommodating as we might be on the House fisheries committee.”

Stutes says she believes policy makers can craft legislation that works for all Alaskans.

“My intent is not to put any resource out of business. We all live in this state. My intent is if you are going to develop a resource, you have to maintain clean, clear habitat areas for our salmon. It may require additional permitting but we can work together.”

Stutes says she is disappointed in a lack of follow through on ‘fish first’ policies the Walker administartion laid claim to four years ago, as demonstrated by tanking the salmon initiative and the threats posed to Southeast waters from upstream mine expansions in Canada.

“I believe with my soul that others are seeing this as saying one thing and doing another.”

The judge’s ruling could still be appealed.  Meanwhile, proponents must gather about 32,000 voter signatures to put the salmon protection measure before voters next November.

Stutes says it’s possible legislative action could pre-empt that need.

“I think that if we get something through the legislature that is agreeable, then the initiative won’t appear on the ballot.”

No matter what, Stutes says she is committed to making sure that Alaska’s salmon and watersheds are protected.

“This is our resource. And to have a select few say this is what we are going to do is unconscionable.”