ANCHORAGE (AP) — Supporters of a proposed ballot measure aimed at protecting Alaska salmon habitat near development projects have submitted about 50,000 signatures to the Division of Elections.
Supporters of the “Yes for Salmon” say the measure will define habitat needed to support salmon runs, expand the list of Alaska waterways that support salmon, require the state to notify Alaskans when major projects could affect salmon runs, and create rules for development projects that affect salmon waters.
The nonprofit group Stand for Salmon submitted the signatures Tuesday in Anchorage, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported .
The initiative has faced opposition from industry groups and the state, but had a small win on Tuesday when the Bristol Bay Native Corp. revised its stance on the initiative from against to neutral.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott rejected the initiative in September, saying the state’s lawyers decided it would appropriate Alaska’s water resources for salmon habitat. Mallott’s ruling was overturned in Superior Court, leading the state to make an appeal of its own. Oral arguments in the state’s appeal are set for April.
“This is a promising moment for all Alaskans,” said Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, an initiative sponsor and director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Tens of thousands of Alaskans from Nome to Ketchikan, from every single legislative district, have said that we want the opportunity to reflect a true balance between responsible development and protection of salmon.”
The initiative would establish two tiers of development permits that could be issued by the Department of Fish and Game.
“Minor” habitat permits could be issued quickly and generally for projects deemed to have an insignificant impact on salmon waters.
“Major” permits for larger projects such as mines, dams and anything determined to potentially have a significant impact on salmon-bearing waters would require the project sponsor to prove the project would not damage salmon habitat.
Mitigation measures would be acceptable as long as they are implemented on the impacted stream or wetland area.
Opponents contend the initiative would hurt the state’s economy and make even the smallest projects — down to road repairs — difficult if not impossible to permit.
“Alaska already is in a serious recession with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates,” said Joey Merrick, member of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board of directors. “The last thing we need is more expensive, time consuming, and unnecessary policies that cost Alaskans their livelihoods.”