Good habitat regulations worth the effort

  • Saturday, December 10, 2016 11:51am
  • Opinion

A group of fishery stakeholders is proposing that the Board of Fisheries ask the Legislature to update the permitting process for projects that impact salmon habitat.

For a region reliant on both strong salmon returns and responsible resource development, we think an update to Title 16, the section of Alaska statute that outlines the responsibilities of Fish and Game, is worth the Legislature’s time. Currently, Alaska statute states that the commissioner of Fish and Game shall issue a permit unless the activity is determined to be insufficient for the protection of fish and game resources.

However, according to the diverse group of stakeholders, clarification is needed on what constitutes sufficient protection when it comes to salmon habitat.

To that end, a draft letter has been submitted to the fish board for its consideration. The draft, submitted to the board at its Lower Cook Inlet meeting, outlines three themes: improving the public notification and public comment process, the presumption of anadromous waters and the need for better defined enforceable standards.

“The board recognizes the broad responsibilities of the Legislature to promote economic development and the wise stewardship of resources for all Alaskans,” the draft letter states. “The board finds that clear delineation of Alaska’s unwavering promise to protect salmon and fisheries habitat establishes a consistent and predictable business environment that will help all individuals and corporations wishing to do business in Alaska.”

The portion of the draft we would like to emphasize here is the phrase “consistent and predictable” which is why a better definition of sufficient habitat protection is needed. There already are numerous state and federal agencies tasked with permitting and oversight of projects the region’s waters; we don’t want to see another set of regulations impeding responsible development.

But efforts in recent years to “streamline” permitting have had the potential effect of removing Alaskans from participation in the process — remember the controversy just a few years ago over House Bill 77 regarding use of state land?

Here on the Kenai Peninsula, we’ve also had our struggles with how to regulate activity on anadromous waters — one of the reasons for which is that their aren’t any guidelines in state statute on protecting salmon habitat. And even after passing the ordinance, it took two years — including a year’s worth of task force meetings — to make the legislation workable for borough residents.

Going by that experience, creating statewide guidelines for salmon habitat protection will be no easy task, and lawmakers certainly will have a lot on the docket come January, when they will again attempt to find solutions to the state’s $3 billion-plus deficit.

Crafting a set of reasonable habitat protection regulations will take some time and effort, but if the end result is protection for salmon habitat and consistent and predictable resource development regulation, it will have been worth it.

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