Alaskans should vote yes on Ballot Measure 1, which would protect wild salmon habitat, in the General Election this Nov. 6. Why? Consider that Alaska’s salmon conservation is weaker today than it was when the 21st century got rolling. Since 2000, the Alaska Legislature cut the budget repeatedly for the Department of Environmental Conservation’s clean water program and the Department of Fish & Game’s Habitat Division. The Legislature, along with former Gov. Frank Murkowksi, also killed the Alaska Coastal Management Program, which provided for public and local community involvement in development projects and enforceable policies to sustain salmon. And just this year, three legislators introduced a bill that addressed many of the issues in Ballot Measure 1, but the Legislature did nothing and the effort died. When the Legislature fails to act on a pressing public interest then the people have the constitutional prerogative to put the issue on the ballot for the vote of the people. That’s why Ballot Measure 1 is legitimate, important and deserves our support.
We are witnessing big changes in our fresh watersheds as glaciers retreat, snowfields melt earlier than ever and rainfall patterns are less predictable. Scientists expect significant changes in the distribution and abundance of salmon in Alaska’s rivers. Ensuring clean water, protecting safe passage and conserving in streams and streamside habitat will be crucial in order to maintain abundant salmon runs. The fish come home to the rivers to spawn and raise the next generation. The rivers are where our actions can have the greatest benefit, especially since the state’s jurisdiction and responsibility is primarily in fresh water. That’s why Ballot Measure 1 rightly focuses on salmon watersheds.
Many of the salmon waters in the state are not even acknowledged by the State of Alaska. To be managed as salmon habitat a stream must be listed in the “Anadromous Waters Catalog.” The Department of Fish & Game states that the current catalog inventory “represents a fraction of the streams, rivers, and lakes actually used by anadromous species. Until these habitats are inventoried, they will not be protected under State of Alaska law,” and “Virtually all coastal water bodies in the state provide important habitat for anadromous fish … most have not been surveyed and are not included in the Catalog.” Ballot Measure 1 will ensure that all salmon streams are recognized and managed to sustain salmon. Measure 1 will also require Fish & Game approval of development projects, and if a developer damages a salmon stream they will restore that stream. These are the right practices and principles to follow.
If Ballot Measure 1 passes it will be implemented through a public process; everyone with an interest in the measure will be able to participate. If gaps or glitches become apparent then the Legislature has the ability, under the constitution, to amend the ballot measure. Passing Ballot Measure 1 and implementing it considerately will protect the salmon resources vital to salmon fishermen, seafood businesses, communities and Alaskans from many walks of life with little risk to other interests.
It’s high time we strengthen our commitment to salmon stewardship and Ballot Measure 1 gives us a solid way to do so. Here in Alaska, salmon touch nearly every family. Salmon are food, jobs, money, culture and tradition. Standing for salmon is standing for Alaskans. Voting yes on Ballot Measure 1 is our necessary commitment to sustain our salmon — Alaska’s first permanent fund — for our children’s children and beyond.
• A 36-year Juneau resident, John Sisk is a biologist, forester and conservationist who served on the Juneau Economic Development Council and as special assistant for natural resources for former Gov. Tony Knowles.