Ballot Measure 1 is the citizens’ ballot initiative more commonly known as Stand for Salmon, which seeks to update Alaska’s habitat laws for protecting salmon waterways. Voters in Alaska will have the opportunity in November to vote on the issue. The State of Alaska is challenging the constitutionality of the ballot initiative, claiming it prioritizes one resource (fish) over another and the Alaska Supreme Court is supposed to issue their ruling on that challenge by early September. Currently, the initiative will appear on the ballot as Ballot Measure 1 unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise.
Below is a summary of the current laws and what the initiative would do, if passed. It’s long, but it is important to educate yourself on the initiative and fully understand how it could impact your area and livelihood.
The current laws that protect salmon habitat state:
- That the commissioner shall specify various rivers, lakes, and streams or parts of them that are important for the spawning, rearing, or migration of anadromous fish. (Note: anadromous fish are fish that live part of their lives in freshwater, migrate to the ocean, and then return to freshwater – like salmon, ciscoes, or lamprey, to name a few).
- If a person or governmental agency desires to construct a hydraulic project, or use, divert, obstruct, pollute, or change the natural flow or bed of a specified river, lake, or stream, or to use wheeled, tracked, or excavating equipment or log-dragging equipment in the bed of a specified river, lake, or stream, the person or governmental agency shall notify the commissioner of this intention before beginning of the construction or use.
- The person or governmental agency is required to submit to the commissioner full plans and specifications of the proposed construction or work, complete plans and specifications for the proper protection of fish and game in connection with the construction or work, or in connection with the use, and the approximate date the construction, work, or use will begin.
- After reviewing the full plans and specifications, the commissioner shall approve the proposed construction, work, or use in writing unless the commissioner finds the plans and specifications insufficient for the proper protection of fish and game.
Ballot Measure 1 (aka Stand for Salmon) seeks to update the existing law in four ways:
- Creates a major and minor permit track. Projects, activities, or uses that ADFG determines would significantly and adversely affect anadromous habitat, would then be routed through a major permit track. This major permit track includes a more rigorous review of the permit application and includes a public process (see below #2) and requires ADFG to draft a Fish Habitat Impact Assessment to analyze potential adverse effects and also consider potential alternatives and options to mitigate any adverse effects. Projects, activities, or uses that ADFG determines would not significantly and adversely affect anadromous habitat would go through a streamlined minor permit process – which is essentially the same process all projects go through today.
- Create a public process. When someone submits their plans (e.g. a permit application) to ADFG for review (as stated above) and ADFG determines the project qualifies for the major permit track, ADFG will be required to notify the public that an application has been submitted and the public will then have 30 days to comment on the proposed project after ADFG publishes their Fish Habitat Impact Assessment. Currently, there is no way for the public to know when a permit application has been submitted or to provide comments on permit applications.
- Assumes all waterways in Alaska are capable of producing or supporting anadromous species, like salmon. Currently, ADFG attempts to document all waterways in Alaska that support salmon and other anadromous species in what is called the Anadromous Waters Catalog. If someone wants to conduct an activity as mentioned above in a waterway listed in this catalog, then they need to apply for a permit from ADFG. If that waterway is not listed in the catalog, then they don’t need a permit at all. This can be a problem when ADFG has not done surveys in all areas of the state to document where salmon spawn and rear and documenting where juvenile salmon are rearing can be especially challenging if they are using multiple systems and may not be in the same place as the researchers at the same time. By assuming a waterway can support or produce salmon, then all activities that could damage habitat would need a permit, regardless of the listing in the catalog. The onus would be on the person or company applying for a permit to prove the waterway is not anadromous, or they could accept the assumption and proceed through the permitting process anyway. The “assumption of anadromy” ensures that waterways that support or produce salmon but are not currently listed in the catalog get habitat protections.
- Includes language regarding habitat qualities that salmon need to thrive, such as water quality, water temperature, stream flow, bank stability, and more. By including this language for protection standards, ADFG will be mandated to ensure protection of these habitat characteristics when issuing permits. Currently, none of these standards exist in law.
Lastly, the initiative outlines several conditions when the Commissioner shall find that a permit may not be granted. There are no stipulations in the current law that clearly define when a permit should be declined by ADFG. The initiative states that a permit may not be granted for an activity that will:
- Cause substantial damage to anadromous fish habitat (that cannot be mitigated/avoided).
- Fail to ensure proper protection of fish and wildlife.
- Store or dispose of mining waste (including waste rock and tailings) in a way that could result in the release or discharge of sulfuric acid, other acids, dissolved metals, toxic pollutants or other compounds that will adversely affect, directly or indirectly, anadromous fish habitat, fish, or wildlife species that depend on anadromous fish habitat (e.g. bears, eagles that use and feed from these waterways).
- Replace or supplement, in full or in part, a wild fish population with a hatchery-dependent fish population.
- Withdraw water from anadromous fish habitat that will adversely affect fish habitat, fish, or wildlife species.
- Dewater or relocate a stream or river if the relocation does not provide for fish passage or will adversely affect anadromous fish habitat, fish, or wildlife.
A permit may still be issued if an activity does any of the above if the applicant can prove that they can offset or mitigate the adverse effects and ADFG can require the applicant use the best available, scientifically supported techniques to offset or mitigate any of the above adverse effects. However, the applicant may not offset any of the activity’s adverse effects by restoring, establishing, enhancing, or preserving another water body (e.g. Donlin would destroy two salmon streams in the Kuskokwim drainage, but under current law, can restore and preserve a salmon stream in Cook Inlet to offset their impacts – a proposal they have offered under their current plan. This would not be allowed if the initiative passes).
The Tanana Chiefs Full Board of Directors unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative at the March 2018 convention.