What is Ballot Measure 1: a salmon habitat protector, or job killer?

MGN PHOTO: Salmon underwater
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Ballot Measure 1 would be the first wholesale rewrite of Alaska's salmon habitat rules since statehood.

A "yes" vote would increase regulations regarding protecting salmon habitats, and a "no" vote will keep things as they are now.

Supporters say it's needed. Opponents say Alaska has done fine with existing rules.

Earl Krygier, a biologist supporting the ballot measure, says it won't stop development — but it would require developers to be more careful. He cited the Greens Creek Mine near Juneau as an example of a successful project that took habitat into consideration.

Opponents say the measure is a job killer because it says that all bodies of water have salmon unless it can be shown they don't, and if they're a salmon streams, it is habitat that needs to be protected.

Salmon have two habitats — the freshwater streams where they spend their first years and return to spawn and die, and the saltwater oceans where they mature. Krygier says that with the current warm oceans making life difficult for salmon in the middle of their lives, they need good freshwater habitat to survive their beginnings and ends.

Even if the current system isn’t the best, opponents warn Ballot Measure 1 could stop new projects, like the Donlin gold mine in the impoverished Kuskokwim River region hundreds of miles from Anchorage, or old projects with expiring permits like the trans-Alaska pipeline.

A question many supporters have is why opponents of the initiative didn’t mount a more effective campaign in the previous Legislature.

If House Bill 199 would have passed, it probably would have precluded the ballot measure and contained some compromises.

Instead, HB 199, Alaska’s “Wild Salmon Legacy Act,” died in the House Fisheries Committee, after its chair, Rep. Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, gave up trying to pass the bill, which she had sponsored.

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