Court ruling puts fish habitat measure on statewide ballot

If passed, what would Prop 1 do?

Aug 15, 2018

Photo by USFWS

An Alaska Supreme Court decision this month will allow Alaskans to vote on how they want salmon habitat protected during development projects. So what would Prop 1 do? If passed, it will update rules that haven’t been revised since statehood.

The Court removed several sentences that would have protected salmon habitat in specific ways, but its ruling means that most of Prop 1 will appear on November’s ballot. The law would make important changes to state law protecting fish habitat:

Prop 1 gives Alaskans a voice

If passed, the law would require a public process before the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issues fish habitat permits. For the first time, Alaskans would be able to participate in state permitting decisions for projects that affect salmon habitat.

Photo courtesy ADFG, Kentaro Yasui.

Prop 1 protects all salmon habitat

If passed, the law would include all Alaska water bodies under Fish and Game’s permitting authority.

As Fish and Game puts it, “The Catalog and Atlas are important because they specify what streams, rivers and lakes are important to anadromous fish species and therefore afforded projection under AS 16.05.871. Water bodies that are not ‘specified’ within the Catalog and Atlas are not afforded that protection…”

Fish & Game estimates that fewer than half of Alaska’s salmon-bearing streams have been added to the catalog.

The only way to get a water body on the list is if a “qualified observer” confirms the presence of salmon.  (This is required even when the water is downstream from a spawning area and clearly important for migration.)

Proposition 1 would shift the burden of proof to permit applicants. In other words, if they claim a water body does not qualify for the protections outlined by law, they would need to show that it is not important to anadromous fish species like salmon.

Prop 1 establishes a permitting structure

Photo courtesy USFWS, Katrin Mueller.

If passed, the law would create a tiered permitting structure that would require more scrutiny based on the harm done to fish habitat. It would further establish the conditions required for salmon to live, give Fish and Game tools to enforce permit violations, and develop rules that establish the standards for protecting fish habitat.

Prop 1 sets fish habitat standards

If passed, the law would set fish habitat standards, or characteristics, that Fish and Game would apply when deciding whether to issue a permit. These standards include things Fish and Game already knows fish need: adequate amounts of clean water, bed and bank stability, a migration pathway through and around projects, etc. It would also allow Fish and Game to establish other criteria as necessary.

By adding these standards, the law would give Fish and Game adequate guidance for the first time by defining what it means to provide proper protection of fish habitat.

Prop 1 requires that mitigation happen where harm’s done

If passed, the law would require development projects that harm fish habitat to do mitigation work that repairs or helps to recover that same fish habitat or fishery.

Under current law, mitigation is often optional and, when required, often made as a cash payment to the state or as mitigation to an area hundreds of miles away.

Prop 1 would make sure that development projects take measures to prevent and reduce harm to fish habitat and, second, require that projects that do actual harm to fish habitat must do mitigation work that benefits that same habitat and fish run.

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