When Newspapers Ignore a Story

Chum Salmon, Admiralty Island, Alaska

Chum Salmon, Admiralty Island, Alaska

The “Stand for Salmon” initiative has met the signature requirements to appear on the November 6 general election ballot. You sure wouldn’t know it if you relied on the Anchorage Daily News, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner or the Mat-Su Frontiersman to find out. It’s kind of a big deal, and you have to wonder why the bigger papers in Alaska haven’t bothered to report it. Only the Juneau Empire carried the story.

The Stand for Salmon initiative would revise Alaska’s permitting process. The existing law is about 60 years old. The Board of Fisheries asked the Alaska Legislature to update the law back in January 2017. HB 199 was introduced in response. That bill was referred to the House Fisheries committee in March 2017. And there it has stayed. You’d think that nonrenewable resource extraction – cough Pebble Mine cough – was more important than protecting renewable sources like salmon.

The Alaska Constitution gives the voters the right to enact legislation on their own – at least on some matters – when the Alaska Legislature can’t or won’t.There are three parts to citizen legislation: (1) the initiative must be for a constitutionally permitted purpose; (2) the initiative’s sponsors have to get the required number of signatures on a petition for the initiative; and (3) the initiative must be approved by a majority of voters in an election.

The first step almost always involves the court system. The standards for a constitutionally permissible initiative are a bit vague, and the Alaska Supreme Court has been inconsistent, to put it politely, in its decisions about what is and is not allowable.  The Stand for Salmon Initiative was determined to be constitutional by the trial court. The State of Alaska appealed that decision to the Alaska Supreme Court. That appeal is now being briefed. Typically, the supreme court will not act until it’s clear the signature requirement has been met. Sometimes it will not act unless and until the voters approve the initiative. So for the first step, the Stand for Salmon initiative’s supporters are winning.

The second step is the signature requirement.On January 19, 2018, the initiative’s supporters submitted 50,000 signatures in support of the initiative. Inexplicably, the Division of Election’s website doesn’t report a decision, but the Juneau Empire reports that Alaska DOE confirms the signatures meet the test for geographic diversity and numbers, and have been approved.

The third step will happen between now and 8:00 PM November 6, as campaigning for and against the initiative develops before it goes to the voters. And we can be certain that the Pebble Mine crowd will be spending buckets of cash in an attempt to defeat the initiative. No doubt the initiative’s opponents will tell Big Lies, indulge in ad hominem attacks and every other fallacy they can dream up. But if you examine the initiative, it really shouldn’t be controversial. It really is mirrored in HB 199. There are four parts:

It’s not enough to protect salmon. We need to ensure their ecosystems remain healthy for all that depend on them. Therefore, the first key update clarifies the important habitat characteristics needed to support salmon runs, such as water quality, flow levels and fish passage.

Currently, less than half of salmon streams and rivers in Alaska are listed with the state as salmon habitat. The second update expands state listings to include every waterway, ensuring we’re not leaving important salmon waters unprotected. This update also reduces the state’s need to assess each river and stream, saving it millions of dollars.
The third update requires ADF&G to notify the public, giving Alaskans a voice when it comes to major projects that could impact our wild salmon. In a 2016 poll, 75 percent of Alaskans supported clearer rules that would protect the strong legacy of Alaska salmon for future generations.
The fourth update creates clear rules, brings stability and transparency to development projects and ensures continued long-term access to good-paying jobs for both the development and salmon industries while protecting the strong legacy of Alaska salmon for future generations.
There will be a lot of storm and fury, but, seriously, this initiative deserves your vote. Read the text. It’s the right thing to do.
Even if newspapers are ignoring the story.