Bill to Offer Protection to Salmon Habitats Through Stricter Permitting Process

Valerie Brown speaks to audience at ComFish. Kayla Desroches/KMXT
Valerie Brown (lerft) and Melanie Brown speak to audience at ComFish. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

A bill introduced earlier this week could strengthen the legal protection for salmon habitats in Alaska through a reformation of the permitting process.

Representatives from the Stand for Salmon coalition, which is working toward better legal guardianship of natural resources, spoke at ComFish yesterday.

Salmon State Organizer Melanie Brown said title 16 in the Alaska Statuettes fails to offer comprehensive protection of salmon habitats, and the procedure behind getting a permit is too flexible.

“It’s a one size fits all process, whether you’re applying for a permit to create a small stream crossing or applying for a permit to develop the proposed Pebble Mine, and that’s ridiculous.”

Kodiak Representative Louise Stutes has been working on a bill to strengthen the permitting process. It’s a response to the public’s concerns as identified by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

On Monday, Stutes introduced bill HB199, called the Wild Salmon Legacy Act.

Stutes said one change the bill makes is to establish the presumption that all naturally occurring streams are anadromous until proven otherwise.

“And it’s going to put the ownership on the applicant, so the applicant is going to be required to substantiate the fact that it’s not an anadromous stream and bear the cost of doing so as opposed to the state bearing those costs.”

From there, an individual or company must apply for a fish habitat permit and the ADF & G commissioner determines whether that application gets a minor permit classification, for activity that may not affect a habitat in the long-term, or a major permit classification, for activity that will.

If the application gets a major permit classification, they must give public notice and yield to the conditions and mitigation plan as set by ADF & G.

Stutes said the current bill is a rough draft and while she expects backlash from the mining industry, she said the act is not meant to put the industry “out of business.”

“That is not our objective. Our objective is to make sure that our waters remain clean and safe and sustainable for our fisheries in allowing the mining to take place. That’s the bottom line. So, like I said, right now it’s quite restrictive, but there’ll be a little give and take, I’m sure.”

Stutes said the Special Committee on Fisheries, which she chairs, will hear the bill on April 11.

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