Alaska Supreme Court ruling bittersweet for Stand for Salmon supporters

Aug 8, 2018

Sockeye Salmon.
Credit Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Supporters of the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative walked away with a somewhat bittersweet victory Wednesday following an Alaska Supreme Court ruling. The court ruled that portions of the initiative are unconstitutional, but most of the proposition will appear on the ballot in November.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott challenged the initiative, arguing it made resource decisions via the ballot, which the Alaska Constitution prohibits.

The Supreme Court agreed that the initiative would unconstitutionally encroach on Alaska Department of Fish and Game decisions, but found that excising two problematic sections solved that problem.

The Alaska Supreme Court directed Mallott to make the retractions and place the initiative on the ballot.

The initiative reached the ballot with over 40,000 Alaskan signatures, many collected on the Kenai Peninsula by Cook Inletkeeper. Bob Shavelson is Inletkeeper’s director of advocacy.

“The part they took out relates to what they called substantial damage and substantial damage means permanent destruction of salmon habitat,” Shavelson explained. “The Walker administration and these big mining corporations argued for the deletion of that and other provisions.”

Shavelson thinks it’s unfortunate that the provision was dropped, but notes that he’s happy the initiative is moving forward.  

“Alaskans will have the ability to vote on whether we want to protect our salmon habitat with a series of sensible standards or whether we want to repeat the mistakes we’ve seen in the Lower 48,” he added.

SalmonState is an environmental group based in Homer, Anchorage and Juneau. Lindsey Bloom is a fisheries analyst with SalmonState. Bloom agrees with Shavelson and explains the initiative still includes provisions that give Alaskans the opportunity to comment on projects affecting salmon habitat.

“There’s a lot of meat on the bones in terms of what’s in there and that is going to move us forward into having a modern law that fits with and sort of aligns with the modern development we’re seeing in Alaska right now,” she said.

Bloom adds that the court’s ruling may also help garner more support from voters who were wary of the original proposition.  

The ruling comes just before Alaska Wild Salmon Day on Friday. Cook Inletkeeper plans to advocate for the ballot initiative with celebrations in both Soldotna and in Homer.