Supreme Court alters Ballot Measure 1 language, but protects Alaskans’ voice in stronger salmon habitat protections
Ruling ensures Measure 1 constitutionality
ANCHORAGE -- The Alaska Supreme Court today asked the Lieutenant Governor to remove two sentences from Measure 1 and then put the measure on the November 6 ballot. While the loss of those provisions will remove important salmon protections, the Supreme Court rejected the state’s argument that the initiative was wholly unconstitutional and agreed that Alaskans should have a right to vote on the issue. The initiative will update an ineffective, outdated state law governing development in salmon habitat. If passed this fall, it will better protect salmon and promote responsible development in a state where the salmon fishing drives 30,000 Alaskan fishing jobs and generates $2 billion in economic activity annually.
"Today's court ruling affirms what over 40,000 Alaskans have asked for - the right to vote on this timely ballot initiative,” said Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, Measure 1 ballot sponsor, executive director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and a former biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Despite removing some of the stronger provisions in the measure, this update to our habitat law is a tremendous improvement over our current vague, ineffective law. Alaskans are ready to take matters into their own hands and vote yes to protect salmon for future generations."
The court asked that two lines be severed from the original ballot measure, to make it completely consistent with the Alaska Constitution. The severed lines would have called on Alaska Department of Fish and Game to automatically reject a permit if a development would “substantially damage” salmon habitat or if the project requires certain practices that would leave habitat permanently damaged. The court left intact the remaining provisions of the measure. Those include science-based habitat protection standards to guide responsible development in salmon habitat and public involvement in permitting processes in salmon habitat.
Measure 1 now heads to the voters having been thoroughly reviewed for over a year by the most respected legal minds in the state, including the Department of Law, state Superior Court and the Alaska Supreme Court.
“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court removed some of the protective standards in the initiative,” said Ryan Schryver, director of Stand for Salmon, which advocates for an update to salmon habitat law. “But this update will be a huge improvement over current law. And after such a long and thorough legal review, we are thrilled to put this initiative before Alaskan voters in November and give them a voice on an issue that is fundamental to their identities, their livelihoods and their culture.”
The law to be modernized by Measure 1 has grown ineffective and outdated since it was first passed at statehood almost 60 years ago. The intent of the law was to ensure sustainable salmon fisheries for future generations. Today, as foreign mining companies are ramping up operations in the state and salmon runs are declining, tens of thousands of residents statewide are seeking a solution to protect the habitat that not only plays a central role in their lives as Alaskans, but sustains one of the last thriving wild salmon runs in the world.
“Alaska Natives have been gifted salmon from our ancestors. The salmon returning to our rivers have sustained our people for thousands of years. It’s our job now to have our voices heard and protect our salmon for the future generations like our elders taught us,” said Gayla Hoseth, Second Chief of the Curyung Tribal Council and Measure 1 ballot sponsor.
The initiative was certified for a 2018 ballot in March with nearly 42,000 signatures verified from all 40 legislative districts, the first time in at least 15 years that a ballot initiative has surpassed the minimum signatures required in every district. If passed, the initiative will establish modern, science-based safety standards and common-sense accountability for large development projects. It takes special measures to protect community development projects, while protecting our state’s thriving salmon economy and way-of-life for generations to come.
Emily Tallman, Upword Creative