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Perspective from a twenty-something

Posted: August 25, 2012 - 11:08pm

There’s a big misunderstanding in politics. I’ve noticed it at Alaska State Legislature hearings and in certain political campaigns. I’ve heard it among friends in Southeast, the Northwest, and the Midwest. I hear it a lot in the media. The shared misconception is that conservationists value trees, birds, and wildlife more than humans — that conservation is working against the ability of humans to thrive. I couldn’t disagree more.

I was born into a hunting family in a small town. Our freezer was regularly filled with venison, elk, and pheasant. Our cupboards were stocked with preserved fruit, and our garden grew fresh greens spring, summer, and fall. People traded an elk quarter for lumber, or transportation to town for a couple fish or a dozen eggs from the coop. This wasn’t unique — it was fairly standard. People lived with a connection to the land. They took their food and household resources from the land at a sustainable scale, and thus felt obligated or inspired to conserve it for the long-term. Seemed to make sense.

One year Exxon moved into our region to develop oil shale; the economy boomed. Our town grew. Valleys that used to provide winter elk habitat became residential neighborhoods. Our trout stream was polluted. Then the oil company pulled out. The economy busted. No more fish. Not much elk. We moved.

I understand the reality that people depend on what the natural world provides. Healthy food, fresh water, clean air, shelter, and energy. Here in Alaska, we can have plenty of each to go around well into the future if we plan with community-focused long-term vision. Our fishing industry is a prime example. Fishing in Alaska is managed for the long-term, and according to Senator Lisa Murkowski, the state’s fishing industry presently provides more jobs annually than oil, mining, and timber combined, not to mention a valuable product that everyone needs: food.

Over the years, as I’ve grown up and become more and more conscious of what we’ve been doing to our world and for what reasons, I’ve heard time and again the appeal, “we have to employ foresight so that we might leave a healthy world for our children to inherit.” As a young Alaskan, I see very clearly the world I’m inheriting and the uncertainties and challenges facing both young and old. And it’s a hot mess.

Ballot Measure 2 — Restoring Alaska Coastal Management intends to keep a local voice at the land management table. Alaska took over management of its fisheries from the federal government in 1959. At that time, many salmon fisheries in Alaska were depressed. Over the course of the next half century, the State of Alaska used long-term management strategies and restored many of our fisheries to healthy levels. Now our fishing industry is managed in a way that’s perennial and sustainable and benefits locals, their families, and their communities.

I’ll let you guess who’s most interested in suppressing local voices when it comes to short sighted land management decisions that will affect Alaskan communities much the way my childhood home was. You would think that the people who depend on the land for their food, clean water, and livelihood should have a say in how their land is managed. Yet it seems big business disagrees, arguing that their boards and shareholders know what’s best for Alaskans. As of today, big business has pumped $1.5 million into a campaign to silence the voices of local communities by opposing Ballot Measure 2. With that much corporate money being thrown into a state ballot initiative, do you think their interests are long-sighted and benevolent? Do you think they represent the interests of young Alaskans? I don’t. I’m a young Alaskan. I’m local. I support Ballot Measure 2.

• Hafey grew up in a household of carpenters. He studied Political Science with an emphasis on Agriculture at Creighton University. He hunts and fishes and has lived in the bush in Alaska and Zambia. He lives in Juneau and works for SEACC. The views expressed in this letter are his own do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer or any group he’s associated with.

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