Murkowski's move has hurt Haines salmon habitat

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2008

In his Dec. 30 letter, Department of Natural Resources Deputy Commissioner Dick LeFebvre defended the department's record of protecting fish habitat since former Gov. Frank Murkowski moved both the Habitat Division and the Coastal Management Program to his agency. He made the claim "to date, nobody has been able to show me one single example of where either of these programs has failed the people of Alaska since they were moved" in 2003.

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Simply put, salmon habitat in Haines has not received the same level of protection as when the Habitat Division was part of Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Beginning in 2000, many Fish and Game biologists expressed concerns about damage to Chilkat River salmon habitat from repeated passes of 32-passenger commercial jet boats. In 2002, Fish and Game measured large wakes created by twin 150 horsepower engines that hit the shore with 10 times the force of smaller boats. As a result, Fish and Game asked Natural Resources to place restrictions on Chilkat jet boat tours to protect one of the most productive coho and sockeye streams in Southeast.

A March 2005 Fish and Game memo identified high-value spawning and rearing habitat that was being degraded by tour boat wakes, and requested Natural Resources place additional restrictions on the tour. One month later, based on erroneous conclusions drawn from a limited literature review, Natural Resources' habitat biologists recommended loosening restrictions.

In August, former Gov. Jay Hammond, five former commissioners, two commercial fishing organizations, a state senator and others petitioned LeFebvre, then acting director of The National Park Service, to restore the habitat protections recommended by Fish and Game. Natural Resources consulted with the Department of Law, which advised that because the tours occurred in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, Fish and Game retained its statutory authority to manage salmon habitat. Instead of relying on the expertise of Fish and Game field biologists, Murkowski's Fish and Game commissioner simply signed off on the relaxed permit.

As a result, high-value spawning and rearing habitat continues to be damaged because to date, no bureaucrat or appointee of Gov. Sarah Palin has had the courage to undo what was very likely a political decision.

I sincerely hope Natural Resources's planned "thorough review" of the Tulsequah proposal is of a higher caliber than Natural Resources's "limited literature review" that continues to cause damage to Chilkat salmon habitat. Realistically, the best hope for Taku River salmon would be to move the Habitat Division back to Fish and Game, and begin to repair the damage done to that agency by Murkowski's decision.

Nancy Berland

Conservation director, Lynn Canal Conservation


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