Restore state credibility

Posted: Friday, February 07, 2003

All of us who care about, and jointly own, Alaska's fish and wildlife, are poorly served by the Murkowski administration's decision to weaken habitat protection. Whether we appreciate seeing wildlife, harvesting it for food, or making a living as commercial fishermen, hunting-fishing guides, and wilderness and wildlife tour operators, or as suppliers of goods and services to all of the above, all Alaskans have a huge stake in maintaining fish and wildlife habitat.

History shows that fish and wildlife generally lose out to other types of resource development, with the decline of salmon everywhere south of Alaska providing an obvious example. So far Alaska has been able to maintain much of its fish and wildlife abundance and diversity, although even here we've seen salmon runs disrupted by logging and urban development and fish and wildlife populations reduced by the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Most industry leaders in Alaska probably recognize that the Habitat Division assists them by identifying best practices and assuring the public that their projects will not harm habitat. It seems to me that reducing Habitat funding and moving permitting to DNR will increase the costs of economic development while reducing its credibility. This seems particularly ironic at a time when Alaska is trying to convince the rest of the country that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge can be developed in an environmentally responsible way.

The governor's anecdotes about alleged misdeeds by the Habitat Division don't justify turning it into an arm of DNR. We need a strong professional Habitat Division within ADF&G, separate from economic development advocates, to provide solid information and to assure the public that habitat issues are being addressed. I hope the Governor will reconsider his decision and restore the state's credibility in protecting fish and wildlife habitat.

Steve Behnke


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