My Turn: Opinions should be supported by facts

Posted: Friday, February 07, 2003

Five former commissioners of ADF&G (Rue, Rosier, Collinsworth, Skoog and Brooks) lined up against the bold Murkowski proposal to move part of the Habitat Division from ADF&G to DNR, collectively stating in a recent Juneau Empire letter to the editor: "We fear that sacrificing competent vigilance by ADF&G over critical fish habitat will lead to an unnecessary and tragic loss for all Alaskans."

This inflammatory rhetoric, designed to placate the extreme environmentalists, could not be farther from the truth. It requires an assumption that the DNR would employ less than competent field biologists to do the necessary work.

As point of fact, the governor's plan will take politics out of the decision-making process, allowing conclusions to be based on sound science. He stakes his reputation on that.

Alaskans need and expect timely issuance of permits. We don't need unnecessary delays, or unending streams of requests for new information, a tool so successfully used by opponents to hinder and frustrate.

Here are some egregious examples of delayed projects and activities under the idiosyncratic guidance of the former commissioners of the Department of Fish and Game mentioned earlier:

A determined group in Juneau has been trying since 1996 to get a conditional use permit to build a golf course on Douglas Island. In 1998, after consulting with the Habitat Division, the Division of Governmental Coordination approved the project for permitting. However, Habitat's field biologists kept reopening the process by claiming they had "new information" that needed to be considered. Project proponents have spent more than $1 million and still don't have a conditional use permit. Unending demands for more studies have become a hallmark of the way this division does business.

The Lake Dorothy hydroelectric project, which will provide electricity needed throughout SE Alaska, is being held up over concerns about Eastern brook trout, a species introduced in the 1920s. There is no specific statute or regulation that says the Department of Fish and Game has to protect non-native species.

There is evidence that Habitat biologists have frequently called the press with information on field problems before they call other state agencies that have jurisdiction over the situation.

There is also evidence that Habitat biologists would regularly fax unrequested information on potential field problems and related issues to non-governmental organizations, thus creating difficulties for state agencies, which unnecessarily consume state resources.

The habitat division delivered a report to the Board of Forestry in 1996 alleging dozens of problems with the implementation of the Forest Resources and Practices Act. After more than a year of scientific review and investigation, which consumed vast amounts of state time and resources, virtually all of the allegations were proven to be unfounded.

When the Ketchikan Pulp Company's mill was shut down, costing hundreds of jobs in Southeast, employees of the Habitat division helped sponsor a celebration at a pizza parlor in Juneau.

This type of behavior by field biologists on the state payroll did not start overnight. In the early days of statehood, there was a search for the truth, unvarnished by hidden agendas. Alaskans were comfortable with the information being developed by field biologists that would help guide the extraction of our natural resources. We enjoyed a culture of candor.

In later years, when the Sierra Club began to exert its considerable influence on state politics, the scientific culture started to evolve. We moved from a culture of candor and openness in the permitting process to one of the hidden agenda. Projects were doomed because of the process, not because of honest science. This culture has been embedded in place so long now that an entire generation of Alaskans do not know the difference.

When you employ science to further your political agenda of locking up Alaska's natural resources, that is wrong. Gov. Murkowski's policies are a breath of fresh air to the renewal of hope and prosperity for this region we so dearly love and he should be encouraged to continue his courageous steps.

Folks, Messers. Rue, Rosier, Collinsworth, Skoog and Brooks are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

Let all of us be manumitted by this new opportunity the new administration is offering and allow us to find hope and prosperity once again. After all, isn't that why we supported statehood in the first place those many years ago?

Dave Fremming is the publisher of Alaskan Southeaster Magazine.

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