My Turn: Habitat preserves wild salmon runs

Posted: Sunday, February 09, 2003

I am extremely concerned about the governor's desire to disable the Habitat division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. To give habitat permitting to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) undermines the authority of Habitat, a division that is imperative to the health of our fish runs. I am confused as to how the governor thinks that this will "streamline the permitting process." If you look into it, you will find that the DNR is a backlogged department bogged down in permit applications dating back to the mid 1990s.

Fish in Alaska are invaluable, not only to the economy, but to the people. From commercial fishing to subsistence, sport fishing to tourism and processing, fish are a way of life for many Alaskans. Fishing is a stable and renewable resource; to jeopardize it is foolish. Yes, the state of the economy may be poor. However, we should be searching for long-term solutions, not short-term profit.

The biggest difference between plentiful Alaska salmon runs and the mostly extinct wild runs of the West Coast of the Lower 48 is habitat. Salmon need clean, cold water to survive and thrive. Throughout Oregon, California and Washington, once pristine waters that supported large runs have been warmed due to roading, logging in headwaters and riparian areas, and agricultural runoff. Dams have blocked passage and created a stagnant system of lakes in what used to be a free-flowing river. This has obliterated hundreds of miles of spawning and rearing habitat. As a result, commercial fishermen are a rarity, sport fishing is drastically decreased, and subsistence catch is incredibly low and reserved for Native Americans (as it should be). Don't be fooled into thinking this will never happen in Alaska. Unless we protect fish habitat, this can happen here as well. If we allow Gov. Murkowski to get away with cutting permitting in the Habitat program and doing other things on his agenda to "jump-start the economy," we could be looking at a similar situation. Let us learn the lessons of our Pacific Northwest neighbors. Habitat is what separates Alaska fish runs from the devastation that has occurred down south. Alaska is the only place left in the United States with a thriving wild fish run. We need to invest in the things that make our state unique, not exploit them.

The people working in the Habitat Division of the ADF&G deserve our total and complete support. These are the people who are working hard to preserve the fish runs that help to make Alaska what it is. These are the people who work to create a middle ground by working with foresters and others to decide which areas are critical to salmon surviving and thriving, and which areas can be developed with the least amount of harm. These people are on our side, working to preserve our lifestyle, our legacy and our fish.

The people of Alaska need to be part of a decision that can impact fish in Alaska for generations to come. If fish are important to you, please join me in making your voice be heard. Let's protect our way of life, our fish and the habitat that supports them. Alaska fish are too important to let Gov. Murkowski dismantle the Habitat section of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Krista Kissner of Juneau studied fisheries biology at the University of Idaho and worked in fisheries in Alaska and Oregon.

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