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Taku needs protection in entirely new way

Posted: Monday, March 02, 2009

As a second-generation Taku Inlet commercial fisherman, I'm disappointed to hear the Department of Natural Resources' Division of Coastal and Ocean Management has withdrawn its designation of the entire Taku River as "important habitat."

For DCOM to now consider only waters from the river mouth up to the Taku Lodge (about 16 miles) important habitat - and not waters from the lodge to the U.S.-Canada border (about 12 miles) - seems illogical. It appears common sense was abandoned as Redfern Resources vigorously argued that DCOM back down from its original designation.

Waters upstream from the lodge are inextricably linked to waters downstream. To make waters near the lodge a line of demarcation between important habitat and "non-important habitat" makes no sense and defies the interconnectedness of natural waterways and coastal ecosystems.

Biologists, fishermen and Taku homeowners know that waters between the Lodge and the border are vital habitat that are "biologically and significantly productive" - criterion for important habitat designation under the Alaska Coastal Management Program. For example, rearing salmon smolt, which will eventually migrate downstream to the ocean, use the upper reach of the Taku (above the lodge) during their critical early life stages. I urge Fish & Game biologists to continue to demonstrate to DCOM why the upper reach of the Taku is important habitat, and how any activity here directly affects the river's lower reach.

At the same time I ultimately feel this designation process through the ACMP highlights the need to protect Southeast's most productive salmon river - which also is the largest unprotected river system on the west coast of North America - in an entirely new way.

The massive, transboundary Taku watershed is too environmentally and economically important to remain unprotected because of the limited scope of Alaska's current laws. For DCOM to designate the Taku "important habitat" for purposes of their ACMP review of Redfern Resources' river barging proposal is a step in the right direction. But I feel it's critical that the ecological, financial and intrinsic values of the Taku be protected in a more definitive, permanent sense. They should not be reviewed on a case-by-case basis each time new activity is proposed that could negatively impact the river.

Heather Hardcastle

Commercial salmon fisherman and small fishing business owner

Juneau



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