The Salmon-Thirty-Salmon on the cover of the November Alaska Airlines magazine peered out at me from the seat pocket on a recent flight to Anchorage. As an Alaskan, I felt proud to see that wild king salmon stretched across the Boeing 737. As I took a closer look at the magazine cover and read the article inside on Alaska's wild seafood, I was struck by the irony of a couple things.
If you look closely at the cover photo, you'll see this airplane is flying over a patchwork of clearcuts and veins of logging roads. I suspect the photo was taken over the heavily logged fir forests of western Washington, a state in which salmon returns are only about three percent of historical numbers. While many factors have contributed to this incredible loss of salmon, fishery biologists throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska have considerable amounts of data linking clearcut logging to destruction of habitat vital to salmon survival. It seemed ironic to have a fish flying over the damaged forests below - perhaps that's the only way salmon can get upstream in Washington nowadays.
Once past the magazine cover, I was confronted with the second bit of irony - a full-page letter from Gov. Frank Murkowski, congratulating Alaska Airlines on their new paint job. The governor writes about the importance of salmon to our state's heritage, culture, lifestyle, and economic health. He boasts how seriously he takes his stewardship responsibilities to manage our fisheries.
I pondered how Murkowski could write those words in light of the many actions of his administration that put salmon and its habitat in peril. Some examples include his decision to severely weaken the state's Division of Habitat by moving it from the Department of Fish and Game to the Department of Natural Resources, his efforts to gut the Alaska Coastal Management Program and its habitat protections, and his support for his commissioners' zeal to permit spraying toxic pesticides from helicopters over Southeast's salmon habitat, to allow commercial use of huge jet boats in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, and to authorize pollution mixing zones in salmon streams. Does the irony that his words are so at odds with his actions ever keep our governor awake at night? It should.