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Subsistence users should speak out against Parnell’s HB77, while they still can

Daniel Lum

Subsistence users have a huge fight coming in 2014, and it’s coming from our very own governor. It was ironic to hear Gov.Parnell receive applause recently at this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks considering his plans against the very People applauding him. I do not think that everyone at the gathering understood just how dangerous Parnell’s House Bill 77 is or how his legislation is a direct assault on the rights of subsistence users across Alaska -- his bill will silence Alaskans and our communities in decisions about our lands and waters.

Governor Parnell wants to remove required notice and comment periods as well, so you would not even have to be notified about the large mine two miles upstream of your fish camp! One day you could be boating to your fish camp and -- SURPRISE -- a large mine is starting! Governor Parnell’s House Bill 77 would make the Department of Natural Resources Alaska’s corporate vehicle -- a direct connection between various industries and the lands and waters they have not been able to access yet. His bill would allow the Commissioner of DNR to have powers that no single person should have -- new powers to issue permits that trump state laws in secret meetings behind closed doors. This is Parnell’s ace in the hole and it's plain wrong.

HB 77 would take away the right of Alaskan citizens, Alaska Native Tribes, Villages, ANSCA Corporations, and other organizations to secure in-stream water reservations. Currently any person or organization can apply for in-stream water reservations as a way of ensuring that fish have the vital water they need for spawning, feeding and migration and that other wildlife have enough water for their survival in rivers, lakes and streams. If your family or village historically depends on a certain stream to catch whitefish and grayling, and a large mine is being planned two miles up or downstream, Governor Parnell does not want you to be able to comment in the permitting process! His bill removes the requirement of notice and comment in the process -- Alaskans will not have a voice in the government decisions about the development and in some cases won’t even know it’s coming!

His bill also adds another layer against subsistence protests by changing the requirements of demonstration in the administrative appeal process from “aggrieved” to “substantially and adversely affected.” That means it will be that much harder for the average subsistence user to show how development will affect their food streams. This essentially takes your day in court away, conveniently for our governor’s business ties.

The United States of America is built on a system of checks and balances to theoretically ensure that no faction of the government gets unreasonable power, a system designed to protect the public and public processes. Public comment is an important of the public process; it helps officials understand projects and their impacts to the land and communities adjacent to them and it guides planning and permitting accordingly. We are different from other countries in that aspect -- we do not have the amount of environmental atrocities you might find in China or Russia -- because the public (not just a few powerful officials) also has a voice.

If Governor Parnell’s House Bill 77 passes into law, conflicts will ensue around the state as various industries quickly move into places vital to subsistence. We must consider the future generations of subsistence users by making sure that they have secure areas to harvest wild food. Development will always occur, but there should always be careful consideration and balance when it does occur, we are Alaskans and we are Americans -- we have the RIGHT to speak out on these issues!

If you do not want to lose your voice in the public process then call your Alaska State Senators and Representatives and let them know specifically how you feel about House Bill 77 -- they must hear the message clearly from their constituents.

Daniel Lum lives in Fairbanks. He operated a wildlife tour company in Barrow and is a graduate of Ilisagvik College. His first book, a photo-narrative about the sandy spit of land known as Point Barrow, titled "Nuvuk, the Northernmost," was released in June through the University of Alaska and University of Chicago presses.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.