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Why I’m standing with Stand for Alaska, not the Stand for Salmon initiative

  • Author: PJ Simon
    | Opinion
  • Updated: April 6, 2018
  • Published April 6, 2018

As a proud Athabascan, and a tribal and Native corporation leader, I am very aware and respectful of the Stand for Salmon initiative and the sponsors who stand behind it. I am very respectful of the fishermen who depend solely on salmon and those who want to preserve our salmon. As important as this is to each of us, Alaska's economy depends on natural resource development, especially oil. There still remains a practical necessity for resource development; without it, Alaska would be like a poor, developing country. Oil and mineral development money has paid for so much, from ANCSA 7(i) and 7(j) Native corporation revenue sharing, to state subsidies, to infrastructure development, to social programs, to education and jobs. Those who work also keep those who cannot work strong. With no paycheck coming in, well … it's a scary thought. We cannot live on love like muskrats! Employment and Alaska's economy are central to any discussion on the Stand for Salmon Title 16 initiative.

I will stand with Stand for Alaska because the Stand for Salmon initiative will destroy Alaska's ability to continue resource development. I read the Stand for Salmon ballot measure; so much complicated language. If you told me this initiative says it would put a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, I would believe them. The fine print is so hard to read! I am a plumber, recreational gold miner, trapper, so I am just a regular guy. I am not a high-powered lawyer or professional environmentalist paid by outside interest groups. I'm sandwich meat, the guy in the middle, the guy who works for wages to support my family. When these types of ballot initiatives come out, I know that my well-being is on the line. I want to keep working construction or go recreational mining to feed my family. Stand for Salmon would kill construction jobs and hurt Alaska's economy.

Resource development has always supported my family. In 1909 my great-grandfather was a gold miner, as were a lot of people in that era. He discovered gold and got a mountain named after him, Indian Mountain. My grandfather worked in a gold mine for wages along with many others of the Koyukuk River at the Hog River Gold Mine. My father also worked at a gold mine, attaining his work skills as a young Native man in heavy equipment and general labor. He retired from the 302 Operators Union and gets a pension every month. Trapping is also resource extraction, managing or renewable resources. The trapping industry has been a mainstay for the economy during the offseason for construction workers since the early 1900s.

The Stand for Salmon initiative would compound costs for development projects and hamper opportunities that create jobs for us all. If I am in a rural area and want to make a climate change adaptation "safety trail" to ensure safe travels around thinning ice due to climate change, every stream that I would have to cross, I would have to prove that it is non-anadromous. When rural areas can only afford part-time hours in villages and have limited support staff, how are they supposed to prove there's no salmon in the tiny creek? These are real, unanswered questions. When tribal villages already get limited funding to run day-to-day operations, how are they supposed to pay for these surveys? Just some more rules added to more rules that affect rural life in a negative fashion. The fine print in the Stand for Salmon initiative compounds regulations, is extremely expensive and will choke our economy.

There need to be many ways to measure success. Alaska is full of successes. Full freezers in key fishing areas that are rich with salmon, and full freezers in other areas that are not rich with salmon. We all make money in different ways, we always have. We all have benefited from resource extraction. My opinion is that this Stand for Salmon ballot initiative would fare well in the Bristol Bay region, but clearly is not representative or beneficial for all of Alaska. Therefore I am voting against Stand for Salmon.

PJ Simon is the vice chairman of the Doyon Ltd. board of directors and a former chief of Allakaket.

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