As a commercial air taxi operator and guide starting in the 1960s, I flew all sorts of prospectors and miners into remote sites in the Interior for years. At the time, with the sheer size of the state and low density of population, it felt like our opportunities to develop seemed endless. And I vigorously defended our freedom to grow.
Today, there are almost 300,000 people in Anchorage alone, and the world's largest corporations increasingly come knocking for our resources. Selling natural resources will continue to be a mainstay of our economy.
But these are not the small mom-and-pop, home-grown prospectors of 50 and 100 years ago. If we believe that our personal freedoms extend to hunting, fishing, clean water and intact rural Alaskan values, then we need clear guidelines to ensure that these foreign companies responsibly extract our resources. Remember: Their fiduciary responsibility is to their shareholders around the world, not to Alaskans.
That's why we need to vote yes on Ballot Measure 1 on Nov. 6.
Updating the law that protects salmon habitat in our state is a critical step to holding these foreign companies accountable. The current statute is both toothless and vague, despite the good intentions when it was written almost 60 years ago.
Alaska's founders contemplated a day when people would need to stand up to corporate interests and ensure Alaska's rights were protected — that's what the ballot measure process is all about.
Almost 42,000 Alaskans signed on to put Measure 1 to a vote.
Now, right on cue, the big mining and extraction companies like Pebble and Exxon have put up more than $11 million to fight Ballot Measure 1 — and the accountability it demands. They are peddling misinformation and fear at a level never seen before in the state.
Here's what's true: This measure was written by Alaskans, and the Yes on 1 campaign is being led by rural and urban Alaskans who rely on salmon for food and who understand the importance of wild fish and game to Alaskans' way of life. It has been underwritten by more than 1,500 large and small supporters across the state and more across the country who care about the Alaskan way of life. They all support the thousands of independent small businesses in this state — commercial fishing boats, sportfishing guides, lodges, tour operators — that make their living from our healthy wild fish habitat and clean, clear free-flowing rivers that are the envy of the world. Together, our fisheries and businesses that depend on them drive $4.2 billion in economic activity.
The initiative sets scientific standards for foreign companies to live up to when they build large-scale projects in salmon habitat in Alaska. It asks them to post a bond against future damage, so they don't skip town and leave the Alaskan landscape ruined. Protecting places like Bristol Bay is important, but so are salmon runs across the state from the Kuskokwim to Cook Inlet to Southeast. As changing oceans affect fisheries, strong habitat in spawning and rearing streams is the best hedge we can give salmon against the unpredictable life they are facing out in the ocean.
We also need to allow for citizens to weigh into the process of permitting large developments in salmon habitat, such as Pebble Mine. As it stands, the people are shut out of that process — not even notified if there's a large project in their area that impacts salmon habitat. Ballot Measure 1 would change that, providing public notice and giving Alaskans a seat at the table.
The initiative was designed specifically to allow community infrastructure projects to go forward, to ensure that rural life will continue to improve alongside strong salmon runs. People who ride ATVs to hunt, fish and gather will not see any change in permit requirements.
Citizens across this state are worried: wild salmon are core to their Alaskan identity, and leaders in this state haven't been willing to step up and protect salmon habitat. Now, people have turned to the initiative process.
This state was created to maintain local control over our natural resources. This November, we will have an important opportunity to assert that right, by voting yes on Ballot Measure 1.
Rick Halford is a bush pilot, lifelong Republican and a former state Senate President.
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