Backed by an 8-page opinion by the Alaska Department of Law, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott turned down an initiative on Tuesday that would have prioritized salmon streams and tributaries over all other competing economic interests across Alaska.
The petition request had come from Stand for Salmon, chaired by Michael Wood of the Susitna River Coalition.
Attorneys in the Department of Law said the Stand for Salmon initiative was contrary to the Alaska Constitution, which prohibits initiatives that make an appropriation of state assets.
State assets, according to the State attorneys, include state resources such as anadromous waters, which means salt or fresh waters where fish spend portions of their lives. In Alaska, that’s salmon primarily, but also rainbow and cutthroat trout.
Stand for Salmon issued a press release on Tuesday that expressed surprise and dismay, and also took direct aim at the Walker Administration: “We were dismayed to hear today from the Walker Administration that they have denied our application for a ballot initiative that proposes an update to Alaska’s antiquated law governing development in salmon habitat. The Stand for Salmon ballot initiative would promote responsible resource development while creating clear standards for protection of Alaska wild salmon and ensure Alaskans have a voice in the management of our wild salmon resources.
“We are deeply disappointed that Governor Walker’s administration has chosen to play politics and cater to the short-term interests of outside, multinational mining companies instead of Alaskans and the salmon we depend on. Thousands of Alaskans support this update.
The decision to deny us our constitutional right as Alaskans to gather signatures and put this issue before voters is stunning, particularly from a governor who once promised to support fish first policies. Instead, Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallot [sic] have done next to nothing to uphold their promises to Alaskans who depend on salmon for jobs, culture, recreation and way of life. The merits of our application should have been based purely on the law. Yet, the relentless lobbying and pressuring from corporate representatives and lawyers seemed to carry more weight than the integrity of the public process.” – Stand for Salmon
“The Stand for Salmon campaign will continue evaluating all of our options moving forward. We, and thousands of Alaskans who are deeply invested in the future of our state, remain 100% committed to modernizing our outdated salmon habitat law. In a moment when our state is desperate for some long-term thinking and leadership, we are handed this disappointing decision that smacks of the status quo,” the organization wrote.
But the Department of Law’s decision said that the initiative would clearly limit the Alaska Legislature’s ability to decide how to allocate the waterways when there are competing uses. In addition, it would end the development of many mines, dams, roads, gaslines and/or pipelines.
The stern rebuke by Stand for Salmon may signal an end to the alliance between environmentalists and the Walker Administration. The decision was surely a topic of discussion in the Mark Begich camp. The former U.S. senator, a Democrat, is pondering jumping into the race for governor in 2018, ensuring a three-way race that would weaken Walker’s chances of re-election.