In a recent Peninsula Clarion article there seems to be some confusion as to the meaning of public testimony and education.
As a nonprofit organization, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association participates in the public process of testimony and education through interactions with appointed boards like the local Fish and Game Advisory Committee and the Board of Fish to further their knowledge of our members' positions and concerns and to provide studies and background information upon which these boards make their decisions.
The local advisory committee and the Board of Fish are required and encourage public testimony and actively seek input from the wide spectrum of individuals, organizations and agencies in our state.
It is startling to see some suggest that the Kenai River Sportfishing Association is not eligible to participate in this public process.
More than 70 organizations provide public comment to the Board of Fish on a regular basis. The commercial fishing industry is well represented by more than 40 organizations including: Alaska Trollers Association, Alaska Herring Seiners Association, Alaska Longline Fisher-men's Association, Kenai Peninsula Fisher-men's Association, United Cook Inlet Drift Association, United Southeast Alaska Gillnet-ters Association, Cook Inlet Seiners Associ-ation and Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association.
Other sportfishing organizations that provide testimony and education include Alaska Fly Fishers, Alaska Outdoor Council, Alaska Sportfishing Association, Deep Creek Charter Boat Association, Fish for Cooper Creek Coalition, Midnight Sun Flycasters, Rain Country Fly Fishers, Territorial Sportsmen, the Chitina Dipnetters Association and Tongass Sportfishing.
The board also receives input from conservation associations including the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Alaska Natural Resources Center National Wildlife Fund, Cook Inlet Keeper, Fish Habitat Alaska and Trout Unlimited.
Most of these organizations have as part of their charter, as we do, the mission of educating their members, the public and legislative bodies. This includes providing public testimony, writing letters of support or non-support, and using their resources to provide valuable information so these elected bodies can make well-informed decisions.
In order to carry out their mission and goals, these organizations may charge dues of its members, hold fund-raisers and accept contributions from individuals and corporations that share their vision.
KRSA, like these other organizations, utilize their funds so they can enjoin in the public process, not subvert it.
The process of educating officials and governing bodies is one that KRSA and these other groups take seriously. While we may not always agree on issues, we respect the right of each organization to have its say. However, our organization prides itself on utilizing sound science and supporting verifiable scientific studies rather than emotion and hyperbole. Our mission is to protect fish habitat, provide education and promote responsible sportfishing on the Kenai River and we take that mission seriously.
If nonprofits are shut out from the public process, we will start down a slippery slope where only politicians can have a say on how Alaska's natural resources are managed. Moreover, if this were to occur, the Board of Fish would need to rewrite one of the missions of their agency that states: "The Board Support Section ensures that the 81 local fish and game advisory committees and the general public are provided an opportunity to participate in the state's regulatory process."
One of the main reasons for KRSA's existence is to educate the public and our legislators about issues affecting the Kenai watershed. We have utilized in excess of $3 million of our own funds to restore habitat along the Kenai, a "publicly owned resource."
Most of the time these funds have used matching grants which has resulted in more than $5 million being invested in the greatest sportfishing river in the world. KRSA has funded more dollars for education, habitat restoration and river protection projects than any other private sector entity. In fact, probably more than all other such private groups combined.
We were, and are, the major catalyst for generating the millions of federal and state dollars that have gone into these protection projects over the last 10 years. We provided the funding in the past, today and have made provisions to see that this effort will continue into the future.
Providing input, public testimony and education goes hand-in-hand when you invest in protecting a natural resource and serves as a checks and balance system upon which this nation was founded.
We look forward to the future and to exercising this basic constitutional right to help in this education process and in providing public testimony to the management boards, governing bodies, the public and politicians.
Ron Rainey is the board chair of of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.
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