Republicans turn back habitat resolution

Posted: Sunday, April 06, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- House Republicans lined up behind Gov. Frank Murkowski Friday over his decision to strip the state's habitat division of its permitting authority.

An executive order issued by Murkowski is scheduled to take effect April 15 unless the Legislature votes to overturn it. But a resolution to do that has been firmly lodged in the House Resources Committee. And chairman Hugh ''Bud'' Fate, R-Fairbanks, said he has no immediate plans to move it.

That led to a motion by Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, to take the resolution out of Fate's committee. But the motion failed on a 25-13 vote Friday, with all Republicans but Rep. Paul Seaton of Homer opposing it.

''We got a vote on it. It really shows who wanted the issue debated and who didn't,'' Gara said.

Under the governor's executive order, the Fish and Game commissioner will lose legal authority over fish habitat protection for the first time since statehood in 1959. The power to say yes or no to a development project that affects salmon or other fish would shift to the commissioner of Natural Resources.

Murkowski has charged that the habitat division has stood in the way of legitimate projects in the past.

The executive order has been one of the most hotly debated issue before the Legislature this session, Gara said. It has garnered more than 12 hours of committee testimony, hundreds of letters in opposition including one from five past Fish and Game commissioners.

House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said his caucus supports the governor's decision. A similar resolution has been introduced in the Senate.

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