Commercial fishermen say river designation is overblown

Posted: Friday, April 14, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Commercial fishermen are speaking out against an environmental campaign that says the salmon-rich Copper River is the nation's fourth most endangered river.

United Fishermen of Alaska say the claim about the Southcentral Alaska river is exaggerated. The fishermen fear it will hurt their ability to sell salmon from the river.

American Rivers, a Washington, D.C.-based conservation group, this week released its annual list of rivers facing the most severe threats from development. The group ranked the Copper River the country's fourth most endangered river because of plans by Chugach Alaska Corp. to build a 55-mile logging road to its property at Carbon Mountain.

The road would start less than a mile from the river and travel east, away from the river, through the Chugach National Forest and Chugach Alaska land. The road would not cross the Copper River.

''The Copper River is not even near where this road is going to be built,'' said Jerry McCune, lobbyist for United Fishermen of Alaska.

Chugach Alaska chairwoman Sheri Buretta described the environmental group's claim as ''major hype.''

The fishermen view American Rivers' listing as a push to attract national attention to the Copper River because the surrounding Chugach National Forest is undergoing a land management review by the U.S. Forest Service. The federal agency is considering turning the eastern portion of the Copper River Delta into wilderness, a designation that prevents most types of development, including road building.

The Anchorage office of the National Wildlife Federation, which petitioned to have the Copper River listed, said if the road is built, it will wreak havoc on the Copper River Delta, the largest wetland on the Pacific Coast of North America.

''This one logging road might not spell disaster. But what we've seen is that one logging road leads to another,'' said Scott Anaya, campaign coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation.

Forest Service official Ken Holbrook said America River's claim that ''the road would sever hundreds of streams that feed into the Delta,'' is wrong. All the culverts are oversized, he said. If however, the culverts collapsed or plugged up, fish passage would be impeded, he said.

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