Voices of the Peninsula: Alaskans should wake up

Complacency won't help when it comes to state's future

Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2005

This is for all interested Alaska businesses (commercial and sportfishers and guides, subsistence fishers and dipnetters, B&Bs, RV parks, sporting goods stores, et al), who-which have some dependence on tourism and the fisheries of Alaska.

This is not to say "the sky is falling" but more and more of Alaska lake and stream bank habitats, including sloughs and contiguous wetlands, are being encroached upon daily, in the name of development. Under the Bush and Murkowski administrations, EPA and many state agencies, are becoming increasingly permissive, and, in many cases, advocates of development, to the detriment of clean air, clean water, other environmental protection standards and common sense.

Why should anyone in Alaska care about such happenings? Some might say — like the fellow who fell off a 12-story building, as he went past the 9th floor — "everything's OK so far!" Well, if the people and businesses who-which depend on Alaska tourism or its fisheries for part or most of their livelihood, knowingly allow the river and lake habitats to be wantonly destroyed by irresponsible homeowners or land and business developers, it will eventually impact you!

Lake and river property is becoming increasingly scarce and increasingly expensive, and people with more money than common sense seemingly are able to build their dream summer home or develop their mining and logging operations anywhere they want, whether the lakes' or rivers' habitats suffer or not.

Development, at the expense of Alaska's fisheries or pristine waters or clean air, doesn't seem like a good tradeoff. What's surprising, Alaska's revenues and jobs from the mining and logging industries are tiny compared to those from its fisheries. Even more surprising, there are no overt, concerted, objecting voices from commercial fishers, sports fishers, Alaska residents, businesses or tourists on this subject.

All healthy salmon fisheries begin and end in healthy streams and lakes. If Alaskans want sustainable salmon fisheries anywhere in Alaska fresh or saltwaters, the streams and lakes must provide adequate, suitable habitats for the fish. If Alaska wants sustainable tourism, then forests and adequate habitats for all its wildlife, including fish, are mandatory.

Short of hitting them on the head with a two-by-four, it's very difficult to know how to get the attention of the people of Alaska. Many have the attitude that Alaska, like the oceans, is infinitely vast and humans can't degrade it.

If you liked Alaska the way it was 10, 20, 50 years ago, you had better start paying attention, because change in Alaska is accelerating every day. And if we have four to eight more years of the ilk of the Bush and Murkowski administrations, you might want to think seriously about taking up fish farming or hunting in zoos because Alaska Wild (fish) and Alaska's wildlife might be (are?) in serious jeopardy.

It doesn't take a great amount of mercury, cyanide or arsenic or aerial pesticides to contaminate a stream or lake and the surrounding habitats. It takes even less of these chemicals to be found in Alaska fish flesh prepared for market to jeopardize the so-called Alaska Wild labels that are currently helping the commercial salmon industry to recover from its 2002 depression.

The Murkowski administration is still considering mixing zones for salmon spawning streams to dilute developers' pollutants (2004-05 written responses to DEC were 15:1 against), has not changed its policy on aerial pesticide spraying of forests, nor changed its radical policy of predator control. Similarly, the Bush administration is relaxing Federal EPA clean air and clean water regulations, while recommending industrial polluters regulate themselves. Even the Supreme Court recently has allowed the rich and powerful to put the screws to private property owners through the Right of Eminent Domain.

It seems it's development at any cost. But cost to whom?

What say you, Alaskans? Are you concerned about your state's future, or maybe you just want that next road or bridge to be built, the next mining or logging operation begun, or the next subdivision built on the bank of your favorite salmon stream and are not concerned about the implications of what makes Alaska unique from the other 49 states.

There are a lot of very shortsighted, powerful, greedy politicians, corporations and developers among us right now, both on a state and national level, and their agendas may not be yours, no matter what they might tell you to your face or say during an election campaign.

For many states, it's too late, but the people of Alaska still have a chance to regain control of the fate of their state, but that control cannot be achieved through ignorance and apathy. Development can be done responsibly with proper oversight.

The people must demand that proper oversight! The politicians and developers, et al, are counting on you to remain silent. Wake up, Alaskans!

Richard Hahn is a Soldotna resident.

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