Voting no doesn't mean we're not concerned

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008

On Tuesday we voted against Ballot Measure 4, an initiative aimed at prohibiting pollution from large-scale mining.

We think that result means this: as naive and risky as it may be in this day and age, we expect our government to protect our resources throughout Pebble mine's permitting process.

Likewise, our no vote on Ballot Measure 2, an initiative that would have restricted the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's use of aircraft for predator control programs, is not tacit approval to gun down wolves and bears across the state. It means we understand that predator control can be a useful and necessary tool, and we don't want to handcuff game managers should the need for intensive management arise.

Suggesting that we are trusting state and federal agencies to look out for our interests may draw a few "harrumphs," if not outright laughter, from those who have watched government in action -- or government inaction, as the case may be.

But many of us who voted no on the ballot measures did so because we have been assured that appropriate regulations already are in place.

Mining proponents have said Alaska has some of the toughest standards for mining discharges in the nation. That's all well and good, but strict regulations aren't worth a hill of beans unless the oversight agencies are adequately funded and staffed, and allowed to operate free from political meddling.

The mining industry has a poor environmental track record in this country, and the Bristol Bay region is one of the most environmentally sensitive places in the state. It is imperative that the Legislature and administration give permitting and regulatory agencies all the resources necessary to protect the region.

As for predator control, the Board of Game used funding from the Legislature to educate the public on the issue prior to the election. We were told that biologists must follow a number of procedures before an intensive management plan would be instituted, including habitat improvement, restriction or elimination of hunting, and modification of predator hunting and trapping regulations. If, after all those measures have been instituted, prey population numbers don't increase, the department may turn to predator control.

Game managers must be open throughout the process, and decisions should be made based on the best available data. If predator control is deemed necessary to meet the constitutionally mandated goal of sustained yield, we want to be kept in the loop.

While neither ballot measure passed, there is plenty of public concern over both issues, evidenced by the fact that both issues made it to the ballot. These are serious and legitimate concerns, and our government should do everything in its power to address them.

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