We endured a bounty of rollbacks in 2017, but the attacks on fundamental rights and our planet also created an opportunity. Instead of succumbing to cynicism and despair, many of us refocused our energy on using the tools available to us to stand up for our lands, waters, wildlife, and communities.
The fundamental tool is our voice, and using it meant speaking out while also fighting for the right to speak out.
Today, a group of Alaskans and Alaska-based businesses and organizations delivered over 40,000 signatures from Alaska voters to put an initiative on the ballot that would strengthen protections for salmon habitat. The number of signatures exceeded what is required by the Division of Elections to qualify an initiative.
Some of the signature books delivered Jan. 16
Protecting salmon seems like a no-brainer, right? Alaska has a thriving commercial fishing industry that exports most of the wild salmon in the world, supports a tourism industry centered on fishing, and includes villages and families that rely on salmon as an important food source. Yet, the State of Alaska rejected the initiative’s language in September 2017.
Trustees took the State to superior court to overturn that decision and won. We defended the constitutional right of Alaskans to have a say in fish habitat protection.
Of course, the State appealed, but we hope to prevail before the Alaska Supreme Court as well. The Alaska Constitution gives people the power to make law directly through initiative, and we will fight for that right.
The people’s voice is critical to a thriving democracy. This voice needs to make itself heard in elections, in court, to political decision makers, and at the earliest opportunity in public processes–such as hearings, testimony, and written comments.
Right now, for example, Alaskans can and should participate during the Bureau of Land Management’s public scoping comment period on the proposed 211-mile industrial road from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District. The proposed road would damage public lands, disrupt three caribou herds and other wildlife, and harm and potentially kill a wide variety of fish that people in this Arctic region rely on for food.
It would do all this harm to serve the singular interests of an under-capitalized junior Canadian mining company, while offering no public access and no clear explanation of how the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority would recoup the nearly $1 billion cost to Alaska.
This road presents yet another threat to America’s Arctic. Before the end of 2017, we saw Congress pass a tax bill that opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and essentially turns the Refuge into another Prudhoe Bay.
Congress may have used a nontransparent process–overriding the will of the American public–to push through a shortsighted agenda, but the fight to protect the Arctic Refuge and other wild places has just begun. Our tactics and tools cut to the heart of our democratic values. They include our voices, our votes, our rights, and our courts.
As one of our attorneys told a USA Today reporter when asked about the Arctic Refuge, “We are planning to fight this every step of the way, from Congress to the courtroom.”
Raise your voice!
PS: Your support of Trustees for Alaska is critical now more than ever.