Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Citizen Groups, State at Odds over Protecting Habitat from Coal Miners

A citizens group that sought greater protection for salmon habitat in advance of development of a coal mining venture says the state of Alaska is putting fisheries at risk by not providing that additional protection.

Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Cora Campbell says there is sufficient protection already.

The issue came to light this week with the release of correspondence between the public interest law firm representing the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper and Campbell.

Trustees for Alaska attorneys had written Campbell to petition for changes in regulations that permit offsite mitigation and monetary compensation for stream destruction, a situation that Trustees said “is inadequate to prohibit destruction of streams that provide irreplaceable spawning and rearing habitat for wild salmon.”

Trustees noted in its petition to the state that “mitigating long-term destruction of anadromous fish habitat is difficult to impossible and ADF&G has not demonstrated that it can provide meaningful compensatory mitigation that would be equal or greater to the type of loss defined as “long-term removal of habitat.”

Trustees requested an amendment to state regulations that would prohibit approval of any coal extraction activity that would result in long term removal of habitat within a river, lake or stream important to spawning, rearing or migration of anadromous fish.

Campbell said her agency reviewed the petition and denied it because ASF&G already had the authority to prohibit such activity in a catalogued anadromous water body for activity deemed insufficient for the proper protection of fish and game. That viewpoint was challenged by Judy Heilman, president of the Citizens Coalition, whose members include commercial and sport fishermen, hunters, subsistence users and property owners in the area.

Heilman said the state’s stand underscores “the state’s refusal to pass commonsense protections and the need for our federal agencies to play a more active role protecting Alaska’s magnificent salmon resources.  The Parnell administration is saying our salmon streams are open for coal strip mining,” she said.

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