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.

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

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.”

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.”

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.