State Salmon Stream Decision Draws Criticism

The Alaska
Department of Natural Resources has rejected a petition from local citizens who
have been seeking, for more than two years, to protect wild Alaska salmon streams
from coal strip mining in Upper Cook Inlet.

The decision,
signed by DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan, has drawn strong criticism from the
Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper, who are represented by
Trustees for Alaska in their effort to stop PacRim Coal’s plans to mine in that

Judy Heilman,
president of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, called the state’s decision a
horrible precedent for Alaska wild salmon and the families they support.
“PacRim Coal’s mining plans would remove miles and miles of wild Alaska salon
streams to a depth of over 300 feet,” Heilman said.  “The Alaska Department of Fish and Game calls
the tributaries PacRim would remove as important to salmon, yet the state
refuses to formally protect our wild salmon streams.”

“It’s a sad
day when Governor Parnell’s policies protect a Delaware corporation’s profits
over our wild Cook Inlet salmon runs and the Alaskan families salmon support,”
said Terry Jorgensen, a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman and founding member of
the Chuitna Citizens Coalition. “DNR’s rejection clearly illustrates the
state’s failure to protect our wild salmon runs. The governor must understand
the importance of salmon to Alaskans, yet his policies are leading us down the
same path that led to the demise of salmon runs around the world.”

Back in 2010,
the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper submitted a petition to the
state seeking protective buffers around the Chuitna River and its tributaries
under the Alaska Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act.  No coal strip mining would be allowed within
salmon streams, but the petition would not preclude mining in the rest of
PacRim’s coal lease area. Similar buffers are standard for logging operations
and in municipal development plans.

Sullivan, in a lengthy decision, said the state’s decision on reconsideration
is not in any way an approval of coal mining, nor any particular coal mining
project. He cited statutory and constitutional obligations to facilitate
responsible development of coal resources, saying he had responsibilities under
the Alaska Constitution to encourage and allow responsible resource