Kodiak Representative Louise Stutes introduced HB 199 in response to public concerns identified by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
House Bill 199, updates Title 16—Alaska’s fish habitat protection and permitting law. This law, which has not been updated since statehood, guides how the State of Alaska permits activities and development projects that may impact wild salmon and other wildlife.
The bill creates a balanced and efficient permitting system that protects Alaska’s wild salmon runs, promotes responsible development and gives Alaskans a greater voice in major permitting decisions that impact wild salmon streams. HB 199 provides regulatory certainty for resource development companies while ensuring the protection of salmon habitat.
This bill was drafted in response to a letter the Alaska Board of Fisheries sent to the Legislature in January 2017 recommending it modernize Title 16. The Board of Fisheries’ action came at the request of a group of Alaskans comprised of commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fishermen concerned about the future of the salmon they depend on.
As Stutes stated, “Wild salmon are a major part of our culture, economy, and identity in Alaska. Alaska is the last state with healthy populations of wild salmon and this bill protects the interests of Alaskans who rely on wild salmon for food, income, and recreation.”
Given the importance of Alaska’s salmon fisheries, the state must ensure that related laws are balanced, predictable and fair in both protecting salmon habitat and encouraging responsible development. HB 199 will create enforceable standards, provide for public input and expand the Department of Fish and Game’s authority to protect fish habitat and will safeguard Alaska’s salmon fisheries into the future.
“An Act establishing general fish and wildlife permits and major and minor anadromous fish habitat permits for certain activities; establishing related penalties; and relating to the protection of fish and game and fish and game habitat.”
SRC Supports HB199
SRC supports HB 199 because we understand the need for clean water, healthy salmon runs, and high-quality habitat. We also recognize the need to use our snow machines and four wheelers, and to support small-scale, community-driven development. HB 199 rewrites parts of Title 16 to ensure that our laws, regulations, and practices meet the high standards, which are outlined in our State Constitution. We believe this is a proactive bill that will strengthen habitat protections and guide responsible development decisions as our population continues to grow.
HB199 and the Susitna River
Updating the fish habitat protection and permitting law would require mandatory fish passage and establish standards that protect habitat characteristics like instream flow levels, water quality (temperature), and habitat diversity and function that is drastically changed after high-impact hydropower projects are developed.
In addition, the law would prevent power producers from simply mitigating damage to wild fish populations by opting to replace it with hatchery fish. This destructive trade-off has devastated salmon fisheries throughout the Pacific Northwest. These protections would favor low-impact hydropower projects and guide engineering design decisions to better protect Alaska’s fish populations.
At a towering 725 ft, the Susitna dam as proposed had no possibility of fish passage. For that reason alone, under the updated law, a fish habitat permit would be denied.