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Good News for Chuitna Salmon

I present to you, in the middle of chaos and frustration… (drum roll please)… a small victory!


The mouth of the Chuitna River. Photo by Jeanne Devon

In a decision issued February 25, 2013, the Alaska Superior Court ruled that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) violated its own rules by denying Alaskans’ their right to keep water in streams to protect wild salmon runs. The decision in Chuitna Citizens Coalition vs. Dan Sullivan, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, takes on special importance as the Alaska legislature considers bills introduced by Governor Parnell (HB 77/SB 26) which will strip Alaskans of their right to protect “instream flows,” which are designed to ensure salmon have enough water to survive before other out-of-stream uses are permitted.

“It’s sad when Alaskans have to spend time and money to sue our own government to protect our salmon fisheries,” said Ron Burnett of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, a group of property owners, fishermen and hunters concerned about protecting wild salmon habitat in the face of proposed large-scale coal strip mining in Upper Cook Inlet. “Governor Parnell has repeatedly promised Alaskans he would never ’trade one resource for another,’ but his words and his Administration’s actions are two different things.”

In 2009, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition filed for instream flow rights on Middle Creek, which supports wild runs of Chinook and Coho within the Chuitna River Watershed. DNR accepted these applications but refused to process them. Later, in 2011, DNR approved Temporary Water Use Permits (TWUP) in a mere 8 days allowing PacRim Coal to remove up to 305,000 gallons from the same waterbody without any consideration of the pending request for instream reservation of water. Chuitna Citizens appealed the TWUP decision, arguing DNR had to consider the water they had requested for fish habitat before giving water to PacRim.

DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan summarily dismissed Chuitna Citizens’ claims, and Chuitna Citizens was forced to takes its case to Alaska Superior Court, represented by the public interest law firm Trustees for Alaska. The Alaska Superior Court overturned the DNR decision, holding that DNR had to consider Chuitna Citizens application to keep water in the stream for fish.

“This decision makes it clear the State of Alaska is not in the business of protecting salmon habitat and the countless families and jobs that salmon support throughout the state,” said Judy Heilman of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition. “Instead of following the rules and protecting salmon habitat, we expect Governor Parnell now to change the rules of the game, or to change the law completely, so Alaskans are prevented from protecting their salmon resources.”

The Alaska Legislature is now actively considering bills introduced by Governor Parnell (HB 77 & SB 26), which will ax the entire statutory scheme for instream flow protections by stripping away the rights Alaskan Tribes and residents currently have to protect water in streams for salmon.

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5 Responses to “Good News for Chuitna Salmon”
  1. ugavic says:

    This is good news BUT let me tell you this is not the only salmon runs threatened.

    We are currently at a Board of Fish meeting in Anchorage for the area just south of Bristol Bay and watching the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) support a management style that intercepts fish that are destroying the fisheries north of them —BRISTOL BAY and possibly more. The reports from at least biologist are lacking information they are required to report, there is outright lying going on that….on the rates of reproduction of the salmon and other items. (Scientist after scientist have stood up to call out the department on these practices and they are ignored. BOF members are playing politics on top of all of this and we will see this collapse in future)

    Completely destroying this fishery will take years, if we are lucky, but the rate of the impact they are having is astronomical just in the last few years.

    MSC, yes the group that first helped declare Alaska Salmon sustainable, is now saying the state is not managing for sustainability and they are CORRECT. So what does the state do, lead by ASMI, but change rating systems. I talked to one of the new ‘inspectors’ of this new group, Responsible Fisheries Management and he claimed two things that chilled me to the bone–the department (ADF&G) is doing nothing that is not scientifically ‘sound’ BUT also that the public perception is of no concern to them.

    The entire state of Alaska rests their claim to sustainability mostly on the ‘jewel’ of Bristol Bay sustainability (many, many rivers systems and species of salmon are in threatened in state but greatly downplayed and BB is pulled out to make the point we are doing things ‘right’).

    We are in great danger of loosing our fishery the way things look at this point if this is not called out and stopped.

    • ugavic says:

      My self editing needs to improve….hopefully all of the above makes some sense to others.

      • mike from iowa says:

        With the fools you have to put up with I’m surprised you and others are still sane.

  2. AKMagpie says:

    Thank you AKM for another week of excellence in reporting. You are one of Alaska’s best resources.