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Fishermen call for a law to protect salmon streams

JUNEAU, Alaska - The Chuitna Citizens Coalition, along with fishermen from both commercial and sport fishing interests, are asking for common-sense legislation that will protect Alaskan salmon streams and the jobs and economic security they represent for thousands of Alaskans.

Alaskan salmon streams are threatened by the precedent-setting Chuitna coal strip mine project that proposes to directly mine through 11 miles of Middle Creek, a primary tributary of the Chuitna River, located 45 miles west of Anchorage. Delaware-based PacRim Coal, owned by Dick Bass and William Herbert Hunt, is intent on removing 11 miles of Middle Creek, bank to bank to a depth of over 300 feet.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has identified Middle Creek as important to salmon. Allowing mining through a salmon stream would set a dangerous precedent for the state and would trade healthy, wild salmon for the short-term profits of a strip mine.

Strip mining through salmon streams and the wetlands that feed them poses significant risks to Cook Inlet's commercial and sport fishing industries, which sustain thousands of Alaskan jobs worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. An ECONorthwest report, released today, reveals that commercially harvested salmon from Cook Inlet had an estimated wholesale value of $61 million and a total impact of nearly $100 million in 2007. The latest figures from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reveal that sport fishing represents an estimated $828 million in economic output and $279 million in regional income.

Terry Jorgensen, a set net fisherman whose shore lease fishery on the west side of Cook Inlet is threatened by PacRim's proposal.

"We're all for responsible development," he says. "But PacRim's plans to 'remove' salmon streams is not responsible development. Destroying Alaskan salmon streams so that an Outside corporation can ship dirty coal to Asian coal-fired power plants defies common sense. Yet this project continues to move forward toward permitting."

Scientific reports released last year show the mine will permanently damage salmon streams.

"PacRim plans to remove a significant portion of Middle Creek," said Dr. Kendra Zamzow with Citizens for Science in Public Participation. "Recreating such a complex river system and salmon habitat after removing the entire stream bed, from bank to bank down to a depth of 350 feet, is functionally impossible."

"The proposed Chuitna coal strip mine puts at risk many of the economic benefits Alaskans enjoy each year from Cook Inlet," says Ted Helvoigt, economist at ECONorthwest. "Maintaining healthy ecosystems has helped spur economic and population growth in the Cook Inlet region over the past decades. This proposed coal strip mine represents a dramatic departure for a region that has prospered through the protection and careful management of its natural wealth."

"Governor Parnell says he won't trade one resource for another, yet the proposed Chuitna coal strip mine would trade sustainable salmon runs for a finite amount of coal bound for export to Asian power plants," says Jorgensen. "This project will put fishermen out of business for the short-term profits of outside companies. To protect the rights of Alaskans, there ought to be a law against mining through a salmon stream."

Jorgensen wants Alaska legislators to uphold the key values in the state Constitution. No law exists to ban mining through a salmon stream. At this time, state agencies may issue permits that would allow the bank-to-bank removal of a salmon stream. The state Constitution clearly states that "fish, forests, wildlife, grasslands, and all other replenishable resources belonging to the state shall be utilized, developed and maintained, on the sustained yield principle..."

"It is imperative that we ensure that healthy, wild salmon are available for future generations of Alaskans," Jorgensen said. "Mining through Middle Creek would set a dangerous precedent. It's time for state lawmakers to enact clear protections for the wild salmon that provide Alaskans with sustainable jobs and a strong economic future. They must ban mining through salmon streams.

"This is about developing the right kind of economies. Alaska's world-class salmon runs easily trump any short-term benefit derived from this ill-conceived coal strip mine," Jorgensen said. "Fishing is Alaska's most sustainable industry. We should never trade healthy salmon for dirty coal."

A copy of the full ECONorthwest report can be downloaded here: www.chuitna.org/Economic_Analysis_of_the_Chuitna_Watershed.pdf.

Also go to these websites, www.chuitna.org and www.obviouslaw.org, for more information.

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