Bethel ONC Tribe Passes Resolution Supporting Salmon Habitat Ballot Initiative

The Bethel ONC Tribe passed a resolution supporting a controversial salmon ballot initiative last week. Thus far, the tribe is the first one in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to pass a resolution specifically endorsing it.

"We see this as just another step for protecting our river and protecting our way of life subsistence-wise," said ONC Executive Director Peter Evon.

The tribal council passed the resolution unanimously, just days before state officials will hold a public hearing in Bethel about the Stand For Salmon initiative. Many Y-K Delta residents practice subsistence and salmon is a key part of that diet. ONC’s resolution says that salmon makes up 60 percent of the protein consumed in rural Alaska.

One of the world’s biggest gold mines could be built in near a tributary that flows into the Kuskokwim River, and ONC marched against the proposed Donlin mine earlier this summer.

The Stand for Salmon measure would toughen the permitting process for proposed projects built on salmon habitats, and industries like oil and mining are fighting it.

Officials with Donlin Gold, the company developing the mine, say that they don’t know how the ballot initiative will impact the project if it passes.  But Donlin  claims that it will make it harder for them to build the mine. Opponents of the Stand For Salmon measure also claim it could hinder smaller infrastructure projects, like bridges and roads. 

Donlin has already received key state permits from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to eliminate one salmon stream and partially erase another, but they still need permits for their proposed gas pipeline.

Donlin spokesman Kurt Parkan wrote that the mine and salmon can co-exist and that the company plans to build the project as safely as possible.

The public hearing for the Stand for Salmon initiative will be held at 2 p.m. at the Bethel Cultural Center on Tuesday, September 25.