Alaska voters strike down ‘Stand for Salmon’ ballot initiative

Sockeye salmon migrate up a small stream in Southcentral Alaska. (Photo: Katrina Liebich/USFWS)

Update (11:45 p.m.)
Following months of intense debate and millions of dollars in campaign spending, Alaska voters defeated Ballot Measure 1 by a wide margin.

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Commonly known as the Stand for Salmon initiative, the measure was aimed at increasing protections for Alaska’s most iconic fish. It would have significantly toughened the environmental permitting process for mines, dams and oil developments in salmon habitat.

The initiative faced strong resistance from the resource industry, Alaska Native corporations, unions and other groups. Opponents said it would hinder resource development in the state.

The campaign against the initiative raised over $12 million, far outstripping the initiative’s supporters, who raised over $2 million.

Update (10:15 p.m.): With 58 percent of precincts reporting, “no” voters are leading by a wide margin. Ballot Measure 1 is down 63 percent to 37 percent. If approved, the ballot initiative would add new protections for Alaska’s salmon habitat.

This story will be updated as election results come in.

Alaska’s voters are weighing in today on a question that cuts to the heart of the state’s identity: What’s the right balance between resource development and protections for the state’s most iconic fish?

Ballot measure 1 supporters gather at 49th State Brewing Company in downtown Anchorage on election night. (Photo by Joey Mendolia, ALaska’s Energy Desk)

Ballot Measure 1, commonly known as the Stand for Salmon initiative, is aimed at increasing protections for salmon habitat in Alaska. The eight-page measure includes a number of provisions, including a more stringent permitting process for projects with greater potential impacts to salmon habitat, with more opportunity for the public to comment. Another key element is that the measure limits offsite mitigation, which is the practice of restoring habitat in a different location to compensate for habitat impacted or eliminated by a project.

The measure proved extremely controversial, drawing fierce opposition from oil and mining companies, Alaska Native Corporations, unions and other groups. They argued the initiative was too burdensome and would hinder resource development. Opponents formed a coalition under the name “Stand for Alaska – Vote No on 1” to campaign against it.

Stand for Alaska raised a significant amount of money over the course of the campaign. By election day, Stand for Alaska had brought in over $12 million, with major donations from oil and mining companies like BP Alaska, Donlin Gold and ConocoPhillips Alaska.

The measure’s supporters raised over $2 million. Much of their campaign was organized with support from local environmental groups like Cook Inletkeeper, as well as national groups like the Wild Salmon Center and Trout Unlimited. The campaign in favor of Ballot Measure 1 also received significant donations from John Childs, a Wild Salmon Center board member and private equity firm chairman, and Vulcan Inc., a company controlled by the estate of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Until late this summer, it wasn’t even certain the initiative would end up on the ballot because the state challenged it in court. In August, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled parts of the initiative were unconstitutional because it explicitly barred the state from allowing certain permits in specific situations. After removing those provisions, the Supreme Court allowed the remainder of the initiative to go before voters.

In addition to debating the substance of the measure, supporters and opponents also sparred over campaign transparency, both filing complaints with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. The initiative also became a talking point in other major campaigns this election cycle: Governor Bill Walker and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy came out against it, while Democratic candidate Mark Begich said he supported the initiative.

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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