The Alaska Supreme Court ruled yesterday, Aug. 8, that a state referendum on salmon habitat can appear on the November ballot — with some revision.

The Yes for Salmon initiative was introduced in 2017 to establish new salmon habitat restrictions in Alaska. The original language called for government review of projects that would have “significant adverse effects” on fish habitat. Projects deemed to damage fish habitat beyond repair would be prohibited.

The ballot initiative, created by the nonprofit Stand for Salmon, was rejected last year by Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott on the grounds that it would appropriate a public resource — not allowed under the Alaska constitution. But a Superior Court judge ruled in October that the proposal was to regulate, not appropriate, public assets.

That ruling overruled Mallott’s decision not to certify the referendum and paved the way for the measure to appear on the 2018 ballot. The state appealed the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court, which published its decision on Wednesday, Aug.8.

"We conclude that the initiative would encroach on the discretion over allocation decisions delegated to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game by the Legislature, and that the initiative as written therefore effects an unconstitutional appropriation," read the decision from the five-member court.

The ruling, however, does not keep the initiative off the ballot. Instead, the court directs “the problematic sections… be severed from the remainder of the initiative” and allow the referendum to remain on the ballot edited.

The offending sections to be removed would have required the Fish and Game commissioner to prohibit projects that would cause "substantial damage" to anadromous fish habitat. What remains of the referendum would establish a new regulatory system for managing fish habitat, including mandating a public process before Fish and Game can issue fish-habitat permits.

Alaska voters will have their say on the measure on Nov. 6

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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