AK Voices: Bill Sherwonit

Anchorage nature writer Bill Sherwonit is the author of more than a dozen books, including "Living with Wildness" and "Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness."

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If You Oppose Pebble & Love Wildlife, Vote for Ethan Berkowitz

I awoke in the darkness this morning, head spinning and stomach churning. Several things were playing on my mind and gut and one them, it slowly dawned on me, was Alaska’s gubernatorial race. Like many other Alaskans, I’ve been fascinated – and distracted – by the contest being waged for the U.S. Senate. Since the August primaries, that zany, turbulent campaign has pulled my attention from the statewide race that matters most to me: the one for governor.

Sean Parnell’s re-election worries me for any number of reasons. The two I’ll emphasize here are mining and wildlife. Parnell has taken a wait-and-see approach on the proposed Pebble Mine; but given his inclinations, I have little, if any, doubt that he and his administration will back the project once permitting begins. Ethan Berkowitz, to his credit, has already stated his opposition to Pebble, because of the clear risk it would pose to Bristol Bay’s fisheries. I’m less certain where Berkowitz stands on coal mining, but he can’t be worse than Parnell, whose administration seems to be paving the way for controversial coal mines near the community of Sutton and at the Chuitna River, on Cook Inlet’s western shores. As I wrote in an earlier Alaska Voices blog posting, “At a time when we should be moving toward cleaner energy, it is an especially egregious and obscene thing, to destroy a healthy salmon stream for dirty coal. What are our leaders thinking? It’s mind-blowing that the state [under Gov. Parnell] is urging Alaskans to take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach and let the permitting process run its course, even as some regulators, according to the coalition, are telling Asian buyers that ‘permitting is expected to be completed in 2011.’”

Secondly, Ethan has to be a better choice for those who care about ALL of Alaska’s wildlife. Gov. Parnell prefers a “wild game farming” approach to wildlife management, favoring ungulates (moose, caribou, Dall sheep, muskoxen) at the expense of wolves and bears. He has also repeatedly fought special protections for species that the federal government has determined to be threatened or endangered, most notably polar bears and Cook Inlet’s beluga whales. And he has stacked the Board of Game with trappers and hunters who represent a very small slice of the Alaskan public; under Parnell, the BOG has incrementally taken ever more extreme steps to “control” wolves and bears, largely to benefit urban hunters and the state’s big-game guiding industry (and thus nonresident hunters).

As noted in my previous blog, I am greatly disappointed that Berkowitz considers Alaska’s current predator control program to be “just about right.” But I’m encouraged that he also says, “We need to do a better job with the science [when managing fish and wildlife], making sure that we have adequate investment in our research to manage the resources according to the constitution. In addition, the Boards of Fish and Game should not be politicized, and should be allowed to make their decisions based on science and not on political pressure.”

I believe Ethan Berkowitz to be a reasonable man who would, upon election, do his best to balance the BOG and also take a hard look at the state’s predator control programs. If he were to do that, I think he’d conclude they are not “just about right,” but more extreme and regressive than they should be. With Parnell, we know what we’re getting; with Berkowitz, there’s hope. If you care about protecting Alaska’s wildlife and fisheries, vote for Ethan Berkowitz.

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