Alaska should protect natural resources while allowing sustainable, reasonable utilization

June 30, 2022 7:00 pm
Tlevak Narrows, south of Craig, Alaska, on Prince of Wales Island, is accessed via saltwater. (Photo by Katie Rooks)

Tlevak Narrows, south of Craig, Alaska, on Prince of Wales Island, is accessed via saltwater. (Photo by Katie Rooks)

The Alaska Beacon has asked Alaskans to tell us what they would like to hear candidates discuss as they compete for votes this year. Prince of Wales Island resident Katie Rooks submitted these thoughts, which the Beacon is publishing with Rooks’ permission. Email what you would like to hear from candidates to [email protected]

I have been a resident of Southeast Alaska for almost 20 years. As I’ve grown older, I’ve changed my opinions on lots of issues, as I’ve seen them play out over time here in this state and in our country. I’ve also ended a career, started a successful small eco-tourism business, and found another occupation I really enjoy. However, the one constant in my life has been the same thing which brought me to Alaska, a love of the outdoors and the environment. Alaska’s natural resources, its beauty and its status as a haven for wilderness, wildlife and adventurous souls make it unique. 

Everywhere I look, I see grave threats looming for those resources. It seems that what the current state administration wants to do is to log, mine, overfish, and build roads everywhere, instead of acting in a way that conserves resources and keeps the use of them truly sustainable into the future. 

An angry state Division of Forestry has vowed to build a “timber bridge” to keep big sawmills alive as they send our beautiful old-growth to China, in the face of the pending return of Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass National Forest, which is the last forest of its kind in our country and region, and perhaps one of the the best defenses we have against climate change. It’s also an economic powerhouse for recreation and tourism, but the state gives almost no attention or support to that industry outside of cruise ships. A small town in my area, Whale Pass, has begged the state to reconsider an old-growth sale that will essentially destroy the entire area, including scenery, salmon streams and deer habitat; the state has ignored them. 

Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation, while hammering the fishing industry recently with a hefty fine for Silver Bay Seafoods for dumping too much organic fish waste into the water, allows the mining industry to violate numerous permit terms each year, which impact our water quality and subsequently our salmon runs, without so much as a slap on the wrist (the EPA has to step in to do that). 

The current administration continues to press for more public lands to be transferred into the hands of private individuals or entities to make it even easier to extract natural resources, for the gain of few, and many recipients who don’t live here. 

The state continues to allow fishing practices, including federally managed trawl bycatch, to further threaten already-plummeting stocks of king salmon, to the point that people who really need them to survive can’t get any. The state can and should put heavy pressure on federal managers of this program, yet the coziness of too many state politicians with the trawl industry gets in the way. 

What I want candidates to be discussing is how Alaska can protect its natural resources while still allowing for a sustainable, reasonable amount of utilization. I have seen no candidates who actually support responsible natural resource management across the board. Some support fishing, others mining and logging, but none support a truly sustainable approach to all of those things, including government accountability, and support for and recognition of the constantly growing, eminently viable outdoor recreation industry here in Alaska, which depends on scenery, wildlife, healthy fish stocks and thriving towns to survive. 

I haven’t seen a candidate yet who I can support wholeheartedly; it’s another season of choosing the “lesser evil,” which I am heartily sick of after how that’s been working in our country. 

Alaska, it’s time for a change. 


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Katie Rooks
Katie Rooks

Katie Rooks is the owner of Prince of Wales Excursion Outfitter, which provides equipment rentals, guided adventures and transport. She lives on Prince of Wales Island.