The Stand for Salmon campaign knits together every Alaskan’s salmon story, building a movement for proactive salmon protections for the future.
By Ashley Rood
Talkeetna, Alaska is the gateway to Denali National Park. Population, at last count, 876. It sits on the banks of the Big Su, where it meets the Talkeetna and the Chulitna rivers, and each river’s glacial silt casts a different hue of blue. Businesses in town feature technicolor photos of the Northern Lights, next to photocopied warnings: Don’t Feed the Moose. “No Mat-Su Dam” signs adorn breweries and big trees alike. (Local WSC partners have put that on the shelf, for now). While Talkeetna is a heavily trafficked tourist stop, it’s also home to people who love rivers and wild fish.
And that’s what we came to talk about.
Alaska Wild Salmon Day is an annual celebration of salmon and the Alaskan way of life codified in an official state holiday. And on this second weekend in August, salmon lovers everywhere hosted celebrations big and small, from the Southeast Feast in Sitka to the thousand-strong gathering in Anchorage to a small barbecue in Talkeetna, in a light rain that locals didn’t seem to mind.
This year’s celebrations took on an added layer of urgency and debate, with Ballot Measure 1—the fish habitat protection measure—on the ballot for November, the Pebble Mine continuing down the federal permitting track, and many fishing communities facing shortages of king and sockeye salmon due to poor returns.
At the Stand for Salmon booth in Talkeetna’s Village Park, Emily Anderson, WSC’s Alaska Director talked to every single attendee—each with a salmon story. There was the young woman who worked for the union, whose boyfriend was a commercial fisherman. The grey-haired woman with a Salmon Sisters’ shirt, who talked about her concerns for her boyfriend working the oil fields on the North Slope. The guy sporting an NRA hat, a camouflage jacket and a well-groomed chevron mustache. There were anglers. The Audubon couple. The new guy in town with the cutest 2-year-old you’ve ever seen.
They may have all had very different life stories, but their questions boiled down to a few key points: What is the ballot measure really about? And what are these suspicious ads against the initiative I’ve been hearing incessantly on the radio?
Getting the real message out about Measure 1 is an uphill battle with an avalanche of summer ads from the opposition. We couldn’t turn on the car radio or the TV without being bombarded by misleading propaganda against the measure funded by the deep pockets of the corporate opposition — their coffers brimming with $9 million and counting. But by talking one on one to Alaskans, as Stand for Salmon campaigners are doing across the state, the campaign is building broad grassroots support for Measure 1 and a lasting movement that centers on every Alaskan’s connection to salmon.
Everyone who visited the Stand for Salmon booth in Talkeetna wanted to be informed. And when they found out that voting yes for Measure 1 is a vote for salmon, most of them excitedly took stickers, or signed a postcard that would remind them to vote. All of them were interested in reading more and giving it some real thought. Many stopped to chat that day with our treasured partners, Mike and Molly Wood. They talked about everything from the thousand ways to filet a salmon to how we can really win this fight. The Woods are the real deal champions for the Susitna, its tributaries, its salmon and the communities that depend on them. They were instrumental in the fight to shelve the Su Dam. And they’ve now stepped up for all Alaskans: Mike Wood is one of Measure 1’s three official sponsors.
From Talkeetna to Anchorage, we kept up the talking and the grilling. The Wild Salmon Day party in Anchorage drew a huge crowd of almost a thousand people lining up for Mike Wood’s Su Salmon Company filets fresh from the grill, (we even had cuts of the coveted collars) live music, local beer, and art stations for screen printing and poster making in support of the Stand for Salmon initiative. The messages from the bands, the grill masters, and the speakers alike was simple: Are you pro-salmon? Vote for salmon.
At Bear Tooth, a foodie’s paradise and craft brew mecca in mid-town Anchorage, Manager Stephanie Johnson, spoke with WSC’s Sam Snyder about the challenges of wading in to politics as a restaurant—a typically neutral gathering space. But she emphasized the urgency and importance of the “Stand for Salmon” measure in support of their suppliers—the Alaskan fishing community.
While setting up at Wild Salmon Day or over beers at Bear Tooth, we saw that both salmon and development touch everybody’s lives in Alaska in one way or another. But, when people really understand that this initiative is about balancing development and salmon, that it’s about jobs, and that it’s about the Alaskan way of life—Alaskans are ready to Stand for Salmon and vote yes.
This support from everyday Alaskans is infectious. Visiting hunter, forager and chef and author Hank Shaw was inspired to pitch in $1,000 on the spot to the Stand for Salmon campaign during his Wild Salmon Day talk at the Anchorage Museum during Wild Salmon week. As he said: “I come from one your possible futures, California. [Alaska] is the last place where you don’t have to fix stuff, you just have to prevent bad stuff from happening.”
For all of us that would like to help Alaskans reverse the trend of history, it’s time to take a stand.
Paid for by Wild Salmon Center Political Activities Fund, Portland Oregon. Top three donors: Guido Rahr, Portland, OR, Dave Finkel, Portland, OR, Ken Morrish, Ashland, OR.