By Chris Wood
Last month’s release of the draft “environmental impact statement” to permit industrial-scale mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska, made me recall the first time I set eyes on that remarkable landscape nearly 12 years ago.
Trout Unlimited was looking to expand our presence in Alaska, so I consulted Tim Bristol, a long-time Alaska conservationist. Tim told me about a massive mine that a Canadian company wanted to build in Bristol Bay—the world’s most prolific and important salmon fishery. “
Chris,” he said, “this needs to be the centerpiece of TU’s work up here.”
My initial reaction was, “Tim, we aren’t an anti-mining group.”
Tim explained that every year, the Kvichak River supplies nearly half of the world’s sockeye salmon. Another river, the Nushagak, is among the top producers of chinook salmon in the world. These amazing watersheds produce 60 million adult salmon annually. It is in the headwaters of these two rivers that the Pebble Partnership would construct a massive mine—quite possibly the largest of its kind in the world. A dozen years later, I have fished the rivers and creeks of Bristol Bay often enough that people in the office ask, “Do you really need to go there again?”
I have lowered my rod to the famously photographic bears of the Brooks River—the ones at the waterfall snapping a salmon in mid-air—so they do not follow my fish, and thus me. When a flight home from Igiugig to Anchorage was delayed, I spent three hours with a tribal leader who opened her home and told me how salmon have defined her family for generations. This past year, I and Brian Kraft, a TU Business member and the owner of the Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge, took a boat from the lodge and dropped his daughter, at school in Igiugig, the local village. The students’ ATV’s were covered in “No Pebble Mine” stickers.
I have had a 30-inch native Kvichak rainbow hit my fly at the end of an 80-foot swing, only to watch it burst from the water and give me an eyeball-to-eyeball stare a second later. I have seen a landscape the size of West Virginia (but with only a few thousand people in it) that looks and functions largely the same as it did when God created it. I have learned how important this $1.6 billion commercial fishery is in providing 14,000 high-paying commercial fishing jobs.
So, stopping the Pebble Mine is personal for me. Our nation has spent over $15 billion trying to recover salmon and steelhead from the Columbia River basin. All we need to do to keep Bristol Bay intact is to have the humility to leave it alone.
Wilderness lands such as Bristol Bay are the anvil upon which the character of the nation was forged. We need to keep Bristol Bay untrammeled by large-scale mining to demonstrate that there are places on the planet where 60 million salmon are more important than clawing ore from the ground. We need to leave Bristol Bay intact to demonstrate that we can, and will, respect the will of native people—finally, in Alaska. Protecting Bristol Bay demonstrates our confidence in the future. It shows that we will take specific actions today to ensure a better world for our children tomorrow—that we are willing to forsake short-term profit for the benefit of those yet born.
Once again, we need your help. If every angler, whether they have been to Bristol Bay or not, acts, we will succeed. Our collective job is to use the public comment period to make it clear to our elected leaders that Bristol Bay is the wrong place for industrial scale mining.
Twelve years is a long time to remain vigilant. But we cannot let our guard down. You have done so much already, but the Pebble Partnership is energized and trying to wear us down. Don’t let that happen. Support TU, and the other groups fighting the mine. Contact your legislators, and the EPA.