Imagine a place that’s wild — save for an ATV trail, there are no roads leading to it, and no fences. Swap the idea of any buildings on the horizon for grass and fireweed. Add the awareness that there might be a brown bear around the next bend, or a fox watching from a gravel bar. Appreciate the quiet — that the fly line whizzing past your ear and the riffle of spawning salmon in your periphery are noisy enough to seem loud in comparison to the setting.
The place you can catch a rainbow trout as big as a silver salmon is a place you hold with reverence. A place that sits atop your fishing bucket list, and if you’re lucky to have been there, a place you dream to someday return.
The Gibralter River, flowing from the southeast corner of Iliamna Lake in Bristol Bay, is one of those places. It belongs on a short list of rivers whose names are held closely in hearts of a group of anglers lucky enough to have traveled to its remote reaches.
This month, backers of the proposed Pebble Mine filed plans with the U.S. Coast Guard to build a bridge over the Gibralter River, near its mouth. The company plans dozens of trips per day using the bridge, with large dump trucks carrying mining materials to and from their port on Cook Inlet on a new, private road they plan to build if their phase-one project is permitted.
Not only is the Gibralter bridge planned within the floodplain, the mine is underplaying impacts of this proposal, as its backers have in every step of the process so far. For instance, to suggest the small impact the bridge would have on existing businesses and make the proposal sweeter to permitting agencies, Pebble claims only one lodge uses the river.
When we reached out to our lodge friends in Bristol Bay to verify this, over a dozen got back to us within just a few hours. “We use it,” they said. “We love the Gibralter.” A quick Google search says as much.
The issue is, it’s not just the Gibralter that’ll be irreversibly changed. Conservative estimates show that 81 miles of salmon streams would be destroyed if Pebble Mine is constructed. These are salmon streams that don’t exist in other parts of the world because we’ve wiped almost all of them out. They’re salmon streams that sustain local people and that feed the trophy trout and char that anglers around the world spend decades dreaming about coming to chase.
Reviewing Pebble’s plan to construct a bridge over the Gibralter says a lot about how they’re approaching this process. The mine is undercutting and undervaluing every other aspect of Bristol Bay except the copper and gold in the ground. In response to concerns raised about this plan, the Army Corps (tasked with reviewing Pebble’s key permit), said there was no way to quantify the costs to lodges and that they could simply go fish somewhere else. (Download the PDF from Pebble here.)
Simple economic analysis shows that the industry is worth $60 million annually. Survey responses tell us that visitors plan trips to Bristol Bay for the wild landscape first, and incredible fishing second. To tell these businesses and visitors to go somewhere else is not problem-solving. It is disrespecting the family and Native-owned lodges and tourism operators, and the people who have lived there for generations.
We’ll share the comment period for the Gibralter River bridge on Save Bristol Bay’s Facebook and Instagram pages as soon as it opens later this month. If you’ve fished there, or one day hope to, please let the Coast Guard know.
If you want to take action for Bristol Bay right now, sign this petition and then send it to five friends.
These places are special. Some places are not right for developing, and Bristol Bay is atop that list. That includes the Gibralter River and many others that, this year, need our voice.