The Bristol Bay region in southwest Alaska is pristine wild country stretching from the rugged snow-capped peaks of the Alaska Range, accross tundra and wetlands laced with rivers that flow into the Bay, providing the best wild salmon habitat on Earth. The hour and a-half flight from Anchorage to Bristol Bay takes visitors on a breath-taking journey across two national parks (Katmai and Lake Clark), Alaska’s largest state park (Wood-Tikchick), three active volcanoes (Augustine, Iliamna and Redoubt), Lake Iliamna (Alaska’s largest lake) and countless winding rivers and tundra lakes. Bristol Bay and its watershed are truly inspiring for their beauty and bounty of fish and wildlife.
As wild salmon disappear around the globe, Bristol Bay continues to produce the world’s largest sockeye salmon fisheries and one of the largest king salmon runs. The reason for this is clear; the Bay’s freshwater salmon habitat is largely untouched by development. However, the bay is under threat from foreign mining corporations that want to turn the watershed into an industrial mining district. North America’s largest open-pit mine is proposed for an area that straddles two of the bay’s most important salmon streams. If plans for the Pebble Mine are allowed to proceed, they risk destroying a $360 million commercial and sport salmon fishery that celebrates its 125th year in 2009.
The Importance of Salmon
Healthy salmon runs underpin the Bristol Bay region’s economic, social, cultural and ecological well-being. Local communities, jobs, and the health of the entire region, from grizzlies on down the food chain, depend on these fish. The salmon sustain both thriving commercial and sport fishing industries as well as traditional subsistence ways of life. If the Pebble mine is developed, hundreds of sports fishing lodges are under threat as well as the world’s largest wild commercial sockeye salmon fishery and the subsistence culture of thousands of Alaska Natives and non-Natives who live in the Bristol Bay region.
The Pebble deposit is a massive storehouse of gold, copper and molybdemum, located in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two of the eight major rivers that feed Bristol Bay. If built, Pebble would be one of the largest mines of its type in the world. The Pebble Limited Partnership is comprised of the world’s second largest multinational mining corporation, London-based Anglo American, along with Northern Dynasty, a junior mining company headquartered in Canada. The Pebble Limited Partnership has not released its final mine plans but company executives have said that the Pebble Mine complex, which would cover some 15 square miles, would include the largest dam in the world (larger than Three Gorges Dam in China). Located in a seismically active area, the massive earthen dam would be designed to contain the toxic waste created in the mining process. But whether is could withstand a major earthquake is questionable. Over its lifetime, Pebble will produce 2.5 billion tons of waste that would have to be treated in perpetuity. Any release of this waste into the surface or groundwater has the potential to destroy Bristol Bays salmon runs forever.
Our Public Lands in the Bay
One million acres of prime wildlife and salmon habitat adjacent to the proposed pebble mine site could opened to new mining claims with the stroke of a pen. Closed to mining since 1971, these wild Alaska lands are integral to Bristol Bay’s salmon-supporting habitat that is anchored by miles of untamed rivers and wild country. A recommendation from the Bureau of Land Management to lift this mineral closure and create a modern day gold rush was issued in the last days of the Bush Administration. The cumulative impacts from increased development in the area overtime could devastate the fishery.
Protect Bristol Bay
With wild salmon runs disappearing from the planet, Bristol Bay is a place of international importance because of its prolific wild salmon runs and the economies they support. It faces imminent threat from the proposed Pebble mine as well as hard rock mining on adjacent state and federal land. The Bristol Bay watershed must be protected from Pebble and other large-scale mining projects.