A Natural Wonder
Majestic and practically untouched, Bristol Bay, Alaska provides spawning grounds for half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon. With sustainable commercial fishing providing thousands of jobs, world-class waters for anglers, and many Alaska Native villages still living subsistence lifestyles, salmon are deeply intertwined in the region's culture and economy.
Given massive discoveries of gold and copper deep below the surface of Bristol Bay’s headwaters, a foreign mining conglomerate called the Pebble Partnership plans to build North America's largest open pit mine. Should toxic mining waste from the Pebble Mine find its way into the watershed, the effects would prove catastrophic to salmon and the entire ecosystem.
As a group of anglers, educators, conservationists, and dreamers, we’re not going to let that happen. With your help, we're going to pass legislation that will prevent the Pebble Mine, or any large-scale open pit mine, from ever harming the salmon of Bristol Bay.
A unique and pristine ecosystem unlike any other in the world, Bristol Bay rests along the southwest coast of Alaska. This expansive watershed is home to at least 29 fish species, 40 terrestrial mammals, and more than 190 different birds.
Biologists consider the stream and river waters of Bristol Bay exceptionally pure. Low sediment levels mean you can see to the bottom at even the deepest parts. Add high oxygen levels and a steady water flow, and you have the perfect salmon habitat.
A KEYSTONE SPECIES
As they make their journey from the ocean to their spawning grounds, salmon deliver a critical source of nutrients to animal and plant life in the region. At least 138 different species in the watershed rely on salmon as an essential source for protein, Omega 3's, and other nutrients—making salmon a keystone species.
A TASTY MEAL
Bristol Bay accounts for 46% of the world's wild sockeye salmon with an average of 37.5 million fish returning to spawn each year. As 51% of wild sockeye consumed in the US comes from Bristol Bay, it's pretty darn likely that the salmon dinner you enjoyed last month came from here.
Over the course of 78 years, the Pebble Partnership plans to create an open pit mine nearly a mile deep and three miles wide. The pebble deposit is estimated to hold between $300 and $500 billion in mineral resources and will produce 10.8 billion tons of mining waste. That's the equivalent of 3,000 lbs. of waste for every single human on earth!
Because of its toxicity, mining waste must be stored and monitored “in perpetuity”—i.e. forever. Current plans will house Pebble’s waste behind multiple 700 ft. tall earthen tailings dams. Should this harmful waste leak or get released into the watershed, it would cause irreversible and permanent damage to the surrounding ecosystem.
The sad truth is that open-pit mining has a history of spills, leaks, and accidents. Given the almost unfathomable scale of the Pebble Mine and plans to build it in a wetland environment, it’s hard to imagine leaks won’t occur. The fact that Alaska sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and experiences significant seismic activity doesn’t help much either.
To find their spawning grounds, salmon rely on a highly keen sense of smell. Exposure to even trace amounts of copper or other toxic chemicals could impair a salmon's sense of smell and therefore disrupt their ability to find the streams and tributaries where they hatched and where they will in turn, spawn themselves. History and science have both proven that salmon are highly vulnerable to even small changes in water quality.
With access to the largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world and the most valuable in Alaska, Bristol Bay's commercial fleet has operated since 1884. Working with wildlife biologists and Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, fishermen catch a sustainable amount of salmon, ensuring enough make it to the spawning headwaters to continue the cycle.
Alaska Natives have called Bristol Bay home for over 4,000 years. Living subsistence lifestyles, Alaska Natives not only consider salmon part of their cultural and traditional heritage, but rely on them as a major food source. To this day, salmon still provide food security in 25 of the 31 villages in the region.
RECREATIONAL & SPORT ANGLING
With more than 40 commercial fishing lodges along Bristol Bay tributaries, anglers from all over the world come to fish some of North America’s richest and most productive waters. Their sport helps drive a strong recreation and tourism industry year after year.
THE BRISTOL BAY FOREVER INITIATIVE
In 1972, the Alaska Legislature enacted AS 38.05.140(f), establishing the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve and providing protection for salmon populations against potential harm from oil and gas development. Unfortunately the law did not include mining operations... until now.
The Bristol Bay Forever Initiative will amend the existing law and ensure “large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation(s) will not constitute danger to the fishery within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve." This standard of no “danger to the fishery” will apply not only to the Pebble Mine, but to any potential large-scale sulfide mine in the Reserve.
The Bristol Bay Forever initiative will ensure that “large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation(s) will not constitute danger to the fishery within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve." This standard of no “danger to the fishery” will apply not only to the Pebble Mine, but to any potential large-scale metallic sulfide mine in the region.
A state-based strategy written by an experienced team of professionals with extensive backgrounds in Alaska law and Alaska politics, the Bristol Bay Forever Initiative establishes a long term precedent of protecting Bristol Bay's salmon.
- Alaska has historically embraced mining operations. No single mine which has applied for a permit has ever been denied.
- The Pebble Partnership is well funded and has used its resources to influence local, state, and federal government agencies.
- We anticipate the Pebble Partnership will do everything in their power to defeat the Initiative.
This past February, the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced they were initiating a process under the Clean Water Act “to identify appropriate options to protect the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.”
While the EPA’s response to the requests of local tribal groups and hundreds of thousands of US citizens is taking steps towards protecting Bristol Bay, it’s not enough. In a state built on self-reliance and a spirit deeply connected to the land, it’s incredibly important for Alaskans to control their own fate. Passing the Initiative ensures the Alaska Legislature gains oversight of major mining operations like Pebble.
Facts to consider:
- A number of steps must occur before the EPA decides whether or not to block the mine. This process will likely take a year or more to complete.
- Several political leaders in Alaska and Washington D.C. have publicly called a preemptive veto of the mine “extreme federal overreach.”
- The EPA has initiated a review process under the Clean Water Act 29 times in history. They’ve issued restrictions in 12 of those cases and have only prohibited one project that had not yet applied for a dredge-and-fill permit. Pebble would be the second… ever.
- If carried through, there’s no guarantee this decision won’t be overturned by future EPA Administrators (who typically change with each new presidential administration).
Only time will tell what actions the EPA might take. One thing is for sure, we cannot afford to just stand on the sidelines and watch the process unfold.
FOR ALASKA, BY ALASKA
On November 4th, 2014 the Bristol Bay Forever Initiative will appear on the Alaska ballot. If passed, it grants the Alaska Legislature authority to determine the fate of any large-scale mine in the Reserve without the influence of the federal government. It will hold potential mining operations to the highest standard and it will ensure Alaskan oversight over an Alaskan treasure.
Independent scientific studies all conclude the Pebble Mine poses far too large a threat to the salmon, the people of Bristol Bay, and the region’s incredibly rich biodiversity. Failure to protect this pristine resource is not an option.
Please join our ranks and share this story today.
Funds raised go directly to Bristol Bay Forever Inc. and will be spent on TV spots, print ads, door-to-door campaigns, and everything else that goes into passing a citizen-based initiative. Once fully aware, educated, and inspired to vote, we are confident an overwhelming majority of Alaskans will do their part when the time comes.
We're a small group of individuals acting on behalf of Bristol Bay Forever Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization whose sole purpose is to pass the Initiative. After researching the Pebble Mine and realizing the harm it could bring to such an incredible resource, we decided to take a stance and educate others who might not otherwise be aware. Plus we enjoy eating wild salmon too.
Pat Clayton, Photography