American Angler: Most of our readers are familiar with the issues surrounding the proposed Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. For those who are not, can you provide some background information to quickly catch them up?
Scott Hed: The condensed version is this: The Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska is home to the most prolific wild salmon fishery on Earth. Nearly 40 million sockeye salmon return to the rivers and streams of Bristol Bay annually, fueling an ecosystem that includes everything from brown bears, moose, caribou, and bald eagles to trophy rainbow trout (think 30”-plus) and other game fish. This salmon fishery supports a centuries-old Native culture, over 14,000 jobs, is worth $1.5 billion annually, and is the reason anglers dream of fishing in wild, remote Alaska. There’s simply no place like it on the planet. Now, consider that foreign mining interests want to develop what would be North America’s largest open-pit gold-copper-molybdenum mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay’s two most productive salmon watersheds. The proposed Pebble Mine would result in having to store up to 10.8 billion tons of toxic mine waste FOREVER in a known seismically-active area behind some of the largest earthen dams in the world. Wrong idea in the wrong place, and that’s exactly why over 920 angling and hunting groups and businesses have implored the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide some safeguards to Bristol Bay’s waters and lands.
American Angler: The EPA just released its revised draft of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. Put this in context for our readers. What is the significance? How does it differ from their last draft assessment?
Scott Hed: The revised draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment was released on Friday, April 26. This science-based document outlines the existing values found in Bristol Bay (ecological, economic, cultural, etc.) and seeks to identify the risks to those values posed by mining proposals in the Nushagak and Kvichak River watersheds. The first draft was released in May 2012 and received over 223,000 public comments (overwhelmingly – 95% - in favor of EPA protecting Bristol Bay). The first draft was also peer reviewed by an independent panel of expert scientists. EPA took the feedback from the peer experts and the public comments and sought to strengthen the document. This revision did a number of things. It clarified the proposed mine scenario – based upon information submitted by the mining companies themselves. It considered the cumulative impacts of development beyond simply the proposed Pebble Mine (which is the most well-known proposal), because beyond Pebble there are 1,000 square miles of mining claims lying in wait. That’s something a lot of people don’t realize: If Pebble were permitted, it would likely be the proverbial “foot in the door” and other mines would crop up in the region – changing things forever, in a big way. The revision also confirmed just how unique the Bristol Bay region is relative to the significance of the salmon fishery. And it reached the same conclusion as the first draft: Mining in this region will have significant impacts on Bristol Bay’s salmon ecosystem, and the culture, jobs, and economy it supports. We believe it confirmed what we’ve said all along: Wrong mine, wrong place.
American Angler: What’s the biggest challenge still facing efforts to protect Bristol Bay?
Scott Hed: While the revised draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment highlights that mining in Bristol Bay will not be good for salmon, residents of the region, commercial fishermen, or sportsmen, the document itself carries no force of law. The challenge will be to convince President Obama that the EPA needs to take action to protect this incredible place once the final version of the Watershed Assessment is released later this year.
American Angler: Why should anglers who have never been there or may never go care what happens in Bristol Bay?
Scott Hed: In my job, I have essentially played the role of Johnny Appleseed – traveling the USA talking to anglers and hunters about Bristol Bay and the proposed Pebble Mine project. Anglers I meet typically fall into two categories: Those who have been to Alaska and can’t wait to return, and those who’ve not been there yet but dream of going someday. Alaska truly is a bucket list destination for anyone who loves the outdoors. It’s the Last Frontier you’ve imagined, but better than you could ever wish for. That said, the proposal to build monstrous mines in what many consider to be the “best of the best” when it comes to remote Alaska fishing is a dark cloud on the horizon. This one we need to nip in the bud, because I’ve long said that if something like Pebble Mine can be built in a place like Bristol Bay, then I fear everything is on the table, nothing at all is off limits. Where do you draw the line? This seems like a place we need to stand our ground. Sportsmen from catch and release anglers to big game hunters and companies that sell us fishing gear to firearms have joined this effort. And we need anyone and everyone who loves the outdoors to stand with us.
American Angler: The EPA is allowing public comments on this issue. Is this this the best way for angler’s to get involved?
Scott Hed: Yes, anglers should visit www.SaveBristolBay.org to submit their official comment to the EPA. While we dominated the public commentary on the first draft of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, we need to do so again. The comment period is scheduled to conclude on May 31st, so please help now and encourage all your friends to do the same.
American Angler: The EPA is scheduled to finalize the assessment by the end of 2013. What happens next?
Scott Hed: Once the EPA releases a final version of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, which they have stated they intend to do in 2013, then we need to convince the Obama Administration that it needs to act to protect the residents of Bristol Bay and the 14,000 hard-working Americans who depend on the region’s abundance. What should the President rely upon? The rock-solid scientific evidence of the Watershed Assessment or the influence and fleeting promises of multi-national mining companies? We will need to show the President that sportsmen are with him on this issue, should he choose to take action.
American Angler: Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. released a statement last week regarding the revised draft. Comments? Thoughts?
Scott Hed: Just what you’d expect. Bashing the EPA and trying to mislead the public. How easy is that? They’ve dumped millions of dollars into a public relations campaign but they still can’t buy public sentiment. This is a bad idea, and they’re trying to convince everyone otherwise. The revised draft of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment takes information straight from the mining companies’ own documents and shows how development of one or more large mines in Bristol Bay simply cannot happen without significant impacts to the most productive wild salmon fishery on the planet. EPA has the legal authority and the obligation to protect places like Bristol Bay from toxic mining waste. The developers have a problem with that I guess.
TAKE ACTION 1 > Pebble Mine Project Endangers Bristol Bay, Alaska | Save BioGems