Upfront Notes

Upfront Notes

The Election and Bristol Bay

  • By: Greg Thomas
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upfront notes/// greg thomas

The Election and Bristol Bay

I don’t really care about party lines or who you supported in the presidential election, and I won’t even ask, believing instead that everyone should cast a vote without scorn. But the fact is Barack Obama is America’s guy for the next four years, and that gives us an opportunity to kill the proposed mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay for good.

Bristol Bay ranks as one of the world’s most productive and intact fisheries for wild salmon, rainbow trout and char, among many other commercially viable and tasty species, such as king crab, halibut and black cod.

The current threat to Bristol Bay, as most of you know, is the possible construction of a massive open-pit gold mine that might span 20 square miles and include the world’s largest earthen dam, a 700-foot-high and several-miles-long monstrosity, plus a 10-square-mile containment pond that would hold between 2.5 and 10 billion tons of toxic waste. Scientists doubt the dam could withstand the force of a 9.2 magnitude earthquake, such as the one that devastated nearby Anchorage in 1964. Any significant seepage of toxic waste could destroy Bristol Bay’s annual $500 million commercial and sport fisheries—and a way of life for natives who rely on the Bay’s abundance.

To find out exactly what the election means for Pebble Mine and Bristol Bay, I contacted Shoren Brown, Trout Unlimited’s Save Bristol Bay campaign director, who told me that anglers should be optimistic about the next four years and President Obama’s potential to quash the mine. And she urges all of us to act on the Pebble Mine issue before the next administration—Democratic, Republican or anything else—takes office four years from now, when we could be faced with an entirely different attitude.

“The initial watershed assessment found that even without a major disaster, digging a mine the size of Pebble would destroy up to 87 miles of salmon streams and up to 4,300 acres of wetland salmon habitat—impacts that are unacceptable to Bristol Bay residents, commercial fishermen and anglers,” Brown wrote.

“Furthermore, the Bristol Bay fisheries support 14,000 jobs and are an economic engine,” Brown continued. “A victory by Governor Romney could have meant a green light for Pebble Mine to proceed unchecked. That’s why sportsmen and women need to keep the pressure on President Obama to protect Bristol Bay. We’ve come far, but work remains to carry us across the finish line.”

And how, exactly, do we do that? All of us should urge, in writing, that the administration initiate a Clean Water Act 404 (c) process in Bristol Bay. Doing so, according to Brown, would prevent devastating projects such as Pebble Mine, while allowing sensible and sustainable development in Bristol Bay.

All of us, and I am first to admit, tire from these seemingly endless environmental battles. But this one is well worth fighting, to preserve a way of life in Alaska and to save some of the world’s greatest fisheries.

—Greg Thomas