Crunch Time for Alaska's Bristol Bay and the Pebble Mine Decision

I've reported in Field & Stream magazine and on the "FlyTalk" blog about the proposed Pebble Mine site at the headwaters of the wild salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska, for several years now. Right now, dozens of advocates for Bristol Bay have converged on Washington D.C. to express opposition to the Pebble Mine project. They range from sport fishermen, big game hunters, to lodge owners, commercial fishermen and representatives of the native communities.

And they're all saying the same thing: They don't want Pebble to proceed (though this mine promises to unearth billions in gold, copper, and the like), because they don't want to trade the most pristine wild salmon and trout habitat in the world for the riches to be had by developing a massive strip mine at the Pebble location.

This isn't a political issue, it's a cultural issue. When Sig Hansen of Deadliest Catch fame, fly fishing guides, the natives (over 80 percent of whom oppose the Pebble Mine project), Sturm, Ruger & Co., and Tiffany & Co. (the jewelry company with the pretty blue boxes) are on the same page, that says something. In The Hill former congressman Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) offered the following:

We live in a time where jobs don't exactly grow on trees, but in Alaska, it is fair to say that jobs grow on rivers. The Bristol Bay economy is threatened by the prospects of two foreign mining companies seeking to begin mining in the area, and it is up to Alaskans to protect their own economy. Bristol Bay is legendary for sportsmen from across our great country. The sport fishing industry in Bristol Bay alone generates $65 million annually and supports more than 800 permanent jobs within the local community.

Every year more than 60,000 visitors travel to the region for recreational opportunities. They come to absorb the scenic views, fish, hunt, and study the wildlife. These folks buy plane tickets, stay in local lodging, hire tour guides, purchase gear from local supply stores, and enjoy the local cuisine. But all of what I have just talked about would be threatened by the creation of the Pebble Mine.

The advocates for the mine suggest it will add jobs to the region, but fail to recognize that the mine's presence could jeopardize an entire industry. I support protecting the current Bristol Bay economy and the environment at the same time. If a conservative Republican from North Carolina with a lifetime rating of 11% from the League of Conservation Voters can fight for this issue, I hope you can too!

Here's the real rub with Pebble. The mining company says it's going to contain up to 10 billion tons of toxic waste behind earthen barriers, in the most seismically-active region in the world. And if there's a problem, they promise to stock fish to make things right. Ask California and Oregon anglers how that "stocked fish" program is working to make things right in their states.

I don't care if you're a Republican, a Democrat, a communist, an anarchist, or anything in-bewtween--if you care about fishing and wild places, you should care whether or not the Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency rubber-stamp an initiative that allows a foreign company to dig in American soil, jeopardizing the greatest wild salmon fishery on the planet, in order to send many of those mined minerals to China.

In coming weeks, you will have the opportunity to register your opinion on the future of Bristol Bay as the EPA releases its draft watershed assessment for public comment. When that happens, this is going to get really interesting.