By now the proposed Pebble Mine project in Alaska’s Bristol Bay is well known to F&S readers, but the results of new study on the area’s salmon populations only reinforces what a truly horrible idea it is.

From the story on
An Alaskan bay bitterly contested by fishermen and miners has become the site of a landmark study on population dynamics — and the findings favor the fish. Published June 2 in Nature, the analysis of Bristol Bay salmon quantifies a common-sense tenet of population dynamics: Diversity produces resilience. Had the proposed Pebble Mine been built in earlier decades, it’s possible the bay’s sockeye salmon fishery — the world’s largest, worth more than $100 million annually — might not exist today. “The long-term maintenance of the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery has sometimes been almost totally dependent on the Kvichak watershed,” where the mine would be located, said University of Washington biologist Ray Hilborn. “If the entire Kvichak watershed was made nonproductive, then historically, that would have been totally disastrous.”

__The mining industry has pushed to dig around Bristol Bay since a multibillion-dollar lode of gold and copper was discovered in the region. But extracting the minerals would also produce billions of tons of toxic waste, requiring the construction of Hoover Dam-sized walls to prevent it from spilling. Environmentalists say that, given the region’s torrential rains, nearby geological faults and the industry’s track record on pollution, the walls would inevitably fail. The watershed’s sponge-like soil would deliver toxins into the salmon’s spawning grounds; even trace amounts would short-circuit their ability to navigate and reproduce.

In 2008, with the help of then-governor Sarah Palin , mining supporters voted down the Alaska Clean Water Act, which would have banned the discharge of toxic materials from mines and impeded the Pebble Mine plan. And, as the fight over the mine has dragged on, Hilborn’s team has continued to collect data from their Bristol Bay research station, where biologists have tracked salmon populations for the last 50 years.