Our Say on Bristol Bay


While looking over the Outdoor Blogger Network something caught my eye, usually we don’t do the writing prompt because of our schedule but we decided to put things on hold so that we could dig into this one. The writing prompt this time was all about the Bristol Bay, word on the street is that a foreign corporation wants to excavate the world’s largest open-pit gold and copper mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay of all places. For those of you that do not know, Bristol Bay is home of one of the largest salmon runs, 44 million salmon make the run every year, the next largest run only yields 10% or 4 million.

The Companies and the Economy

Throughout history there has always been a pursuit of companies and corporations exploiting nature to make some quick cash. Some people in recent months have set their sights on a pristine part of nature; Bristol Bay, Alaska.

The waters of Alaska are simply breathtaking, I mean the beautiful way, not the fatal way.

The companies that have these beautiful water’s resources on their minds consist of a Canadian company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, and an English company called AngloAmerican. These companies are pushing, along with the State of Alaska, to acquire 896sq. miles to create a mining district in the headwaters of Bristol Bay. That area would be totally dedicated to mining for minerals like gold, copper, and molybdenum. The thing about mining for these minerals is that it would recklessly endanger a rather large pre-established economy.

So far the numbers we are hearing are that the mine would look to employ around 1,000 full-time workers. To us that simply doesn’t seem like enough when 75% of the people in the area are employed in the commercial fishing field. Not only does economy rely on the commercial fishing industry but also the sport fishing industry. Recreation and tourism spending in Bristol Bay accounts for $90 million annually to the state in a variety of forms, sport fishing also accounts for nearly $60 million of that figure coming from nonresidents and lodge clients. In 2007 angler fishing in Alaska spent $1.4 billion on trips, equipment, and other fishing related expenses. In 2007 the total amount of jobs dealing with sport fishing numbered 15,879 full and part-time, these jobs meant $545 million in total wages and benefits. Oh, and let’s not forget that an estimated 37,000 fishing trips are taken every year on Bristol Bay’s freshwater fisheries with 1/3 of those trips coming from out-of-staters. Building the mine would put all of that in jeopardy.

Think about it this way, if Alaska were a country it would rank 9th for the production of seafood. Bristol Bay accounts for 40% of the $113.3 million brought in from commercial catches. With any release of toxins in the headwaters of Bristol Bay all of the water downstream would be in danger, but that doesn’t concern the mining companies.

Northern Dynasty’s Management May Not Be Subject to U.S. Legal Process. As Canadian citizens and residents certain of Northern Dynasty’s directors and officers may not subject themselves to U.S. legal proceedings, so that recovery on judgments issued by U.S. courts may be difficult or impossible.”

-Source:  Northern Dynasty’s 2004 Annual Report, Pg. 9 June 30, 2004, http://www.sedar.com/

With no worry of being penalized why would the companies even think about doing things the right way? Now, there are cities in Alaska that are mining-dependent cities, like Fairbanks and Juneau, but even in those cities metal mining is only responsible for 1-2% of the jobs. Would you trade 75% for 1 or 2%? I didn’t think so.

The Recent History of Mines

A picture from the Bigham Copper mine in Utah. Would you rather vacation here or on the gorgeous waters of Bristol Bay?

In 1994 in Idaho a gold mine was formed, the Grouse Creek Mine, this mine was shut down a short three years later. The mine was operated by the Hecla Mining Company and based out of Idaho itself. The mine failed to produce the predicted amount of gold, but it left behind an abundance to pollution.

During the opening year of 1994 a large-scale landslide took place at the mine, burying a small section of Jordan Creek. Finally in 1996 Hecla was fined a scantly $85,000 by the EPA for violating its discharge permits. The discharge that violated these permits are unacceptable, the levels of cyanide and mercury were five times higher than the allowable amounts.

To put some perspective on that, in history suicide pills have been used by people like spies, terrorists, and Nazi officers. The suicide pill itself contains a chemical called cyanide, the chemical only needs to be taken in amounts of 200-300mg to become lethal for a human, the amounts need to be considerably less for aquatic species.

In 1999 cyanide was still flowing into Jordan Creek, this time tested at over 12 times the levels that will negatively affect aquatic organisms. While Hecla did pay the fine and paid $7 million for the clean-up efforts they still left $53 million of the bill for the taxpayers to pay. This mine is not the only one in recent history to have a path like this.

Rising Against

As I stated earlier the Bristol Bay is home to 44 million salmon and countless other aquatic organisms, with sport fishing on the increase, commercial fishing on the increase, and the strongest salmon population in the world any threat to the population could wreak utter havoc upon the resource. Giant corporations like AngloAmerican and Nothern Dynasty Minerals have no interest in keeping the environment as clean as it needs to be to properly thrive, but other organizations have stepped up to help. Trout Unlimited has taken the stand to steer the mining corporations away by providing scientific data that tells the true story of what could, and will, happen to the environment if the mine is put into place.

The State of Alaska’s government is working to secure the land for the mine, well actually the Bureau of Land Management is. The bureau is working to open 3.6 million acres of wildlife habitat in the Bristol Bay watershed for the purpose of hardrock mining. The EPA on the other hand is doing everything they can, along with star Robert Redford, to stop the proceeding of the mining operation.

Only a few days ago the people of Alaska had a small victory, the people voted against the formation of the mine, but yet the State sued to overturn the results of the vote. See for yourself at: http://www.cbs3springfield.com/story/15902371/state-of-alaska-sues-over-pebble-mine-initiative. We see this as an infringement on the American constitution, the people voted to ban and yet the government overturned the vote, how is that American?

Help us take a stand against the pebble mine potential on the waters of the great Bristol Bay by heading over to http://www.savebristolbay.org/ and do your part!

1. http://ourbristolbay.com/sport-fishing.html

2. http://www.bristolbayalliance.com/mines_and_fish.htm

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