Other wildlife species that inhabit the millions of wild acres in the Bristol Bay region include healthy populations of moose, sea otter, seal, walrus, grizzly, brown, and black bear, beaver, wolverine, porcupine, river otter, fox, bald eagle, caribou, beluga and killer whale, wolves, and many species of waterfowl and migratory birds.
Fig. 5 - Moose with calves.
Fig. 6 - Bears like to fish too.
In addition to the rich fish and wildlife resources of the region that are prized by sportspersons seeking the type of opportunities to recreate in a truly wild region like Bristol Bay, the land supports other uses. Numerous native villages are found in the area whose residents harvest fish and game to support their lifestyle which still depends on subsistence activities to a large degree. And the Bristol Bay watershed produces the world's largest commercial salmon fishery, harvesting over 25 million fish, employing thousands of people with sustainable jobs, and playing a very integral role in Alaska's economy as it has done for generations.
Fig. 7 - Commercial fishing is big business in Bristol Bay. It's also hard work that has supported families
for many generations.
What's a place like this worth? Some would say it's priceless. Or that they wouldn't give it up for all the gold in Fort Knox. Well, we're about to find out if paradise does indeed have its price.
Fig. 8 - Fish On!
A Canadian mining corporation wants to create one of North America's largest open pit gold-copper mines, the proposed Pebble Mine, within a much larger potential mining district in the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
Fig. 9 - Red Dog Mine in the Northwest Arctic, Alaska. The proposed Pebble Mine alone would produce 20x the ore
output as Red Dog. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Red Dog is the single-largest source of
toxic pollution in the United States.
At the same time, the federal Bureau of Land Management is trying to open 3.6 million acres to hard-rock mining. According to the EPA, the hard-rock mining industry is the single largest source of toxic releases in the US and this industry has caused enormous damage to rivers and fisheries around the world. The proposed Pebble Mine and Bristol Bay Mining District may pose the greatest single threat facing Alaska's salmon-bearing rivers and the people who depend on them. All told, thousands of square miles of state and federal lands are at risk.
Fig. 10 - The Bristol Bay region is home to some of the most productive rivers in Alaska. It's also being
threatened by mining claims that could change thousands of square miles if this wild region forever.
Furthest along, and garnering the most attention to date, is the proposed Pebble Mine project. Although the company continues exploration and continues to refine its plan in hopes of applying for permits in 2008, early plans have indicated the possibility of a pit 2.5 miles wide and a toxic lagoon covering close to 20 square miles. The mines proposed upstream from Bristol Bay and its tremendous renewable fishery could release arsenic, sulfuric acid, cyanide, heavy metals including lead, cadmium, zinc, mercury, and many other toxic pollutants that kill fish and cause human health problems such as cancer and neurological damage. Toxic spills and leakages that cause short- and long-term damage to aquatic resources are not isolated, unusual events but are common to hardrock mines where large toxic tailings ponds are present.
Fig. 11. - Proposed Pebble Mine Plan. In this image, the pit is approximately 2 miles wide, while the toxic tailings
lagoon covers nearly 20 square miles.
And remember that the Pebble project is only one of many mines envisioned for this region. The fact of the matter is, this threat is real and its consequences are enough to make the hardest cynic think twice.
The list of voices speaking out against the proposed mining district in Bristol Bay is long and includes some impressive, if unlikely, names.
United States Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK)
Many native tribal and village corporations in the region
Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association
Alaska Inter-Tribal Council
Fly Fisherman Magazine
Alaska Independent Fishermen's Marketing Association
David Keene, Chairman of the American Conservative Union
Alaska Bowhunters Association
Anchorage Daily News
National Wildlife Federation
Federation of Fly Fishers
In addition, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Safari Club International have voiced serious concern about these proposals and supported a resolution in the Alaska House of Representatives to require the AK Dept. of Natural Resources to conduct a thorough review of the Bristol Bay Management Plan as it pertains to mining.
Fig. 12 - Just another day on the water in Alaska's magnificent Bristol Bay.