Readers of Vital Choices may recall our coverage of the huge, proposed Pebble Mine complex, which sits amidst the watershed that gives rise to the sockeye salmon rivers flowing into Alaska's Bristol Bay.
Most recently, we reported on National Geographic magazine's excellent December 2010 article about the proposed Pebble Mine and the battle over its approval ... see “Golden Threat to Salmon: An Update by Nat Geo”, and our sidebar, “Nat Geo's beautiful Bristol Bay book”, below.
Although the development could earn $350 billion for international shareholders, those mostly outbound profits could come at the cost of devastating one of the world's last great natural resources.
You can see all of our prior reports on the proposed Pebble Mine in the “Mining & Seafood Sustainability” section of our newsletter archive.
Bristol Bay hosts millions of sockeye from the world's largest wild salmon “runs” … as populations associated with specific birth rivers are called.
Petition to stop the Pebble
Regardless of how you feel about Robert Redford or the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), they are helping to gather citizen support to stop the incredibly risky Pebble Mine project.
NRDC just issued this message from Redford, asking people to sign an email to one of the Pebble mine companies:
You should care about Rio Tinto.
This British and Australian-based mining giant has a shocking and well-documented record of toxic contamination that spans the globe: from Indonesia to Bolivia to Utah.
Now, as one of the major backers of the proposed Pebble Mine, it is threatening to destroy one of our greatest natural treasures: the Bristol Bay wilderness of Alaska.
Rio Tinto wants us to believe it has changed its polluting ways. Its chief executive claims they want to have a “net positive effect” on the environment.
As NRDC suggests, “Consider adding your own thoughts before you click Send -- personalized messages are especially effective.”
Even the mining companies involved admit that this irreplaceable resource could be destroyed by very small traces of copper and other metals from the mines, should they get into the region's salmon rivers.
Among other problems, tiny changes in the concentrations of metals in a stream are proven to destroy a wild salmon's ability to find its way back upriver to spawn.
And because the millions of salmon that die after spawning are proven to nurture animals and deliver nitrogen for trees and other plants, the entire coastal ecology would suffer greatly.
Salmon-savers coalition went to Washington
Last week, an anti-mine Alaskan coalition brought its fight to the nation's capital.
Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, chefs, jewelers, sportsmen, lodge owners, and others have joined the journey to oppose the Pebble Mine.
“We have to fight for the preservation of Bristol Bay,” said Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, in a teleconference Thursday from Washington, D.C. “Wild Alaska Bristol Bay sockeye is simply the purest, best fish protein on earth.”
Greenberg penned an intriguing proposal to create, as he wrote, “a Strategic Seafood Reserve, a resource capable of providing 400 million highly nutritious meals a year to working families across the country.”
As he wrote, “… it would keep vitally important fisheries like the salmon nursery of Bristol Bay as … an enduring source of food for Americans of today and tomorrow … salt-of-the-earth, feed-your-family kind of food.” (Greenberg P 2011)
The Alaskan coalition visited congressional offices … and delivered a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 200 chefs and restaurant owners around the country.
Wild sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay was served at more than 20 restaurants, to raise awareness of the fight in the nation's capital … and focus attention on the high risk of an irreplaceable culinary loss, should the mine go forward.
The Associated Press quoted former Alaska state Senate President Rick Halford as saying “Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place. The deposit is huge compared to others and the sulfur content in the ore body is alarming. This is a very, very dangerous kind of mine.”
The Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery supports an estimated 12,000 permanent jobs … versus far fewer jobs, mostly temporary, projected from the mine complex.
Nat Geo's beautiful Bristol Bay book
Published earlier this year, National Geographic's book Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond, captures a fragile region's unspoiled nature. Photographed by Michael Melford and written by Dave Atcheson, it's a pleasure to read and peruse.
As we've said, Bristol Bay is home to the largest salmon spawning ground in the world … but is threatened by mining projects. Although the development has up to $350 billion to gain for shareholders, it would be at the cost of one of the world's natural beauties.
Mining and watersheds: a toxic mix
Water pollution has been a common consequence of hard rock mining worldwide, due to disregard, hubris, and/or the largely unpredictable outcomes of disrupting geological structures in a watershed … like the vital one surrounding the proposed Pebble mine.
Although permitting has been delayed until the end of 2012, the lure of profits for the mining companies and relatively high-paying jobs for some locals will surely maintain strong momentum for the mine.
In fact, when new water quality strictures – which for all practical purposes would have nixed the Pebble mine – were put to a vote in 2008, more Alaskans voted no than yes, thereby favoring the mine project (see “Alaskans Pick Gold Mine over Salmon Protection”).
However, the pro-mining side outspent the salmon-protectors' side by about 5 to one, and ran many ads claiming the initiative would prevent new state revenues – and the unstated likelihood of bonus checks for Alaska residents – and creation of a few thousand impermanent mining jobs.
But, should Bristol Bay salmon fall victim to mine pollution, that disaster could permanently eliminate the estimated 12,000 jobs associated with the commercial fishing industry, and thousands more supported by the state's sport fishing and wild recreation sector.
Greenberg P. Bristol Bay a 'strategic seafood reserve' needing to be protected from Pebble mine. Friday, April 01, 2011. Accessed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-greenberg/bristol-bay-reserve_b_843058.html
Pemberton M. The Associated Press (AP). Coalition brings fight for Bristol Bay fish to Washington. Friday, April 01, 2011.Accessed at http://newsminer.com/bookmark/12585543