Ballot initiative would aid protection of vital Sockeye-spawning streams from mine-related pollution

by Craig Weatherby

Alaskans who catch wild Sockeye Salmon for a living are engaged in a bitter war with Alaskans eager to take jobs at a proposed gold and copper mine.

The problem is that the proposed Pebble Mine could pollute major Sockeye spawning streams and rivers, which give birth to this extraordinarily delicious and healthful food.

More on Pebble Mine

We've been reporting on the Pebble Mine controversy since 2005, starting with our inititial overview in “Proposed Mine Threatens Bristol Bay Region and Alaska's Wild Salmon.”

To see our past coverage on this and other extractive-industry threats to the Bristol Bay Sockeye run, search for “bristol” in our newsletter archive.

To learn more about the fight over Pebble Mine, read the article that ran last week in The New York Times (“Vote in Alaska Puts Question: Gold or Fish?”), and watch the accompanying video.

We support the Alaskan ballot initiative intended to protect the vital Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon run.

You may want to consider supporting organizations fighting the Pebble Mine, such as these two:

Pollution in these waterways could destroy the Bristol Bay Salmon run, which is the world's largest.

Both sides agree that the Salmon streams flowing into Bristol Bay must remain pristine to protect this irreplaceable resource.

Mine proponents pledge to protect the Sockeye streams, despite the dismal record of the hard-rock mining industry worldwide.

Last week, Vital Choice co-founder Randy Hartnell replied to a customer who'd written to ask about the ballot initiative described below… and the potential impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on Vital Choice Sockeye Salmon. Click here to to read his letter, and Randy's reply.

Alaskans set to vote on Salmon-protection initiative

The latest battle in the Pebble Mine war is over a ballot initiative to increase protections for the Bristol Bay Salmon run.

The ballot initiativewhich will be voted on by Alaskans tomorrow, August 26is intended to prevent mines from releasing pollutants into Salmon streams.

Some Alaska officials say that the terms of the initiative simply echo existing legal protections for water quality and Salmon runs.

But initiative supporters disagree, and are gearing up to ensure that should the initiative pass, the implementing regulations written by state agencies will reflect the supporters' intent.

The war chest amassed by mine supporters to fight the initiative is twice that of mine opponents, and the vote could go either way.

Alaska's recurring dilemma: Dig gold or harvest Salmon?

Well-heeled international mining interests want North America's biggest deposits of gold and copper, found upstream of Bristol Bay.

To get it, they're hoping to build one of the world's biggest mines, and the project would include a number of huge dams.

The sums of money at stake are truly staggering. The Pebble Mine region holds an estimated $300 billion in ore deposits, versus 1/10 of one percent as much ($300-$400 million) in annual revenue from the Bristol Bay Salmon harvest.

This enormous disparityand the poor economic status and prospects of many Alaskans in the Pebble Mine regionexplains why protectors of this irreplaceable resource face a tough, protracted, uphill battle.

Of course, once the gold, copper, and other heavy metals are mined, that resource is gone. And the vast majority of the gold will end up in Asian consumers' jewelry drawers, safe deposit boxes, or cellars.

In contrast, the Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon run sustains the entire ecosystem encompassing the Bay's headwaters and coastal areas.

And the Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon run could continue to provide this culinary and nutritional treasure to countless generations.

Mine proponents insist that huge gold mines and Salmon harvests can co-exist.

But mine opponents believebased on the sorry record of hard-rock mining in the US and Canadathat habitat destruction and waste disposal will kill salmon, bears, and caribou, and impoverish the people who depend on them for their food or livelihoods.

This battle echoes the centuries-old debate about resource development in Salmon country.

So far, the victories have usually gone to resource developers, who've dammed, logged, and mined Salmon habitat, and de-watered rivers for irrigation.

Salmon mitigation projects have not delivered on promises, and Salmon are in trouble throughout most of their range in the lower 48... though not yet in Alaska, which provides 95 percent of the U.S. wild Salmon harvest.