In a remote region of Bristol Bay, there is a low-grade deposit of copper, gold, and molybdenum lying below the surface and spread out over several miles known as the pebble deposit. The efforts to extract this deposit has been headed by a group of mining companies known as the Pebble Partnership. Their initial proposal was vague, but over the last decade it has become evident that the proposed pebble mine would negatively affect the water quality of multiple streams and rivers in Bristol Bay. In December 2017, the Pebble Partnership officially applied for a permit to build the Pebble Mine. These mining operations could potentially increase water temperatures and decrease water flows, which would harm spawning salmon and their eggs. The threats from this mine will always loom over Bristol Bay, because the tailings dam will need to contain the mine waste forever. Tailings dams have a history of failing, and this particular dam would be one of the largest of its kind.
If the salmon populations were negatively affected, the consequences would cascade down the food web. Everything from the bears to the trees rely on salmon to grow and thrive, and the diverse abundance of flora and fauna are what makes Bristol Bay unique. If the salmon runs were compromised, the landscape would be starved of the nutrients that salmon bring back to the tundra and coniferous forests.
Some proponents of the proposed pebble mine argue that the operations would bring jobs and revenue to rural communities. However, these short-term jobs pale in comparison to the sustainable career opportunities brought to Bristol Bay by the booming salmon populations. Both the commercial and sport fishing industries have been built around conserving and protecting salmon. These practices, such as harvest regulations and conservation projects, will ensure that wild Pacific salmon will always have a home in Bristol Bay.
In terms of job opportunities, any jobs brought to Bristol Bay by the pebble mine will be limited and temporary. After the deposit is extracted, the mining jobs will be eliminated, and any jobs related to commercial or sport fishing will likely suffer as well.
In addition to being environmentally costly, the proposed pebble mine is not economically feasible due to the low concentrations of the targeted minerals and the infrastructure required to bring equipment and employees to the mine site. The proposed mine would span across 20 square miles and would require a new road as well as a year-round ferry across Lake Iliamna, a premier sport fishing destination in Bristol Bay. Pebble also plans on building an underwater natural gas pipeline that would stretch across Cook Inlet.
While Pebble’s plans are disturbingly vague, one thing is clear: the proposed pebble mine would devastate Bristol Bay’s environment and economy and would have lasting consequences on the people and places of Alaska.
To stand up for Bristol Bay, we as anglers, outdoor enthusiasts, and environmentalists will need to combine our voices to reach a bigger audience. More information on Pebble's proposal and the importance of Bristol Bay can be found at www.savebristolbay.org. If you would like to stand up for salmon and all that they bring to Bristol Bay, please consider contacting your elected officials to tell them that the proposed Pebble Mine is wrong for Bristol Bay. Make sure to pay attention to Trout Unlimited's announcements about public comment periods that give the public a chance to voice their opinions on the proposed pebble mine.