The salmon’s incredible migration also sustains people: Nearly half of the world’s sockeye catch comes from this one region, which is one of the last, great salmon fisheries on Earth. The returning salmon and other ecological resources create some 14,000 full- and part-time jobs, generate about $480 million annually — and support 4,000-year-old Alaska Native cultures.
Now, however, Quinn and others fear this cycle could be strained if not broken.
For more than 15 years, Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian mining company, has sought to build a gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay. And this spring, the Trump administration took swift action to make that prospect more likely.
Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt met on May 1 with the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the mining company, CNN reported on September 22 based on interviews and government emails. Little more than an hour later, according to internal emails, the administrator directed his staff to reverse Obama-era protections for Bristol Bay, which had been created after years of scientific review. Based on that work, the previous administration had aimed to pre-emptively veto certain mining activities in the ecologically important region.
The story also made clear that some Alaskans will surely approve or at least tolerate the project if it ever gets off the ground (though you can expect there will be quite a fight from conservationists both inside and outside the state). Here’s more from CNN:
It’s unclear exactly what percentage of Alaskans would support mining in Bristol Bay. But in a 2014 statewide ballot, two-thirds of voters chose to give the Alaska legislature power to approve or veto large-scale mining projects in the area if the projects threaten fisheries.
Some Alaskans do support the Pebble project because of the economic jolt it could bring. The EPA’s 2014 assessment says the mine would employ more than 1,000 people during its lifespan, and more than 2,000 people during the shorter construction phase. The mine would be expected to create $300 billion to $500 billion in revenue over the life of the project, the EPA estimated.
Initially, Thomas Tilden, a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and first chief of the Curyung Tribal Council, in the Bristol Bay area, was impressed by these arguments, too.
Tilden says he’s not anti-development. His father was a gold miner from California. But after the mine was first proposed, he said, he started touring mines that had been shut down.
He saw pools of toxic water, massive piles of waste-rock. At one mine in Nevada, he said, he was told to cover his shoes for fear he would track dust laden with heavy metals home — and “not to have any contact with that dust with our eyes, not to touch any of the water.”
This a fight that could go on for a while. But with the EPA as it is now, friends of fish might be relegated to the back seat.