NRDC On Protecting Bristol Bay: “Mother Nature Has Delivered A Mandate”
Here’s NRDC’s Western director Joel Reynolds on the importance of protecting
2022 Bristol Bay wild salmon run breaks all-time record while beleaguered Canadian owner of widely opposed Bristol Bay gold and copper mining scheme continues to fight EPA’s proposal for veto long sought by region’s residents.
If wild salmon could vote, Mother Nature has delivered a mandate this summer in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska.
The count so far is 78.4 million in 2022’s record-breaking run. While other wild salmon runs struggle, the Bristol Bay watershed continues year after year to surpass expectations, consistently supplying over 50 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon and now generating over $2.2 billion in revenue and 15,000 jobs—every year.
Bristol Bay’s extraordinary natural and economic engine—Bristol Bay’s “red gold”—is a national treasure that for millennia has supported the tribal communities of the region and the international salmon industry that it feeds. This year the unprecedented scale of that treasure is a resounding and timely affirmation of the imperative for long-term protection of a natural resource the region and the planet cannot afford to lose.
And yet the fate of this world class fishery is precisely what hangs in the balance at this moment. Through September 6, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) is receiving public comment on its proposal under Section 404(c) of the federal Clean Water Act to prohibit and restrict the proposed Pebble Mine—a massive and deeply destructive gold and copper mine proposed by its financially challenged Canadian owner to be built in the pristine headwaters of the Bristol Bay fishery.
For almost two decades, Northern Dynasty Minerals (and its wholly owned subsidiary the Pebble Partnership) (“Pebble”) have pursued what has become the most widely condemned mining project anywhere today. They have done so despite the overwhelming opposition of the people who live in the region, the rejection by three Presidential Administrations (including the Trump Administration) and Alaska’s two Republican Senators, the condemnation by EPA Administrators from the Administrations of Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, Obama, and Biden, and the active engagement of a coalition of stakeholders unique in its breadth and diversity of interests.
But perhaps no voice has been more compelling than that of Mother Nature herself, whose annual Bristol Bay salmon production defies hyperbole. This year’s “astonishing” record run of 78.4 million fish exceeded last year’s “jaw-dropping” record run of over 66 million, which exceeded the previous pandemic year’s “stunning” record of 58.3 million. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive of a voice more profoundly persuasive of the region’s need for protection than the exceptional productivity of the Bristol Bay fishery itself. It is a resource that all of us who care about the Earth, its people, and the systems on which life depends have a responsibility to protect.
But don’t expect Pebble and its corporate parent’s CEO Ron Thiessen to hear it. Consider, for example, his preposterous claim in a video Fireside Chat last year that “Pebble will enhance the fisheries”—in other words, that gouging a massive open pit copper and gold mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay will actually improve the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery, created over millions of years of natural evolution!
More recently, undeterred by wildfires that destroyed Pebble’s camp in the upper Bristol Bay watershed earlier this summer, he has been quoted in recent Northern Dynasty press releases touting, first, his mantra-like bullet point that their destructive Pebble Mine “needs to be part of the solution” to climate change; and second—just last week—that an unidentified investor has agreed to provide near term funding in exchange for gold and silver royalties for the life of the mine. That agreement necessarily assumes that the “life” of the Pebble Mine—long just a failed “hope and a prayer” for Northern Dynasty and its investors—will someday, against all odds and continuing global condemnation, see actual production.
With no other assets, nowhere to go, and no Plan B, Northern Dynasty hasn’t given up on its plan to turn the upper Bristol Bay watershed into a massive mining district. And it likely never will.
But the good news is that Northern Dynasty can be stopped:
This year EPA is poised to use its statutory authority to grant the relief that the people of Bristol Bay have long sought—to protect Bristol Bay by vetoing the Pebble Mine. To that end, this summer’s return of 78.4 million Bristol Bay wild salmon—against the deafening static of Northern Dynasty’s self-serving soundbites—is irrefutable testimony to the need for that protection.
Take action now to support EPA and stop the Pebble Mine.