By: Alannah Hurley, Brian Kraft and Mark Niver
As Alaskans our lives depend on Bristol Bay, which sustains the country’s largest and most valuable wild salmon fishery.
Bristol Bay is also our country’s most endangered salmon fishery. That’s not because our fish runs aren’t healthy, in fact, they are setting records year after year. Instead, it’s because a Canadian-owned mining company is buying political allies to support its effort to develop a massive, risky mining project that would be a cultural and economic disaster for our livelihoods and the country as a whole.
Bristol Bay’s wild salmon runs are measured in the millions, the largest in the world. The pristine watershed that makes those runs possible is awe-inspiring.
The proposed Pebble mine threatens that watershed. And it threatens more than 14,000 American jobs and a $1.5 billion fishing industry that provides over half of the world’s supply of sockeye salmon year after year. It threatens some of the last intact indigenous, salmon-based cultures, a place where Alaska Native people continue the traditions and ways of life that have been passed down from generation to generation. It threatens an unparalleled fishing and hunting paradise. As the late Alaska Governor, Jay Hammond, once said, “I couldn’t think of a worse place to put a mine — other than right here in my own kitchen.”
Unfortunately, the agency in charge of reviewing the mine plan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is fast tracking the proposed Pebble mine at the expense of Alaskans and American jobs and giving special treatment to a foreign-owned mining company.
Years ago, peer-reviewed science clearly showed that a mine like Pebble could not operate safely alongside the fishery. If the environmental review process was working as it should, the Army Corps of Engineers would have found similar scientific concerns in its analysis. Instead, the Agency allowed shoddy and outdated data to inform a fractured and incomplete mine review in order to streamline the permitting process.
The process underway is making a mockery out of the National Environmental Policy Act, which is supposed to protect special places like Bristol Bay and ensure that development is done in the least environmentally damaging way. Instead of looking out for the best interest of Americans, the Army Corps of Engineers is choosing to ignore the well-documented science and facts showing unequivocally that the Pebble mine would destroy Bristol Bay’s salmon runs, and with them, our country’s last great salmon fishery.
That’s why we traveled 4,500 miles to our nation’s capital last week to share the witness table and testify before Congress about why the proposed Pebble mine is not worth the risk, and how the rushed and shameful permitting process threatens one of our country’s greatest renewable industries. As a sport fishing business owner, a commercial fisherman, and a Tribal representative, we have different upbringings, political alliances, and communities, and we don’t always see eye-to-eye. But in this case and in this place, we couldn’t agree more: Bristol Bay is irreplaceable and deserves immediate protection.
We’re not alone in our concerns about the proposed mine’s potential impacts and the Army Corps’ permitting process. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and others submitted substantial concerns condemning the mine and review process during the Draft Environmental Impact Statement comment period. Alaska Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski also agree there are substantial gaps in the Army Corps’ environmental assessment that need to be addressed, or a permit should not be issued.
Ultimately, that is why we traveled to Washington, D.C. to ask Congress to act now to protect this national treasure. Time is running out to ensure one of our most productive and important landscapes is here for future generations. We need our elected leaders to step in now. We urge Congress to come together for this exceptional place before it is too late.
Alannah Hurley is a lifelong Bristol Bay resident and executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay.
Brian Kraft is the owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge on the Kvichak River.
Mark Niver has commercial fished in Bristol Bay since 1980 and is a resident of Wasilla, Alaska.