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Pebble Mine is a poison pill for Alaska's wild salmon

If Pruitt wins, we all lose.

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robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
1 10 Nov 2017

The Bristol Bay watershed, in southwest Alaska, comprises 40,000 square miles of bogs and evergreen forests, rimmed by distant mountains and shimmering with rivers and feeder streams. In these waterways, miracles happen. Together they sustain the largest remaining salmon fishery on Earth.

For more than a decade, a Canadian mining company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, has wanted to gouge one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines into the heart of the watershed, putting its rivers on a centuries-long poison drip. The company has failed to move forward with the project, known as Pebble Mine, due to intense and sustained opposition. It has also been burdened by proposed restrictions recommended by the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency — the result of a four-year review.

But President Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has rejected his agency’s review and moved to withdraw its proposal to impose restrictions on the mine, thereby reviving the company’s prospects for federal permitting. Pruitt is poised to take this action imminently, showing a flagrant disregard for the public’s overwhelming opposition.

Now, in what could very well be the most important land-use decision in North America in our time, an essentially eternal supply of food is pitted against an essentially eternal supply of poison.

If Pruitt wins, we all lose. The Bristol Bay watershed generates half the world’s remaining wild salmon, including five species: the scarlet sockeyes, the hard-charging kings, the silver coho, the humpbacked pinks and the placid chums. Together the salmon support 14,000 jobs and generate $1.5 billion annually.

Last year alone, 60 million wild salmon surged into the watershed, drawn to its many rivers by faintly remembered scents. This year, on two separate occasions, fishermen caught more than a million fish in a single day. Records were shattered, and several boats became so overloaded that they actually sank.

Nowhere else in the modern world does the landscape grant so much food. You’d think everyone would realize the place is sacred. To Native people, it is — literally.

Salmon perform a kind of alchemy. Although they live most of their lives in the ocean, hundreds of miles from the coastline, they shelter their young from the open sea by hiding them in rivers. In so doing, they bring the nutrients of the ocean to us. Those that get past the fishing nets bring nourishment further uphill, against gravity, to feed eagles and bears and fertilize the forests that shade the streams, which in turn produce more salmon, supporting more communities.

This embarrassment of riches could last an additional few thousand years, or it could be destroyed. Alaskans understand that the Pebble Mine is a death wish: 65% of the state’s residents oppose it; in the Bristol Bay region, that number grows to more than 80%. The opposition includes recreational fishermen, owners of tourist lodges, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, which is the largest private landowner in the region, and most commercial fishing communities.