Late last month we saw a rare – and very welcome - moment of bipartisan agreement. Facing criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put the brakes on a planned mining operation that imperils a pristine southwest Alaska ecosystem.
For a decade, the proposed Pebble Mine project has been a concern for environmentalists, fishermen and women, and Alaska Native Peoples. Initiated by a Canadian mining company, the Pebble Mine project would turn an area of unspoiled, undeveloped country in the heart of the Bristol Bay watershed into an open-pit gold and copper mine, complete with more than 200 miles of pipeline and private transportation infrastructure.
Ecological importance of the Bristol Bay watershed
The Bristol Bay watershed is home to one of the last great wild salmon runs in the world. Its network of streams and rivers provides critical spawning habitat for salmon that support traditional Alaska tribes and tribal culture, sport fisheries, and tourism, as well as provide wild sockeye to consumers around the globe. The watershed is also an intact ecosystem – an ever-more-precious rarity in a world where continual expansion is destroying habitats, eroding resilience in the face of disasters, and driving species to extinction.
Despite strong opposition from groups and individuals across a diverse spectrum, including Tribal leaders, conservationists, hunters, and anglers, until late last month the mine proposal looked as though it was set to move ahead. Earlier this summer, the Army Corps concluded the mine would have "no measurable impact" on Bristol Bay's salmon population or fishery. The criticism of that decision was swift, fierce… and bipartisan.
And it appears the Army Corps listened. In an about-face, on August 24th, 2020 the Corps released a letter requiring the developer to mitigate "all direct and indirect impact" within the watershed – a bar many conservation organizations believe would be impossible to meet. While the new decision does not put an outright end to the Pebble Mine, it is a hopeful sign. At IFAW we stand with those who oppose the Pebble Mine, and encourage the Administration to finally deny it a federal permit.
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