In life there are many crossroads. Forks in the paths of time that leave us with a choice we must take to carry on. Left or right. North or south. Choose correctly and we find our way home. Choose wrong, we may become lost—perhaps even permanently. At this very moment, we are at one of those crossroads. A decision is about to be made about the Alaskan Pebble Mine Project that will not only affect the state of Alaska, but our collective hunting and fishing futures.
The Pebble Mine has been an issue for the country for the past several years. Back in 2001, a Canadian company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, optioned the property that sits on a remote edge of the Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska, about 200 miles south of Anchorage. The designated site is estimated to be the second-largest ore deposit of its type in the world. Although the state of Alaska owns the land, Northern Dynasty now holds the mineral rights of the 186-square-mile site. Between 2008 and 2011, more than 370 million dollars was budgeted to Northern Dynasty to initiate prospect drilling and feasibility studies.
All seemed well and good, and it was estimated the Pebble Mine would recover more than 300 billion dollars for Northern Dynasty and the country of Canada. They planned to move ahead—until they hit a wall. It was a wall of environmental protest, as the Pebble Mine sits on the largest wild salmon run in the world. If the mine’s safety and environmental precautions fail, it will ruin Alaska’s salmon fishery and fishing industry as we know it today. The projected danger of the Pebble Mine for Bristol Bay and its salmon was so great that, in 2016, the Obama administration and the EPA both blocked the project from happening on the basis of violation of the 1974 Clean Water Act.
The Trump administration, however, has reopened the project and amended the Clean Water Act to allow the project to go ahead based on a 2020 statement by the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which concluded the mine “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers” or “result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries.” This has cleared the way for the Corps to finally issue a permit to Northern Dynasty, allowing the Canadian company to go ahead with the creation of the mine. So now, in 2020, the destiny of Bristol Bay and its wildlife has come down to one last federal government approval.
Although Alaska is normally a strongly pro-development state, the Pebble Mine is deeply unpopular, with 62 percent of voters in a recent poll opposing it. This stems from fears that it would harm the $1.5-billion Bristol Bay salmon fishery, which supports 14,500 jobs. So this is where a question is put before us: Should we stand by and allow a non-American company to exploit our natural resources for quick gain, at the risk of not only destroying some of the most pristine wilderness left in the world, but also endangering a billion-dollar American industry and thousands of jobs?
The Army Corps’ conclusion that all of this will have “no measurable effect” on Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery is heavily disputed. Previous studies conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, independent scientists, and Bristol Bay native tribes have all concluded that the Pebble Mine would be disastrous for Bristol Bay, but the Trump administration is simply ignoring their input. In fact, a scientific review conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration in 2011 stated that the mine could result in “significant and unacceptable adverse effects” on fishery areas and ecologically important streams, wetlands, lakes, and ponds.
For so many, the idea of the Pebble Mine makes no sense. Locating a massive, toxic, open-pit mine in the headwaters of a significant national food source for our country, just so Canada can pillage our resources, is simply ludicrous. Although just a few years ago it seemed the Pebble Mine controversy had been put to bed, the Trump administration’s desire to reopen it and allow it to advance toward fruition raises numerous alarms. Even without a spillage or toxic leaching that would destroy the salmon fishery, the development of the mine would destroy more than 2,000 acres of wetlands and more than 100 miles of streams. In addition, tailings from the mine would be heaped across 2,800 acres behind dams extending more than 10 miles. One significant rainfall could easily create runoff that would be almost impossible to keep away from the waters in Bristol Bay.
So why allow it? What possible motivation outside of simple greed or political expedience could possibly make the Trump administration, or any government for that matter, think the Pebble Mine is a reasonable concept? Still, they seem determined to move forward with it, even threatening to veto a recent House-passed spending bill for 2021 that included a measure to block the Pebble Mine. Even the president’s family seems to be against the decision of the Pebble Mine going into operation. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son and an enthusiastic outdoorsman, has recently spoken out about his own opposition to final government approval of the Pebble Mine, believing the area to be a sportsman’s paradise.
So what path do the rest of us need to take? What turn will lead us to a harmonious outcome where these beautiful and rare wilderness areas will stop being exploited? As sportsmen, and indeed as humans beings who live in and love this planet and its wild places, we need to make the right choice. We need to be outspoken about this, making known our concerns to government officials, signing petitions, and supporting conservation and hunting organizations that have a stronger voice than ours individually. We can sit back idly, hoping that nothing bad will happen, but unless we actively support unflagging conservation, moving toward peaceful protest and standing up to blatant corporate greed, there will be no end to it. We cannot give silent permission to these companies and the government to do what they want, destroy what they will as it suits them. If we don’t do everything in our power to stop the Pebble Mine, to halt this blatant destruction right now, it’ll set a dangerous precedent that could pave the way for an endless wave of conservation losses.