Pebble Mine Likely to Receive Federal Permit. Bristol Bay Hunters, Anglers, and Guides Brace for Impact
A male sockeye salmon. (Bjorn Dihle/)
Editor’s note: Bjorn Dihle is a lifelong resident of Alaska, and an advocate for Alaska’s wild habitat and natural resources. You can find him on Instagram and Facebook.
Today, a host of conservation and news organizations received via the U.S. Postal Service the final Environmental Impact Statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska. This paves the way for the federal permit the controversial mine needs in order to proceed, which will likely be issued within 30 days now that the final Environmental Impact Statement has been released. With the current political atmosphere, the Pebble Partnership is now in position to bulldoze through the final state and local permits required to start development in the wild country of the Alaska Peninsula, where a fully realized mining district would likely spell the death of Bristol Bay and its incredible sockeye salmon runs, the largest on the planet.
Many Alaskans, myself included, have strong ties to the area and its incredible natural resources. In a recent poll, 62% of Alaskans said they’re opposed to Pebble. Former governor Jay Hammond and former senator Ted Stevens (both Republicans and likely the most influential Alaskan politicians in recent history) strongly opposed the mine. Many believe you can either have salmon or you can have the Pebble Mine, but you can’t have both.
And many Alaskan outdoorsmen and women have good memories from hunting and fishing the area. My dad had taken me and my two brothers on a caribou hunt there when we were teenagers. I remembered a blond grizzly rising from the brush and glowering as a herd of caribou flooded across the hilly tundra north of Lake Iliamna. My younger brother and I knelt, watching two big bear cubs appear. We’d just about gotten within rifle range of a group of massive white-maned bulls but, now, with the bears nearby, we weren’t eager to push our luck. We backtracked to our dad without firing a shot. A few hours later, we lay on the tundra as hundreds of caribou filed by us only 40 yards away. Twenty years have passed since that once-in-a-lifetime hunt, but the memories of thousands of caribou moving across the tundra and red salmon filling the waterways of that big wild country remain crisp to this day.
I hadn’t heard of Pebble Mine back then, nor did I realize that we were hunting atop the proposed mine’s deposit of gold, copper, and molybdenum. A few years after that hunt, geologists announced the deposit to be the world’s largest untapped resource of gold and copper, and estimated its worth at $500 billion. The idea of a mine in that location was met with staunch opposition in Alaska. And for good reason—the region has the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon, which is vital for the area’s mostly Native population and the $1.5 billion commercial fishery that supports 14,500 jobs and an array of other industries, including guiding sport anglers, hunters, and bear watchers.