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Alaska’s true reality show: salmon or gold mine

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"We love our fish!" says Ina Bouker, a Yupik native. "We love our fish!" says Ina Bouker, a Yupik native.

December's National Geographic magazine covers why Alaska's Bristol Bay area must be protected from development such as the looming Pebble Mine

ANCHORAGE -- All eyes are on Alaska this month as “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” debuts to high ratings on TLC. Viewers were wowed by breathtaking images of the arctic wonderland, but behind the scenery, there’s a darker reality facing the Last Frontier.

National Geographic’s December issue, which is now available online, delves into the brewing controversy surrounding a potential mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, and has sparked international concern over what might happen if one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines is developed in the home of North America’s leading king salmon populations.

The magazine’s feature, “Alaska’s Choice: Salmon or Gold,” hits newsstands on November 30. The 25-page article, written by Edwin Dobb and photographed by Michael Melford, takes readers on a journey across Bristol Bay, one of the world’s most biologically productive habitats, where Native Alaskans have lived off the land for centuries. Bristol Bay also happens to be the same spot where foreign mining companies want to build one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines, a controversial project called Pebble Mine.

Trout Unlimited, an international non-profit dedicated to the conservation of freshwater streams, rivers, and habitats for trout, salmon and other aquatic species,  is working with a unprecedented coalition to protect Bristol Bay from the dangers of mining. This diverse effort brings together Native Alaskans, the commercial fishing industry, the sports fishing industry and tourism-related businesses.

“This mine could mean the devastation of a 40,000-square-mile wetland – about the same size as Kentucky - and put at risk the world’s largest sockeye run, as well as the thousands of jobs associated with this $450 million-a-year fishery,” said Tim Bristol, Director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program. “We’re not against mining; there are appropriate places in Alaska for mineral development. But the size, type and location of Pebble Mine pose too high a risk to be allowed to proceed.”

National Geographic’s more than 6.6 million worldwide readers can now see the global importance of this area for themselves. Photographer Michael Melford also has an online slideshow and spoke to Trout Unlimited about his experience.

“Bristol Bay is truly wild; it’s a rare gem where fish, wildlife and Native culture go hand-in-hand,” Melford told Trout Unlimited. “It’s difficult to believe this pristine wilderness might be compromised with an open-pit mine. The time I spent in Alaska was special and unforgettable, and I hope Bristol Bay, its fishery and habitat, continues to thrive for generations to come.”

“Sarah Palin’s Alaska” is airing a show specifically on Bristol Bay on Sunday, Nov. 28. Her husband, Todd, is an avid Bristol Bay fisherman, and they named their daughter after the Alaskan fishing region.

Everett Thompson, a Bristol Bay fisherman quoted in the National Geographic article, said he hopes all the recent focus on Alaska encourages more people to understand the importance of the Alaskan fishing industry, and of Bristol Bay.

“There’s nowhere on Earth like this place,” Thompson said. “This is how we live our lives, fishing and living off the land. Pebble Mine could change everything.”

To find out more about Trout Unlimited’s efforts, see www.SaveBristolBay.org







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Comments (7 posted):

mcnerney on 01/12/2010 15:35:27
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Paul: Great story on the Pebble Mine, I sure hope Alaska puts a stop to this plan! Larry
nerka on 22/12/2010 07:07:05
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There was an article in the Anchorage Daily News today written by former Alaska Senate President Rick Halford. A Republican who has otherwise been pro development in Alaska but like another notable Republican the late Senator Ted Stevens have long stood against what might be the worst nightmare to a freshwater fishery proposed in modern times. Pebble would become long-term liability: Compass | adn.com This is one of those issues that is near and dear to my heart. If anyone wants to discuss the issue further I would be happy to participate.
Hardyreels on 22/12/2010 07:26:08
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This is a difficult thing for me to even think of let alone get caught up in. I have fought many environment based battles, first as a volunteer in the early 80's and then as a legislative liaison representing some of the best known environmental organizations in America on both the State & Federal level. By 1988 I was finished, exhausted, and ready to return to a quiet life as a traveler and fisherman. I stay apprised of the Pebble proposal and numerous other big ticket threats to our environment at large but I no longer want to fight. I vote, I have my hopes and fears, but I do not allow myself to become obsessed with the thought that I can somehow effect a sea change single handedly. It's sad, but true, Ard
Glen Wright on 22/12/2010 17:02:32
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The truth is I've heard of the Pebble Mine project, but today is the first I've read anything about it and just from what I've read so so far I believe to allow this Alaska's and our nations leaders would have to be brain dead. I'm amazed the idea is even being entertained by any of them.
FrankB2 on 23/12/2010 02:04:31
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National Geographic lost ALL credibility with me and most of the residents of Puerto Rico after they ran an article about the island's culture in 2003: PUERTO RICO HERALD: Is the current National Geographic article on Puerto Rico generally accurate and fair? My wife is a native of Puerto Rico, and we visit the island regularly. The NG article might just as well have been based on a trip to Mars, as it had nothing to do with reality. The link above does not begin to express the outrage voiced by the island's residents, but it gives a hint. I'll go to a more reliable source for info about the Peeble Mine issue. I have read about it in fly fishing magazines, and it's always dis-heartening to see one natural resource abused to exploit another resource. The unfortunate fact is money talks in these cases, and gold is worth way more than fish right now. Warren Buffet recently made a public comment regarding gold investments, saying that gold is worthless as an investment in an economy, society, etc: it just sits there doing nothing. That sums it up for me.....
guadalupetrout on 23/12/2010 22:40:14
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GOD! Can you believe people suck THIS much! It ticks me off that we live in a world where money is everything. I think it's retarded that a multi-billion dollar company would ruin thousands of peoples lives, doing the only thing they know how to and have ever wanted to do, even though the company is doing just fine on their other mines. I know a lot of people think I'm being idealistic and all, but I just don't think this should happen. Would you throw a dog off a cliff to get the 20 bucks it's blocking? O well, I'm sure there are enough people against it for it not to happen. I would hate to see such a great fishing spot get destroyed. I don't think there's a member of this site who would want that mine to start.
nerka on 24/12/2010 06:10:14
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The truth is I've heard of the Pebble Mine project, but today is the first I've read anything about it and just from what I've read so so far I believe to allow this Alaska's and our nations leaders would have to be brain dead. I'm amazed the idea is even being entertained by any of them. Politics is why it is being considered. If this sort of mineral deposit was located elsewhere the situation would be entirely different. The mining companies are claiming some really gaudy numbers in terms of mineral material and the potential value. A half trillion gets thrown around regularly. The problem is that this is basically the rise in the tundra where one end drains down the Kvichak and the north end drains down the Nushagak rivers respectively. Downstream represents probably the most economically valuable salmon fisheries in the world. This location is the last pristine mega scale salmon and specifically red(sockeye) salmon left in the world. Totally wild, zero hatchery fish, no dams, certified sustainable with a large commercial harvest upwards of 30million caught. Little to no subsistence limitations. It is also a multi-million dollar sport fishery and it still has millions of escapement fish to ensure a healthy resource. In comparison the famous Kenai River will have an end season escapement of 500-750k average. The Kvichak saw that much escapement in a 2-3 day period. ---------- Post added at 12:07 AM ---------- Previous post was at 12:04 AM ---------- There has been plenty written by a large number of other sources. I would imagine that you could find one of suitable credibility. You can visit the Pebble Partnership page and read what the miners have to say. National Geographic lost ALL credibility with me and most of the residents of Puerto Rico after they ran an article about the island's culture in 2003: PUERTO RICO HERALD: Is the current National Geographic article on Puerto Rico generally accurate and fair? My wife is a native of Puerto Rico, and we visit the island regularly. The NG article might just as well have been based on a trip to Mars, as it had nothing to do with reality. The link above does not begin to express the outrage voiced by the island's residents, but it gives a hint. I'll go to a more reliable source for info about the Peeble Mine issue. I have read about it in fly fishing magazines, and it's always dis-heartening to see one natural resource abused to exploit another resource. The unfortunate fact is money talks in these cases, and gold is worth way more than fish right now. Warren Buffet recently made a public comment regarding gold investments, saying that gold is worthless as an investment in an economy, society, etc: it just sits there doing nothing. That sums it up for me..... ---------- Post added at 12:10 AM ---------- Previous post was at 12:07 AM ---------- This is a difficult thing for me to even think of let alone get caught up in. I have fought many environment based battles, first as a volunteer in the early 80's and then as a legislative liaison representing some of the best known environmental organizations in America on both the State & Federal level. By 1988 I was finished, exhausted, and ready to return to a quiet life as a traveler and fisherman. I stay apprised of the Pebble proposal and numerous other big ticket threats to our environment at large but I no longer want to fight. I vote, I have my hopes and fears, but I do not allow myself to become obsessed with the thought that I can somehow effect a sea change single handedly. It's sad, but true, Ard I like to joke and say when asked that I was "smart enough" to be born in Alaska. With that being said, the politics in this state in the first decade of the 21st century, have been a true story that if written as fiction would be written off as unimaginable.
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