Save Bristol Bay! Longtime Grantee, Trout Unlimited-Alaska, Tells Us Why and How.

Trout Unlimited – Alaska has mounted a years-long effort to ensure Bristol Bay’s prolific salmon runs are protected and the powerhouse recreational fishing economy is maintained and preserved. Since 2010, the Conservation Alliance has supported this work, most recently by awarding a $50,000 grant to TU-Alaska in our Winter 2019 Grant Cycle
Below, Meghan Barker – Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Organizer, explains the current fight to stop Pebble mine and offers a simple way to take action to Save Bristol Bay, today.

Pebble mine has been a conservation challenge for Alaskans for nearly a decade. The proposal to build the largest open-pit mine in North America, right in the headwaters of the most productive salmon fishery in the world has brought recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, native Alaskan tribes, and thousands of other Alaskans together. Together, these diverse allies have clearly stated that Pebble is the wrong mine for the wrong place. Despite overwhelming public opposition, Pebble has been pushed forward, and is currently in a key stage of the permit review process.

Bristol Bay Waters. Photo by Fly Out Media.

Sockeye Funnel. Photo by Ben Knight.
Bear among Salmon. Photo by Fly Out Media.

Below are highlights from the decade-long campaign to save Bristol Bay:

  • 2010: Authorized by the 40-year-old Clean Water Act, nine Bristol Bay tribes, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, and many others request to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to initiate the 404© process to protect Bristol Bay. The Conservation Alliance funds Trout Unlimited-Alaska’s participation in this effort.
  • 2012: The EPA responds to the 404c process request and conducts the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. The public engages in this process and more than 1 million comments support saving Bristol Bay. Over the course of three years, EPA issues two drafts of the Assessment, concluding that the Pebble Mine proposal would negatively impact Bristol Bay salmon. Funds from the Conservation Alliance grants were used to raise awareness, to build a strong social media following, and to expand Trout Unlimited’s national network of anglers committed to standing up for Bristol Bay.
  • 2013: The final Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment is released. Its findings were clear: it is not likely that any mine the size, type and location of Pebble can operate in Bristol Bay without harming salmon.
  • 2013: Anglo American, a major investor in the Pebble mine, abandons its $541-plus million investment in the project. Global mining giant Rio Tinto divests its 19.1% stake in Northern Dynasty Minerals.
  • 2014: The EPA releases its Proposed Determination, proposing to limit mining within the Bristol Bay region on the basis that the mine would cause irreversible and unacceptable damage to the Bristol Bay salmon ecosystem. Over 1.5 million comments submitted across the country on the proposal, 85.9% of which were in support of strong protections for Bristol Bay. The Conservation Alliance moves to support Trout Unlimited’s efforts on Tongass National Forest and fishery conservation in Southeast Alaska. The Pebble mine appears to have dissolved. Yay!
  • May 2017: Hours after a closed-door meeting between the new EPA Administrator (Scott Pruitt) and the CEO of Northern Dynasty, the EPA Administrator ignores years of scientific study and overwhelming public opinion and directs staff to withdraw important protections for Bristol Bay salmon. The fight to save Bristol Bay is back on.
  • October 2017: In response to the May withdrawal request, an unprecedented number of comments submitted to the EPA in support of strong protections for the region, including near unanimous support from the Bristol Bay region.
  • December 2017: Pebble files for a key federal-level permit to put the mine back on track. In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the key agency in charge of reviewing the permit, lays out an unprecedentedly rushed permit review timeline.
  • February 2019: The Army Corps of Engineers releases a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), launching an important public comment period. The Conservation Alliance steps in with a $50,000 to Trout Unlimited-Alaska to help generate over 1 million comments, elevating the Pebble issue to Alaska’s governor and legislature, and working with coalition partners to maintain Pebble as the biggest conservation threat that Bristol Bay faces.

This brings us to today. Trout Unlimited-Alaska’s team has spent weeks reviewing the 1,600+ page document that is supposed to evaluate the risks that Pebble mine could bring to the fishery, the fish-based economies, and the people that live in the Bristol Bay region. What they found is a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that uses outdated and insufficient science, ignores important cultural and economic values, and falls substantially short of the robust analysis that the fishery, jobs, cultures and wild character of Bristol Bay that it calls for. The Corps grossly underestimates the true impacts and fails to paint an accurate portrayal of the proposal. Still, the document shows the proposed Pebble mine will cause immense impacts to the Bristol Bay region, destroying more than 3,500 acres of wetlands and roughly 80 stream miles.

Photo by Fly Out Media

Currently, the Save Bristol Bay campaign is rallying Americans across the country to comment on the DEIS and against the Pebble mine in the 90 days that the Army Corps has provided for public comment. With the Army Corps on track to issue a decision about Pebble mine’s key federal permit in the next 12 months, this comment period requires an “all hands on deck” approach in making sure that we all turn out to save one of the last prolific salmon runs, a world-class fishing destination, and a resource that has sustained thousands of people for years.
Trout Unlimited-Alaska needs help. Submitting a comment is a simple, highly effective way to help make sure that the Army Corps of Engineers knows that the conservation community stands with Alaskans in saying “no” to this disastrous project. Taking it a step further to call your representative lets them know that people across the country care about Bristol Bay, and calls on Alaska decision makers to step up, and stop the permitting process.
Thanks for helping Trout Unlimited-Alaska save Bristol Bay!

Rally at the public hearing in Homer, AK on Thursday, April 11, 2019. Photo by Cook Inletkeeper.