The Environmental Protection Agency’s watershed assessment for Bristol Bay, Alaska–released this week–officially declares that the proposed Pebble Mine would be harmful to the world’s most important salmon fishery.
Now … will the agency do anything about it?
I’ve never been to southwest Alaska, and I’ve never fished the rivers and streams of the Bristol Bay drainage. But I have seen the effects hard-rock mines can have on otherwise healthy trout streams in my home waters here in the Rockies. Growing up as a kid and fishing the high country of Colorado, I learned pretty quickly that streams that ran down the hill with even a tinge of orange in them–rust from heavy metals in the water–were pointless to fish. They were tainted. Poisoned. And often from some century-old mine miles above the valley floor that continued to leach acid- and metal-laden water into the system. The Rockies are chock-full of old, abandoned mines that still pollute some of our most-prized fisheries, rendering many would-be trout streams fishless altogether.
Even as a kid, armed with a fly rod and heightened sense of adventure. I knew something was wrong with this picture.
Today, after a lifetime of trout-fishing education, I know Pebble Mine is a bad idea. I know that excavating the largest open-pit mine in North America in the headwaters of the world’s most economically important salmon drainage is a disaster in waiting.
And, according to the EPA’s own watershed assessment, so does the federal government. To be blunt, I’m forced to ask if President Obama is willing to put politics aside and put a stop this terrible project during the first term of his administration. Now that the most powerful decision maker in the country is armed with the a pile of scientific evidence that simply proves what all of us fishermen have known all along, will he take the next step?
You should ask him, too. No. Wait. You should tell him. Now’s not the time for favors or politics or “pretty please.” Now’s the time to end this farce and let Alaskans in the Bristol Bay watershed get back to doing what they do best–supply the world with nearly half of its annual harvest of sockeye salmon.
And then, when I do get to Bristol Bay one day, I won’t have look at a rusty river and wonder what might have been.