Knowing When To Say No
American Rivers’ annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® often highlights special rivers in exceptional places where certain types of development will never be appropriate. We feel that it is the responsibility of decision-makers and the general public to stand up for preserving pristine natural areas for the enjoyment of future generations.
I want my son to be able to fish, paddle, float, and swim in places that have not been marred by extensive development. These places are increasingly few and far between, and in many cases we need to take a stand before it is too late.
I live in a suburb of Washington, D.C., where strip malls are the norm. It gives me great peace of mind to know that places like Bristol Bay (including the Kvichack and Nushagak Rivers and their tributaries) exist. Even if I never see it in person, I can picture in my head the wild free-flowing rivers with their abundant runs of salmon, Arctic char, rainbow trout, dolly varden, and grayling.
In total, 35 fish species, 190 bird species, and 40 terrestrial species are found in this watershed. No wonder fishermen and wildlife enthusiasts love this area! In fact, 29,000 sport fishermen spend $60 million a year, and hunters and ecotourists contribute more than $100 million per year to the economy of this watershed [PDF].
Even if you don’t believe in preservation for intrinsic value, the Bristol Bay region as it stands is critical to the survival of local residents and perseverance of local, regional, and state economies. I can appreciate from afar the nourishment that these wildlands provide to Native villagers. Fourteen of Bristol Bay’s 25 Alaska Native villages and communities are within the Nushagak River and Kvichak River watersheds. Subsistence from all sources (fish, moose, and other wildlife) accounts for an average of 80% of protein consumed by area residents.
The sport fishery alone employs over 800 people annually [PDF], and more than 1,800 additional people have jobs courtesy of hunting and ecotourism opportunities. In 2010, there were 72 businesses, including 319 guides operating in the Nushagak and Kvichak watershed alone. This doesn’t even factor in jobs provided by commercial fisheries and other watershed-dependent industries funded by nearly $480 million in direct economic expenditures and sales.
Ultimately, we are talking about creating 800 jobs for 25 years with the Pebble Mine project, while 14,000 existing jobs will be threatened forever. That seems a foolish proposition.
If you are not familiar with the Pebble Mine, it was the motivation behind our 2011 listing of the Bristol Bay Rivers as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®. It would be one of the world’s largest open-pit mines, creating more than ten billion tons of toxic waste stored behind a 685+ foot high, four mile long, tailing dam— the largest earthen dam in the world— above the world’s largest salmon run. So you see why I am concerned.
In a recent assessment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the Pebble Mine could cause the direct loss of up to 90 or more miles of streams, and alter stream flow for up to an additional 34 miles of streams. It would cause the loss of up to 4800 acres of wetlands. The EPA concluded that over the life span of a large mine, at least one or more accidents or failures would occur, potentially resulting in immediate, severe impacts on salmon and detrimental, long-term impacts on salmon habitat and production.
By the way, there are no examples of successful, long-term collection and treatment systems for mines, because these time periods exceed the lifespan of most past large-scale mining activities. Engineered waste storage systems of mines have only been in existence for about 50 years. So, do you want to gamble with nature? Since I can’t really think of anything that doesn’t break down over time, I am not willing to take that risk.
If you believe in preserving special places, please tell the EPA to use their authority under the Clean Water Act to prevent harmful mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.