The Nature Conservancy (TNC) today submitted signatures to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of 31,580 people who support permanent safeguards for Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
“The Nature Conservancy is pleased to submit these signatures in recognition of the 31,580 individuals who voiced their support for protecting Bristol Bay,” said Elizabeth Kitchens, interim director for TNC in Alaska. “Bristol Bay is a remarkable natural system that is home to the largest runs of wild salmon on the planet. Today’s tremendous show of support is yet another sign that, in Alaska and beyond, people care deeply about the future of Bristol Bay.”
The EPA invited public comments through Sept. 6 on a proposal for establishing permanent safeguards in Bristol Bay. These safeguards, as part of an official EPA action known as a Proposed Determination issued by the EPA earlier this year, were initially requested by a coalition of federally recognized tribes in Bristol Bay nearly a decade ago. The request was prompted by serious concerns about the proposed Pebble Mine, which, if built, would be the largest open-pit mine in North America. The EPA has the authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to halt or limit project development that is likely to result in any of a range of damages to freshwater, including harm to fisheries. A final decision on these safeguards in the form of an EPA-issued Final Determination is expected in the coming months.
Each year, the federal government issues about 74,000 permits giving the go-ahead to proposed activities in the United States that have the potential to affect water quality. Since 1972, only 13 projects have reached a 404(c) final determination. An EPA action in Bristol Bay would mark only the 14th instance of 404(c) action in the United States – a testament to the risk large-scale mining poses to the Bristol Bay watershed.
The Indigenous caretakers of Bristol Bay – the Yup’ik, Dena’ina and Alutiiq people – continue to maintain a way of life sustained in part by healthy salmon populations. Bristol Bay is also the center of Alaska’s famed sustainable wild salmon industry. A small-boat commercial fishing fleet of more than 2,000 independently owned vessels accounts for half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon harvest – supplying an industry valued at $2.2 billion annually. The region’s lakes and streams are among the world’s most legendary sportfishing waters, supporting a thriving tourism industry. This year, the people of Bristol Bay have witnessed the largest run of wild sockeye salmon ever recorded – more than 78 million fish.
“Communities in Bristol Bay are committed to building on their bold vision for the region,” said Kitchens. “But this ongoing 20-year conflict over the proposed open-pit Pebble Mine has drawn precious time, energy and resources from local efforts to build thriving and sustainable communities. Enacting permanent protections now for the healthy Bristol Bay headwaters is a positive and absolutely critical step for the future.”
TNC's Alaska chapter began working in partnership with individuals and regional organizations in Bristol Bay 30 years ago. TNC’s ecological risk assessment completed in 2010 offered a comprehensive analysis of the proposed Pebble mine, and a 2019 modeling exercise detailed the risk and likely harm from a mine tailings spill in the Nushagak River system. Long-term efforts for Bristol Bay include protecting healthy, free flowing rivers for fish in salmon streams and scientific projects to assess the risk of large-scale mining in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories—37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners—we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.