Bristol Bay’s federally recognized tribes and Native organizations acted on this overwhelming regional sentiment in 2010. They wrote EPA and asked it to intervene. These groups include Bristol Bay Native Association, a consortium of all 31 federally recognized Bristol Bay tribes; Nunamta Aulukestai, a non-profit that promotes the mutual interests of multiple Bristol Bay village corporations and tribes with respect to their lands and natural resources; and Bristol Bay Native Corporation, a $2 billion Native regional for-profit corporation that has more than 9,000 shareholders who share ancestral ties to the Bristol Bay region.
EPA chose to conduct the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment to better understand the environment around the Pebble deposit and potential impacts of its development. A draft version of the assessment was released in May; a final version is due out later this year. EPA’s rigorous, inclusive and thoroughly peer-reviewed process has included seven in-state public hearings, a three-day in-state, public peer review panel discussion, and a 66-day public comment period. Thousands of Alaskans submitted written or oral comments and the vast majority were supportive of the EPA and the watershed assessment.
The region has also been specific and clear with the EPA, members of Congress, state leaders, Pebble Limited Partnership and others, regarding what it wants: three narrowly-tailored restrictions that prohibit discharges into salmon habitat, discharges of toxic material that fail to meet Alaska water quality standards, and discharges that will require treatment in perpetuity. These restrictions will protect Bristol Bay’s salmon and other game resources, do not preclude mining, and are a reasonable course of conduct for EPA. They will simply prevent any compromise of the minimum mining standards that science and our experience tell us are required to protect the salmon and other wildlife.
A few highly vocal individuals financially supported by Pebble Limited Partnership have publicly stated that Bristol Bay communities will disappear without the development of the mine. These exaggerations are designed to mislead the public and mischaracterize the region’s near unanimous opposition to Pebble.
The Bristol Bay commercial fishery is a 500-million-dollar-a-year industry that provides thousands of jobs to Bristol Bay residents and produces nearly half of the world’s sockeye salmon. In addition, nearly all residents subsist off of the fish and game resources of the region. The Eskimo, Indian and Aleut people who live in Bristol Bay are among the last intact, sustainable salmon-based cultures in the world. Continuation of these salmon-based cultures depends in part on the continued pristine condition of the region’s landscape and biological resources.
Development of the Pebble Project would provide only a finite number of local jobs lasting only as long as the mine operates, but the jobs and lifestyle created by fishing are perpetual. Residents have fished the waters of Bristol Bay for thousands of years, and, if that resource is protected, will be able make a living from those waters for several thousand years more.
Don’t be misguided by a vocal minority. The majority of those in the Bristol Bay region understand that the same land that contains gold and copper also holds another economic, traditional and cultural treasure of priceless value: the world’s largest and potentially last thriving wild salmon fishery. It is this majority who invited EPA into the region and asked it to protect the salmon and other game resources of Bristol Bay.
Andersen is president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association, a consortium of all 31 federally recognized Bristol Bay tribes.
Williams is executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai, a non-profit that promotes the mutual interests of multiple Bristol Bay village corporations and tribes with respect to their lands and natural resources.
Metrokin is president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the Native regional for-profit corporation that has over 9,000 shareholders who share ancestral ties to the Bristol Bay region.