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Bristol Bay, Alaska

2011 June 30

By Nancy Stoner

As I flew over Alaska, I was struck by the vast beauty of this pristine and unspoiled land. From my perch in the helicopter, looking over the complex waterscape of lakes, wetlands, winding rivers and streams, I encountered a unique ecosystem that led to an equally unique way of life among the people who inhabit this vast and wild land. This was my trip to Bristol Bay, Alaska, a place far removed from the rush of life in Washington, D.C.

The raw nature of this place inspired me. I traveled by boat over water that was remarkably clear and clean, and stretched endlessly before us – as far as the eye could see. On land, I saw tundra brimming with blooming wildflowers and snowcapped mountains in the distance.

Bristol Bay is home to sockeye salmon, rainbow trout, moose, caribou and countless other aquatic and land life. At least 20 of the Bay’s Native American communities rely on its natural resources for subsistence living and traditional use, and the Bay holds the most productive sockeye salmon fishery in the world worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Through my visits in several native communities, I saw and heard the stories of people and their way of life in Bristol Bay. On Bristol Bay, I saw offshore canneries and fishing boats lined up to harvest the sockeye salmon spawning run. On the rivers that flow into the Bay, I saw riverfront homes and heard from people that caught and ate from what the river held. I saw huge king salmon that had just begun to swim upstream through these communities. I met many subsistence fishers, who divide their catch among elders and others who cannot catch fish, and prepare a winter’s supply of food for their families.

This incredible trip to Alaska and observation of the daily lives of people who fully depend on clean water for food and life left an indelible impression and a deepened respect for the people and their way of life, as well as the pristine beauty of Alaska’s waterways.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. The trip included meetings with the public as EPA conducts scientific assessments of the watershed and considers the effects of large-scale development (

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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13 Responses leave one →
  1. Valdemar Froener permalink
    June 30, 2011

    I read your reprtagem on Bristol Bay, which is defined as a preserved wonder where the locals live with the local ecosystem. But in an excerpt from his text it is mentioned that has offshore factories that pollute the environment because it has no commitment to the local fishing vessels and salmon.
    But how in the U.S., fine.

    I just Brazilian, and I am outraged at the interference of you in our Amazon, who claim to be international territory. Make complaints to international bodies in order to undermine Brazil.

    It is pregunda, and environmental degradation produced by more developed nations, nobody complains. Will Brazilian environmentalists seiri allowed to go and do research in this bay and complaints, without being arrested.

  2. Sharon permalink
    July 5, 2011

    Hi Nancy,

    Thank you for your passion about clean water and taking the time to travel, observe and research Alaska’s seemingly pristine and unspoiled land. Far removed and remote from Washington DC, a city of concrete and smog, it would seem that Alaska is untouched. But, corporations are working hard and stronger toward future growth and financial gain, thus in need of natural resources like oil, gas, gold, coal, etc. To drill and mine for quality, quantity and mass financial gain, the corporations are constantly dumping volumes of toxic chemicals, scraping the tundra and forest and polluting Alaska’s pristine environments; disturbing the precious natural land.

    I’ve seen it, I lived there for many years and I am still hearing of constant problems such as evasive mining, dredging and drilling operations. Corporations are doing their own Environmental Impact Studies and submitting them to government agencies for permits. How wrong is that!

    Please, make an impact with your passion for clean water and help keep Alaska and other wilderness areas pristine to preserve our last natural environments.


  3. ssnyder permalink
    July 5, 2011

    As one who works in and for the communities of Bristol Bay, I appreciate your A) coming up to the region to experience all that it has first hand and B) your sharing some of those thoughts on this public form and blog.

    Bristol Bay is truly a special place, yet fully untouched by major development. Sure there are elements of human impact, but much of that carries a history of learning and respectful relationship between humans and their ecosystem. From thousands of years of subsistence living to a truly sustainable commercial fishery in an ecosystem that boasts the greatest runs of salmon, highest populations of bears, and diverse members of a broad and vibrant ecosystem.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience to this special place, I hope you return again for future visits.

  4. Joel Reynolds permalink
    July 5, 2011

    Thanks to you and to your EPA colleagues for your ongoing work in Bristol Bay. It is critically important to the communities, the people, and the wildlife of this incredible region. I enjoyed your blog post and couldn’t agree more with the impressions you conveyed. I’d only add my view that large-scale mining in the region is irreconcilable with protection of the salmon fishery. The risks are staggering, unavoidable, and unacceptable, and there is no engineer in the world — and no regulatory review in the world — that can eliminate the risk. No wonder the people of the region, by an overwhelming number, oppose the Pebble Mine.

  5. skimelski permalink
    July 5, 2011

    Thank you for your words of open admiration for Briistol Bay, the region that supports the salmon that support the lives of so many.

  6. Brian Kraft permalink
    July 6, 2011

    Now that you have been here and have seen with your own eyes the tremendous reliance the entire system has upon clean nutrient rich water that is left in its natural state to perpetuate the life cycle of the salmon as well as everything, including people, that depends upon those salmon. It is amazing that we as a state are evening considering the possibility of large scale mineral extraction of the very areas that some of these streams originate from. There must be some rationale to the process. The industry, by its very nature of day to day operations, must consume habitat and must consume water. There is no avoiding that fact. There is a place for mine operations such as what Pebble is, however this is not it.

  7. Bareknuckles permalink
    July 6, 2011

    What? Look, Brazil dude, if a group of Brazilian scientists want to go to Alaska, all they have to do is apply for a visa and buy a plane ticket, assuming the visa is approved by both governments. We don’t arrest scientists in America for studying the environment. Is that what they do in Brazil? I’m not sure what your point is but what a shame if it’s advocating cutting down the old forests of the Amazon.

  8. Richard King permalink
    July 8, 2011

    Thanks for coming!!! Flying from DC had to of been a bear.

  9. penny auctions reviews permalink
    July 29, 2011

    There is a place for mine operations such as what Pebble is, however this is not it.

  10. penny auctions reviews permalink
    July 29, 2011

    On land, I saw tundra brimming with blooming wildflowers and snowcapped mountains in the distance.

  11. penny permalink
    July 29, 2011

    Thank you for taking the time to publish this information very useful!

  12. Rick Schneider permalink
    August 4, 2011

    Nancy, thank you for taking your time to visit this very special part of Alaska. The sad thing is that there is any question on the importance of preserving this land. It would be bad enough if we allowed any company to rape and pillage this pristine wilderness area, but it’s even worse that we even would consider to allow two non US companies to destroy this land. How can anyone be so gullible to believe that these companies will preserve the land and wildlife. All anyone has to do is to check out all the law suits against these companies and problems they have caused in their mining operations. PLEASE preserve this land for our children’s, children and there after. People need to quit listening to what people say and make their decisions based on results. They will say whatever they need to get their way, but simply Google these two companies and check out all the other land, rivers, and wildlife they have destroyed. It’s a waste of our taxpayers money that people like Nancy have to take their time to even look into saving this land. Tell these companies to destroy the land in their own countries not ours.

  13. Eliza Winters permalink
    January 10, 2012

    Bristol Bay Alaska is such a beautiful place. I have only been there once an I am dying to go back. I was not excited at first because I hate being cold but the scenery there was incredible. It was probably one of my favorite trips I have ever taken.

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