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Bristol Bay: The Heart of the Watershed and Its People

2011 July 7

By Dennis McLerranMcLerran

Last week my colleague Nancy Stoner wrote about our recent visit to Bristol Bay, Alaska. I would also like to share my perspective about this incredibly valuable trip and our ongoing Watershed Assessment to examine the potential impacts of large-scale development – particularly mining.

On our first stop, tribal leaders and community residents from Iliamna, Newhalen and Nondalton, shared their perspectives about their subsistence way of life, the fishery, and the proposed mining activities in the area north of Iliamna Lake. We met with Pebble Partnership executives for an update on environmental studies and mine planning, and flew to the prospect site to see the exploration activities firsthand.

We then flew to Ekwok along the Nushagak River. People in the village were excited because the first king salmon had just been netted, and the sockeye fishing season was just a few weeks away. Residents spoke eloquently about their concerns that mining could cause them to lose the fish and game they have depended on for generations. After the meeting we boarded a jet boat to New Stuyahok. Many elders attended this meeting and gave us a strong sense of the connection between the village, the river and its resources. We travelled up the Mulchatna River to Chief Luki’s cabin site, and hiked up a nearby hillside to look across the vast stretch of tundra. We dined on traditional foods and then got back in the boat to travel upriver to Koliganek.

The following morning, we met for several hours with a large group in Dillingham that included Bella Hammond, wife of former Alaska Governor Jay Hammond, current and former Alaska legislators, tribal elders and many local residents and fishing permit holders. We listened intently as the group expressed strong concerns about resource development and protection of the Bristol Bay salmon.

The trip took us to the heart of the watershed and gave us a rare opportunity to travel to the villages that are most concerned about our Watershed Assessment. We heard from supporters of mining development as well as those who believe large scale mining would be inconsistent with the preservation of subsistence ways of life and the Bristol Bay fishery.

The ability to see the watershed, the villages, Bristol Bay and the proposed resource development area firsthand is something that could never be matched by pictures or PowerPoint presentations. It is a trip I will never forget.

About the author: Dennis McLerran is the Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10, which serves the people of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

Learn more about EPA’s Watershed Assessment of Bristol Bay

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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17 Responses leave one →
  1. DR. ROBERT KAMANSKY permalink
    July 7, 2011

    I am Dr. Robert Kamansky, and I have a degree certificate in Watershed Management from Chapman University, Orange , Calif. I recently found a toxic waste dump on Federal Land, Cleveland National Forest, next to Upland Calif. that include burned lead and rubber no more than a few hundred yards from an understaffed Ranger station, doing research for my certificate. Of course this became a crime scene, and this toxic mess was later cleaned up. Now, we need not only laws protecting our watersheds, but more eyes and ears protecting our watersheds. I just wanted to alert all involved in watershed management of this weakness in our system, even at the Federal level. Dr. Kamansky

  2. DIANE permalink
    July 8, 2011

    DR, KAMANSKY, AREN’T THERE CURRENTLY LOCAL OFFICIALS ASSIGNED TO MONITORING OUR WATERSHEDS, SPILL & CONTAMINATION LOCATIONS, STORMWATER DRAINAGE, ENDANGERED SPECIES HABITATS, AND OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN FED AND STATE REGULATIONS? I’VE BEEN TRYING TO LOCATE THAT PERSON WITHIN MY TOWN COMMITTEE’S. SINCE I’VE HAD NO SUCCESS YET, COULD IT BE SIMPLY THAT THE REG’S DON’T REQUIRE SUCH A POSITION? IF THIS IS TRUE, THEN WHO IS IT IN THE STATE THAS DOES THIS TYPE OF COMPLIANCE THAT?

  3. Lane Mortensen permalink
    July 8, 2011

    Sounds like a great trip, but what are your views on the proposal?

  4. Jeff Parker permalink
    July 8, 2011

    Mr. McClerran,
    Thank you, and EPA staff, for coming to the Kvichak and Nushagak drainages. As a former distant federal employee on Alaska land issues, I understand that distances must be overcome, both practically, and in terms of knowledge, for all concerned. Your trip helps. I am impressed with EPA staff working on the assessment in Alaska and in your office. Good work, good communication, and good thinking, are the best prescription for distance. I think you have to do so. JP

  5. Jeff Parker permalink
    July 8, 2011

    Mr. McClerran,
    Thank you, and EPA staff, for coming to the Kvichak and Nushagak drainages. As a former distant federal employee on Alaska land issues, I understand that distances must be overcome, both practically, and in terms of knowledge, for all concerned. Your trip helps. I am impressed with EPA staff working on the assessment in Alaska and in your office. Good work, good communication, and good thinking, are the best prescription for distance. I think you have the people to do so. JP

  6. Robert Reed permalink
    July 9, 2011

    First let me say that I am not a scientist or a politician.
    Second, let me say that I have never been to Bristol bay, or met anyone from there.
    I have worked in Alaska, and I am a fisherman.
    Alaska’s economy is dependent on extraction and tourism. Little else happens there.
    And it would take an unprecedented amount of human care to protect Bristol bay from a mine the size of the Pebble. The EPA needs to look at this knowing that even with the best of intentions, everything downstream from the mine will eventually be polluted with mine wast of some kind.
    The question must be: Can the fish and community live and deal with the pollution that is coming their way? Or is the mine a fundamental crossroads for Alaska?
    In my opinion, NO mine belongs upstream from Bristol bay. That said, I don’t really care if they drill in the coastal plain of the ANWR, the fish and caribou don’t seem to care, either.
    I’m glad the EPA is looking at the Pebble and taking so much interest in it. I hope the mine is NOT allowed.

  7. Scott Coughlin permalink
    July 10, 2011

    Dennis,

    I hope you had a chance to actually walk on the tundra and muskeg that covers the proposed Pebble site. And having done so, I suspect you will agree with me that it is difficult to convey just how saturated and porous the landscape around Bristol Bay and Iliamna are. As someone who fished commercially in the Bay for many years, I know I find it difficult to describe to people who have never seen that kind of country before. I usually just drop back to something like, “Well, let me put it this way. If there is anyplace place on earth less well-suited to containing the toxic chemical waste products of a massive mine, I sure don’t know where it would be.”

  8. scott permalink
    July 10, 2011

    Bristol bay is truly one of the best quality watersheds left in America. This is proven by its abundant fisheries reproduction. Protecting water quality is up to all of us. We all have a job of keeping our eyes and ears open to on the ground threats we see and making the appropriate contacts to officials who can do something. To many regulations with no manpower to back them up.
    Seems like the Risk to benefit ratio is pretty high on this proposal, hope it sinks.

  9. Dwayne permalink
    July 11, 2011

    Thank you for getting your feet wet on this one. Your desicion could affect thousands of jobs and millions of pounds of fish that feed millions of people. Protecting Bristol Bay is about protecting the economy for the long-term.

  10. gchangetok permalink
    July 16, 2011

    great post sir,,

  11. Quick weight loss diets permalink
    August 1, 2011

    The Bristol bay is really of top quality watersheds left in America country.It is related to the fisheries reproduction.Amazing data or information sharing to all!Love this post alot!Thanks for sharing it!God bless you.

  12. Izetta Chambers permalink
    August 15, 2011

    Thank you for your trip this spring to Dillingham to listen to folks on this issue. We really appreciate EPA taking a “hard look” at this proposal and listening to the people most affected – the residents, the fishermen, and the tribes.

    I sincerely hope that you take into consideration what was said at these meetings when determining whether to invoke the Section 404C authority. We need the EPA on this one more than ever!

  13. Shelby Lewicki permalink
    October 4, 2011

    Although not a resident of Alaska, I’m writing to strongly urge you to stop the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska! Close the loopholes in the Clean Water Act that allow massive mines such as Pebble to dump tons of toxic waste directly into our nation’s rivers, lakes and wetlands.

    Hard rock mining is among the most destructive industries in the country with a history of polluting public lands, harming wildlife and public health, and poisoning community drinking water. The fragile, wildlife-rich headwaters of Bristol Bay are the last place we should be allowing open pit mining.

    I hope the EPA shares my concerns about clean water and the impacts of mining waste discharges. Please exercise your leadership to stop the Pebble Mine and close the mining loopholes so our nation’s waters cannot be used as dump sites for industrial mining.

    Continuing to pollute our waterways, land and wildlife only serves to bring about the guaranteed destruction of life as we know it on this planet. We are stewards of this planet and must honor its fragility to preserve the planet and our own existence. It is our duty to be committed to sustainable living ensuring a future for the generations to come.

  14. kala permalink
    December 7, 2011

    Great post sir.

  15. Aaon permalink
    January 30, 2012

    Thank you for getting your feet wet on this one. Your desicion could affect thousands of jobs and millions of pounds of fish that feed millions of people. Protecting Bristol Bay is about protecting the economy for the long-term.

  16. Arthur Jessen permalink
    March 28, 2012

    Do we really wish that pristeen beauty be exchanged for a hopelessly ravaged landscape to profit greedy people?

  17. June 12, 2012

    I sincerely hope that you take into consideration what was said at these meetings when determining whether to invoke the Section 404C authority. We need the EPA on this one more than ever!

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