sockeye salmon

It All Starts with Science: Answering Questions about Mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska

Considering the scope of resources in Bristol Bay – a 37.5 million average annual run of sockeye salmon; $480 million in ecosystem-generated economic activity in 2009; 14,000 full- and part-time jobs from that activity; and 11 billion tons in potential copper and gold deposit – it is no wonder there was significant interest in an EPA science assessment to understand how wild salmon and water resources in the Bristol Bay watershed might be impacted by large-scale mining operations. The public comment periods generated 230,000 responses on the first draft of the assessment, and 890,000 on the second.

This week, after reviewing all those comments and formal peer review by 12 scientists with expertise in mine engineering, fisheries biology, aquatic biology, aquatic toxicology, hydrology, wildlife ecology, and Alaska Native cultures, EPA released its final report, “An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska.”

More than three years ago, several Bristol Bay Alaska Native tribes requested EPA take action under the Clean Water Act to protect the Bay and its fisheries from proposed large-scale mining. Other tribes and stakeholders who support development in the Bristol Bay Watershed requested EPA take no action until a permitting process begins.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Finding Balance in Alaska

This week, I was on a fact-finding mission across the state of Alaska, talking with families, business owners, tribes, and local leaders on the environmental and public health challenges they face. In particular, I spoke with Alaskans about President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

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On Monday, I visited the Portage glacier near Anchorage, and saw first-hand some of the very real impacts of a changing climate.

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As President Obama made clear in June, there is great urgency to reduce carbon pollution and adapt to climate change. With this urgency comes great challenge, but also immense opportunity. As I travel across Alaska and the country, I see enormous potential for innovation, new technology, and American ingenuity that will help us reduce carbon pollution, adapt to a changing climate, and spur our economy. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Bristol Bay, Alaska

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 (www.epa.gov/Region10/bristolbay/).

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.