Bristol Bay

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

Reposted from “EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership

By Lek Kadeli

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.”

 

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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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.

Alaska 2

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

Alaska 1

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.

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.

Bristol Bay: The Heart of the Watershed and Its People

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.

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.