As Aldo Leopold once pointed out, not everyone makes it to Alaska – just like not everyone makes it to heaven. I am one of the fortunate ones who has been to Alaska and as a result I feel like I’ve already been to heaven. But Pebble Mine – a massive copper and gold mine proposed at the headwaters of Bristol Bay – threatens to turn this slice of heaven into a pit of hellish destruction.
The proposed Pebble Mine is estimated to produce 10 billion tons of contaminated waste. Immense earthen dams, some taller than the Three Gorges Dam in China, would be constructed to hold back that waste forever – near an active fault line. Even in the nearly impossible scenario in which the waste didn’t leak, the mining of copper itself could harm surrounding salmon as minute amounts of copper are known to affect the salmon’s navigational abilities to return to their spawning streams. Given that the region supports the world’s largest wild salmon fishery – one that supports an abundance of wildlife including bears, wolves, seals and whales – as well as having provided a way of life for the local communities for centuries, it’s no wonder the Pebble Mine is opposed by nearly 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents.
For anyone who has not been there, it can be difficult to describe the immense beauty and vast wilderness of Alaska. Words could never do it justice. Below are some pictures from my trip that can only provide a hint of the actual experience of being there. All of these pictures were taken within close vicinity of the proposed mine site.
This picture of Frying pan lake was taken almost directly over the site of the proposed Pebble mine where prospecting for the mine is going on as we speak. In the distance of this picture is Lake Iliamna, home to a population of rare freshwater seals and the place where millions of Bristol bay salmon come to spawn and juveniles stay to rear each year. In fact, we found one dropping eggs near one of the shores we visited (below).
Though not in the picture, we saw a sleuth of bears romping through this tundra in the short distance between Frying pan lake and Lake Iliamna.
This is nearby Lake Clark – a national park just a hop, skip and jump away from the proposed site for Pebble Mine.
Without any tall tale exaggeration – the most amazing fishing you’ll ever find.
(It’s worth noting here that I am not a good photographer. It’s just this beautiful there.)
The choice is clear. We can protect and conserve this area for the continued enjoyment and prosperity of the region for generations to come. Or we can destroy it and jeopardize the entire bounty that depends on it. It’s simply the wrong mine in the wrong place.
Fortunately, there is something that can be done. At the urging of the native communities, the EPA has conducted a watershed assessment and determined that the Pebble Mine would have “significant” to “catastrophic” effects on the ecosystem and the region. The EPA now has the authority under the Clean Water Act to stop Pebble Mine from threatening the invaluable renewable resources that sustain Bristol Bay – and it’s people, wildlife, and economy.
Amidst all the recent fan fare over the inauguration, there has been some discussion that President Obama still needs to establish a conservation legacy. Tell the President to let this piece of heaven on earth be part of that legacy.
Click here to tell President Obama that it’s time to say No to Pebble Mine.
Photos by Sylvia Fallon and Jacob Scherr, NRDC