NRDC Proudly Supports the Call to Protect Bristol Bay

We are honored to stand with the leaders from Bristol Bay calling for long-term protection that would provide certainty to those who depend on the region's natural resources. 

NPS

Bristol Bay Tribal and business leaders called for permanent protection for Bristol Bay today.

United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB), Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA), and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (BBEDC) released a “Call to Protect Bristol Bay,” which details a regional vision for the long-term protection of Bristol Bay.

The “Call to Protect Bristol Bay” urges EPA to use its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to veto the Pebble Mine and calls on Congress to establish a National Fisheries Area in Bristol Bay that would permanently protect the region from large-scale mining development like the Pebble Mine.

The time is now to protect Bristol Bay permanently and forever. Now is the time to ensure that Bristol Bay’s prolific runs of wild salmon—supporting a $1.5 billion annual commercial fishery, 14,000 jobs, and indigenous peoples for millennia—will continue to provide for current and future generations of Alaska Native people and supply healthy sustainable food to people around the nation and around the world.

In a statement, UTBB Board President Robert Heyano declared:

“True protections for Bristol Bay must stop the immediate threat of mining, ensure that no future proposal will hurtle through the federal permitting process unchecked, and provide a lasting guarantee to future generations that our lands and waters will not become a mining district.”

Collectively, BBNA, UTBB, and BBEDC represent the cultural heartbeat and economic livelihood of Bristol Bay. BBNA is Bristol Bay’s regional nonprofit tribal consortium representing 31 Bristol Bay Tribes; UTBB is a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments that represent more than 80 percent of the region’s total population; and BBEDC represents 17 communities promoting economic growth and opportunities for Bristol Bay residents.

Their Call to Protect Bristol Bay contains two important steps:

  1. Urging EPA to start the process under the Clean Water Act to permanently veto the threat of large-scale mining—like the Pebble Mine—in Bristol Bay watersheds.
  2. Calling on Congress to establish a Bristol Bay National Fisheries Area that will provide federal protection of Bristol Bay watersheds.

The Call to Protect Bristol Bay recognizes that although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the Pebble Mine permit, that denial is not permanent. Indeed, Pebble has already promised to administratively appeal that decision.

It’s a fact that a permit application once denied can be modified and re-filed—by the same company or by some other—even years later. The permit denial offers no lasting protections for the region and does nothing to prevent future threats. The sword of Damocles will remain over Bristol Bay and its communities despite last week’s permit denial. 

As BBNA President/CEO Ralph Andersen said:

“Although we are relieved that Pebble’s permit application has been denied, our people must be assured that no matter the political winds, our way of life is protected from the threat of mining in our region. This commitment ensures that those who depend on Bristol Bay can continue building a sustainable future free from this threat.”

Unless and until Bristol Bay is permanently protected from the Pebble Mine—or any large-scale mine like it—the people of Bristol Bay won’t rest. And neither will NRDC.

According to BBEDC Chairman Robin Samuelsen:

“[W]e must provide certainty to those who depend on our region’s resources that their future will not be threatened by any such proposal in the future. The establishment of a National Fisheries Area in Bristol Bay would provide stability for the Tribal communities of the region as well as the commercial fishing industry that relies on these waters.”

BBNA, UTBB, and BBEDC are asking elected officials, civic leaders and the public to support the call and work toward permanent protections for Bristol Bay.

President-Elect Biden has pledged to protect Bristol Bay—and will hopefully respond to the call of the people from Bristol Bay and make this a top priority for his new administration.

As the Seattle Times editorialized today:

“The time has come to permanently, and specifically, target Bristol Bay as a vital national resource. Its health must be preserved even if [federal agencies are] subverted… Support for a bipartisan plan to protect Bristol Bay should be an early priority for President-elect Joe Biden. He campaigned on his ability to bring Republicans and Democrats into cooperative dialogue, and on being a good environmental steward. Bristol Bay is an ideal chance to show those values lead to real-world results. Pebble Mine was too close a call to ignore.”

We agree. NRDC is proud to stand by the people of Bristol Bay in calling for permanent protection of their home and waters. They have laid out a path for protecting Bristol Bay that is swift and permanent. Now is the time to act.

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Deputy Director, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Nature Program

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