Global Congress Endorses Protection of Bristol Bay, Condemns Pebble Mine

IUCN members vote to safeguard the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery and Alaska’s Bristol Bay from large-scale mining

HONOLULU — Native Alaskans, fishermen, conservationists and coalition partners today successfully took their battle against the proposed Pebble Mine  to the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, securing overwhelming approval of a motion urging protection of Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine and other large-scale mining. Every four years, the Congress is convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an organization of both government and civil society organizations comprising 89 countries, 126 government agencies, over 1,000 domestic and international NGO’s, and more than 1,300 total members. The IUCN brings together a diverse membership – including some 16,000 experts – to consider the most significant global threats to conservation around the world.

Following is a statement from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Western Director Joel Reynolds:
“With the definitive action today by the World Conservation Congress, the momentum to stop the uniquely dangerous Pebble Mine continues to grow. The people of Bristol Bay oppose it, the people of Alaska oppose it, and now the world’s leading conservation experts have endorsed that opposition. The reckless Pebble Mine is a recipe for catastrophic contamination of the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery, and today’s action reflects an international scientific consensus that it must be stopped.” 

Following is a statement from Kimberly Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai:
“Just 30 years ago, the indigenous people in my community would go out unto the tundra at the end of July and first part of August to harvest the bounty of salmonberries from the warmth of the midnight sun in Alaska. Today, we must harvest these precious berries much earlier – at the same time we harvest the millions of salmon that return to Bristol Bay the end of June and first part of July. Because of changing climate we must work harder than ever. 

“We already face the threats of climate change; foreign corporations should not be able to subject us, our watershed, or our salmon to the catastrophic threats of large-scale mining as well. On behalf of Nunamta Aulukestai and its members, we thank the IUCN for focusing attention on the need to balance the needs of Indigenous People and development and for voting to protect Bristol Bay.”

Following is a statement from Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay:
"The tribes of Bristol Bay are elated that the International conservation community recognizes the importance of protecting the Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale mines like Pebble. We are thankful the IUCN passed with overwhelming support the motion to protect our salmon and therefore our indigenous way of life that has existed in Bristol Bay for thousands of years." 

Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed is home to record wild salmon runs exceeding 50 million fish annually that supply half of the world’s sockeye salmon and sustain a $1.5 billion annual commercial fishery. Salmon are the lifeblood of the region, providing not only food and a subsistence-based livelihood but also a sustainable foundation for the region’s economy and the language, spirituality and social structure of its tribal communities.

This unparalleled ecological and economic treasure is dangerously threatened by the proposed Pebble Mine, which would literally be built in the headwaters of Bristol Bay. As proposed, mining the Pebble deposit would involve excavation of the largest open pit ever constructed in North America – nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon – and would generate an estimated 10 billion tons of waste to be stored on-site forever, covering an area larger than Manhattan and filling a major football stadium up to 3,900 times.

Initial plans include, at a minimum:

  • An open pit two miles wide and 2,000 feet deep and an underground mine 5,000 feet deep. 
  • Colossal earthen dams up to 740 feet high –— larger than the Three Gorges Dam in China –— built to perpetually store more than 10 billion tons of mine tailings, contaminated with leach-prone toxic materials. 
  • Mine-related infrastructure, including major power plants, 86 -miles of new road, and hundreds of miles of slurry pipelines through untouched wilderness to a new deep water port constructed in Cook Inlet (home to the critically endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales).
  • The annual removal of more than 35 billion gallons of surface water from salmon habitat.

Based on a four-year comprehensive scientific assessment of the project’s likely impacts, the United States EPA has called the proposed mine “potentially catastrophic,” citing the agency’s twice peer-reviewed findings that it would destroy numerous streams, eliminate thousands of acres of wetland habitat, and significantly impact fish populations – as well as the naturally sustainable local ecosystem for which these salmon are the linchpin.

More than 80 percent of the residents of the Bristol Bay region, including native tribes and commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishermen, oppose the proposed mine. For over six years, NRDC has been working to support the efforts of these local communities to stop the Pebble Mine, including Nunamta Aulukestai (a consortium of 10 Alaska Native tribal corporations and ten Alaska Native tribal governments), United Tribes of Bristol Bay (a consortium of Alaska Native tribes representing 14 of the Yup’ik, Denai’na, and Alutiq indigenous communities in Bristol Bay), and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation (the largest native-owned development corporation in Bristol Bay, representing more than 9,900 Native shareholders).

NRDC sponsored this motion at the IUCN Congress to help make these voices heard.


About the Natural Resources Defense Council
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

About Nunamta Aulukestai
Nunamta Aulukestai, which means “Caretakers of Our Land” in Yup’ik, is an organization representing ten tribal governments and ten tribal corporations in Bristol Bay which aims to educate local people on large scale mining impacts on indigenous communities.

About United Tribes for Bristol Bay
The United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB) is a tribal consortium representing 14 tribes (over 80% of the total population of Bristol Bay) working to protect the Bristol Bay watershed that sustains the Yup’ik, Denai’na, and Alutiq way of life.

Related Press Releases