NRDC Launches BioGem Campaign to Save Alaska's Bristol Bay

Proposed Mine Could Destroy World's Largest Salmon Run and Local Fishing Industry

LOS ANGELES (October 13, 2009) –The Natural Resources Defense Council announced today a new BioGem campaign to save Alaska’s Bristol Bay, the world’s most productive salmon fishery, from the development of Pebble Mine, one of the largest gold and copper mines ever proposed.

“There are few human activities as toxic as large-scale mining,” said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of NRDC’s marine mammal protection project. “The Pebble Mine project could lead to widespread water contamination, which would destroy the salmon runs of the Bristol Bay watershed and thereby devastate the native communities and abundant wildlife the salmon have supported for thousands of years.”

Despite vehement opposition from a broad coalition led by Alaskan native communities and fishermen, foreign mining interests, including Anglo American, Rio Tinto, and Mitsubishi Corporation, are in the process of planning one of North America’s largest gold mines at Pebble, which would also produce copper and molybdenum. 

Working with local conservation, tribal, and recreational organizations, as well as its members, NRDC’s BioGems initiative will spearhead a national campaign harnessing the power of citizen activism to keep the mine from ever breaking ground and to advance long-term conservation of the area.

The proposed Pebble Mine site would create a two-mile wide open pit mine, thousands of feet deep, directly next to Lake Iliamna, which feeds a 40,000-square mile watershed and Bristol Bay itself. As much as 9.1 billion tons of toxic mining discharge would be produced and stored in man-made ponds, covering at least 10 square miles. Three of the tallest dams in the world would be constructed to hold waste from the mine including cyanide, sulfuric acid, arsenic, selenium, and other toxic substances. The mining pit, miles of roads covering the Pebble site and man-made dams all run the risk of polluting nearby rivers, ground and surface waters critical to the Bay’s health. 

“Pebble Mine is a project that, by its nature and size, threatens not only the natural resources of southwest Alaska on a staggering scale, but the economic foundation of communities throughout the Bristol Bay region,” said Andrew Wetzler, senior attorney and director of NRDC’s wildlife conservation project.

Both the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers and the salmon industry they support could be affected by the proposed Pebble Mine operations. These two Bay tributaries are home to the world’s largest sockeye and king salmon runs. Salmon is one of southwestern Alaska’s most valuable renewable resources, supporting one of only two freshwater harbor seal populations in the world, generating tens of thousands of jobs and over $300 million in revenue each year. The salmon also support a vast ecosystem, feeding grizzly bears, eagles, wolves, beluga whales, and killer whales.   

Bristol Bay is an ecosystem surrounded by wild tundra, crisscrossed by swift rivers, and dotted with a spectacular array of national parks, wildlife refuges, the nation’s largest state park, and the largest freshwater lake in Alaska.

NRDC’s campaign to protect Bristol Bay and its watershed is part of a larger initiative the organization launched in 2001 to defend exceptional, imperiled ecosystems. Now more than ever, North and South America's last wildlands and rarest wildlife are under threat from large scale logging, mining and industrialization. 

Previous NRDC campaigns forced Mitsubishi and the Mexican government to abandon plans to build a massive industrial salt plant on a lagoon in southern Baja California, Mexico, that is a critical breeding area for the Pacific gray whale, and persuaded the Timber Products Company in Alaska to drop plans for a veneer mill that would have threatened the Tongass National Forest.