Feds To Study Bristol Bay In Face Of Giant Mine

(EPA PRESS RELEASE)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will conduct a scientific assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed to better understand how future large-scale development projects may affect water quality and Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery, an extraordinary salmon resource for the United States. EPA initiated this assessment in response to concerns from federally-recognized tribes and others who petitioned the agency in 2010 to assess any potential risks to the watershed.

“The Bristol Bay watershed is essential to the health, environment and economy of Alaska,” said EPA Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran. “Gathering data and getting public input now, before development occurs, just makes sense. Doing this we can be assured that our future decisions are grounded in the best science and information and in touch with the needs of these communities. We look forward to working with Alaskans to protect and preserve this valuable resource.”

In 2010, nine federally-recognized Bristol Bay tribes petitioned EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. Their concerns focused on the potential Pebble Mine project. Two other tribes asked EPA to wait for mining projects to submit permit applications before taking action.

This action today does not represent any regulatory decision by the agency; instead it represents EPA’s proactive steps to better understand the watershed and gather important scientific information. This information gathered will inform any future guidelines or actions about how to protect the waters and promote sustainable development.

Bristol Bay is an important source of wild Pacific salmon for commercial, recreational, and subsistence users. It produces hundreds of millions of dollars in annual fisheries revenues. The area may be the last major watershed in North America that produces historic numbers of wild salmon. Most of the Bristol Bay watershed is wildlife refuge or park where large development is restricted. EPA’s efforts will focus on those areas that are not protected.

EPA’s assessment is not limited to examining the effects of hard-rock mining projects, but will consider the effects of large-scale development in general.

The assessment, which will focus primarily on the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, will be informed by scientific peer review, tribal consultation, federal and state agency participation, as well as public and industry input.

EPA will accept and consider public input during development of the watershed assessment and will continue to work closely with tribal governments, state and federal agencies as we undertake this analysis.

(TROUT UNLIMITED PRESS RELEASE)

Alaska Natives, the commercial fishing industry and sportsmen applauded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement today to conduct a scientific assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed.

“Today’s announcement from the EPA is a great first step toward protecting Bristol Bay from the dangers of Pebble Mine,” said Tim Bristol, Director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program. “We are pleased the EPA is doing the right thing by starting a public process and gathering scientific data about how mining would have an impact on the health and environment of Bristol Bay.”

The proposed Pebble Mine could mean the devastation of a 40,000-square-mile wetland – about the same size as Kentucky. Mining in Bristol Bay also puts at risk the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, as well as the thousands of jobs associated with this $450 million-a-year fishery.

In 2010, nine federally-recognized Bristol Bay tribes petitioned the EPA to use its authority under the section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. On Monday, the EPA responded to this request, and noted that Bristol Bay “may be the last major watershed in North America that produces historic numbers of wild salmon.”  The full EPA press release is here: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/8c1e5dd5d170ad99852578300067d3b3?OpenDocument

“We look forward to working with the EPA during the next several months,” said Brian Kraft, the owner of the Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge and Alaska Sportsmen’s Bear Trail Lodge. “This is just the sort of science-based process we’re looking for in Alaska, to understand how we can protect Bristol Bay, the salmon population, its fishing industry and the thousands of American jobs it supports.”

Today’s announcement begins a public process to determine the effects of large-scale development in Bristol Bay, primarily in the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds.

The process initiates scientific review, tribal consultation, federal and state agency participation, as well as public and industry input.

“As an Alaska Native, a commercial fisherman and a resident of the Bristol Bay region, I commend the EPA for taking this important step in a process that will protect my family’s livelihood and our way of life,” said Everett Thompson, a Bristol Bay fisherman. “Today’s response is a victory for Alaskans.”

Trout Unlimited, a non-profit dedicated to the conservation of freshwater streams, rivers, and habitat for trout, salmon and other aquatic species, is working with an unprecedented coalition to protect Bristol Bay from the dangers of mining. This diverse effort brings together Native Alaskans, the commercial fishing industry, the sports fishing industry and tourism-related businesses.

Bristol Bay is:

•       A 40,000-square mile wetland with nine major rivers

•       Home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run

•       Host to one of North America’s leading king salmon populations

•       The center of a $450 million-a-year fishing industry

•       One of the last untouched areas on the planet

 

Pebble Mine would:

•        Create an open-pit mine up to two miles wide and 1,700 feet deep

•        Dig an underground mine of a similar scale

•        Dump up to 10 billion tons of perpetually toxic mine waste in the heart of the Bristol Bay watershed

•        Be operated by and profit two foreign companies with a poor environmental record

•        Potentially destroy salmon runs, other fishes, habitat, wildlife and the overall beauty of this productive and wild area

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