Pebble Mine, a proposed open-pit gold and copper mine, is threatening the future of brown bears as well as the fishing and tourist industries in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
The 2014 US Environmental Protection Agency had previously blocked an attempt to mine in the region, citing significant harm to fish populations and waterways.
However, the agency has reversed it’s position under president Donald Trump and an army corp of engineers are expected to make a decision this summer as to whether to grant a mining permit.
Those opposing the mine have numerous concerns.
Unrivaled natural beauty under threat in Alaska
It has been proposed that Pebble Mine will occupy the Alaska Peninsula, which separates the Pacific Ocean from Bristol Bay. It’s a magnificent piece of land with towering mountain ranges, rumbling waterfalls, pristine rivers and picturesque beaches.
However, should the mine go ahead, an 87-mile transportation and infrastructure corridor is expected to cut right through the heart of an area which reportedly holds the densest population of brown bears on the planet.
Another issue are the salmon, whose streams run into the ocean right next to where the mine might be built. Their future health could be under threat due to the potential ground water pollution from the mine.
The disruption of the areas’s watershed could be catastrophic, according to a Sciencemag.com report.
Bears and humans rely on the salmon
The salmon are a critical food source for the bears and also support a fishing industry which supports around 14,000 jobs and is the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.
In fact, Bristol Bay supports the largest salmon run in the world. And all five Eastern Pacific species use the bay’s freshwater tributaries for spawning.
And then there are the conservation tourists, who flock to the area in their tens of thousands to enjoy the region’s rugged beauty and mostly to marvel at the brown bears. The stunning scenery and the bears’ comfort with tourists watching them, have made the area especially popular.
“These bears have come to agree that humans are pretty much okay,” said Larry Aumiller, who managed the camp at McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge for 30 years.
Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 brown bears are situated in the Alaska Peninsula, 20% of all north America’s bears.
But if a mine was to be built, denying them access to their traditional feeding grounds at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, their future could be in grave danger.
Opponents of the mine are going to have a huge fight on their hands however, because according to Northern Dynasty Minerals, the deposit is ‘one of the greatest stores of mineral wealth ever discovered, and the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold resource.’
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