August 27, 2009

Keep Bristol Bay area closed to mining, Alaska groups say

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Sportsmen, businesses and conservationists in Alaska banded together this week to send a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar requesting he block a plan that would open nearly 1 million acres to potential oil and gas leasing and mining, reports Elizabeth Bluemink of the Anchorage Daily News. The plan to open federal land in the Bristol Bay region would harm rivers and streams that support already-troubled populations of salmon, the groups say.

The Bureau of Land Management is behind the plan to open the land, although studies it issued last year indicate the nearly 1 million acres “didn’t appear to contain valuable resources.” This has many questioning the validity of the studies, since the land is downriver from the highly-valuable proposed Pebble Mine. Critics ask: If the land doesn’t have viable mineral deposits, why open it to mining?

The BLM says reasons to keep the land closed are outdated. The 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act created native corporations in Alaska and allowed them to select parcels of holdings before anyone else could stake claims. Now that most of the parcels have been divvied up, the BLM doesn’t see the point in waiting longer before leasing remaining lands. Those in favor of opening the land counter that the sportfishermen wouldn’t have hooks if it wasn’t for mining.

It all comes down to resource value. Competing interests for mines, dams, recreation and wildlife habitat have been exacerbated by recent concerns over salmon population declines throughout the Pacific Northwest. This has led to some surprising partnerships, like the one between loggers and environmentalists as InvestigateWest reported earlier. Is there a way to manage these resources sustainably? As Stephen Hume pointed out in the Vancouver Sun, these issues go beyond politics. They affect the future of the very ecosystem we depend upon.

– Emily Linroth

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