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Friday, January 28, 2022

The King (Salmon) is Dead. Long Live the Mine.

[Photo by Nick Hall]

Five million viewers (I’m choosing not to think of allof them as fans) tuned in to watch  “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” on The Learning Channel this month.  But as we know, there’s more to Alaska than harassing bears, and clubbing halibut between the eyes.  Many, I’m sure, were taken with Alaska’s spectacular landscapes, pristine waters, and wide open spaces.

The real Alaska, in Bristol Bay, is something she hasn’t talked about yet. She’s planning to talk about it on November 28, but I don’t know if she’ll mention The Pebble Mine. I remember when Palin “took off her governor’s hat” to tell Alaskans she’d be voting against a ballot proposition that would have been a huge roadblock for this particular project.  How can you be pro-fish and pro-Pebble?  You can’t, and Palin decided which side she was on. Back then, people were listening to her, and the Clean Water Initiative failed. 

What’s about to happen in Bristol Bay has nothing to do with the drama of unwanted neighbors, or boys sneaking upstairs, or licking cupcake batter and putting the spoon back in the bowl.  This reality show is deadly serious for industry, for wildlife, for jobs, for the environment and for food. 

You’ve all seen the “No Pebble” logo I use on the blog when I talk about the project. That logo can be seen on vehicles across the state whose owners understand that there is no compromise. Either the fish and the people win, or foreign mining companies win and we are left with a decimated fishery.  But there’s a lot more to see and understand than the iconic No Pebble sticker conveys.

National Geographic’s December issue, which is now available online, delves into the brewing controversy surrounding a potential mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, and has sparked international concern over what might happen if one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines is developed in the home of North America’s leading king salmon populations. 

“This mine could mean the devastation of a 40,000-square-mile wetland – about the same size as Kentucky – and put at risk the world’s largest sockeye run, as well as the thousands of jobs associated with this $450 million-a-year fishery,” said Tim Bristol, Director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program. “We’re not against mining; there are appropriate places in Alaska for mineral development. But the size, type and location of Pebble Mine pose too high a risk to be allowed to proceed.”

Trout Unlimited is one of the organizations dedicated to promoting and conserving healthy fresh water habitats for fish and people, and to educating the public about the dangers of the Pebble Mine project. And yes, the Director of the Alaska program’s last name is Bristol.  One wonders if this wasn’t somehow destiny.  Kind of like if you name your son Jeeves and he ends up being a butler.  But I digress…

Trout Unlimited spoke to photographer Michael Melford about his experience on this project. “Bristol Bay is truly wild; it’s a rare gem where fish, wildlife and Native culture go hand-in-hand.It’s difficult to believe this pristine wilderness might be compromised with an open-pit mine. The time I spent in Alaska was special and unforgettable, and I hope Bristol Bay, its fishery and habitat, continues to thrive for generations to come.”  You can enjoy his breathtaking online slide show HERE.

The magazine’s feature article is, “Alaska’s Choice: Salmon or Gold,” and the title hits the nail on the head.  It’s one or the other, and it’s a choice.  Those that tell you that “the permitting process should go through” and try to tell you that if it’s a bad project, it just won’t happen, don’t tell you that there has never been a project that hasn’t survived the permitting process, and there’s never been a mine like this that hasn’t destroyed its surroundings with the toxic byproducts of the mine.  The December issue of National Geographic arrives on newsstands November 30.



41 Responses to “The King (Salmon) is Dead. Long Live the Mine.”
  1. bubbles says:

    i heard a disquieting rumor today. this rumor made my head hurt. i hope it ain’t so: (c’mere youse. i gotta whispa it.) i heard that joemillerisgonnabealaskaattorneygeneralappointedbygovernorparnell. don ‘t tell nobody ’bout nothin’.

  2. jwa says:

    My National Geographic came today. The natural beauty and richness of this area is absolutely breath-taking. We are nearly to the point where there are just no places on Earth remaining with this kind of pristine wildness and purity. Are we really willing to squander the last great places on Earth for a few more tons of gold or copper? If this mine (and the others that would surely follow) is allow to proceed, we will in time be left with a deeper, more permanent poverty that no amount of money can fix.

  3. When I read that Dan Sullivan had been appointed Commissioner of DNR by Gov Parnell, I heard the funeral bells ringing for Bristol Bay. He will probably change DNR to Develop Natural Resources.

  4. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    I hope constructive criticism is acceptable here because that is the spirit in which this is intended.

    I might as well dive right in. This quote got my attention: “there’s never been a mine like this that hasn’t destroyed its surroundings with the toxic byproducts of the mine.” I am not sure where this quote comes from other than this post because it has no citation. That in itself is problematic to some extent. What is meant by a mine like this? If what is meant is mines of this scale the statement is demonstrably untrue, there are several mines of similar scale or larger most of which are still operating today which have not *destroyed their surroundings*. One is the Bingham Canyon mine very near Salt Lake City, Utah. That is why the vague – like this – is so unhelpful, because Bingham Canyon is very similar, it is a copper/gold porphyry, it is huge, it is hugely profitable, but it is not *exactly* like Pebble would be for a variety of reasons. For one thing the climate is radically different. For another thing the way the mine is operated is radically different from what I have learnt about the proposed operating methods for Pebble. And quite obviously, there is no significant Salmon fishery in the Utah desert. How do mines of the same type in Chile or Angola or Congo or Papua New Guinea or Brasil compare? In some respects they do, but in many they don’t. So it is easy to show that the statement is in that context false.

    I also have to question the use of a buzzword like “toxins”. For example I am familiar with a wide variety of venomous snakes native to Brasil and other places and all of them fall into either of two categories, neurotoxic and leucotoxic. The toxins in those cases are proteins. Is sulphiric acid toxic? Does its “toxicity” depend on concentration? What about acetylsalicylic acid? What about amino acids? Claims of nonspecific toxicity are unhelpful because they can often be easily shown to be uniformed and therefore discredited, even if in a general sense they are largely true.

    I do not wish to belabor the point, which is that to be effective and credible, arguments against the mine as planned must be well reasoned and substantiated. They must also be specific and informed. I realize that is a high standard, but it is critically important to credibility. I have seen elsewhere claims that very low concentrations of copper in fresh water (on the order of a few ppm) are “toxic” to fish but with no citation to any authoritative source. I don’t know if those claims are credible or not. I do not know what the present concentrations of copper are in the fresh water streams that drain the mine site. But I do know that to be cost effective, a copper mine must grade at or above about 0.5% copper, which is one part per two hundred. So ppm copper concentrations would be 4 orders of magnitude less. 10,000 times less. But as a person who spends most of his time working with geochemical and other sampling techniques I can say that a few ppm of copper in a stream sediment sample would be a significant anomaly worthy of investigating. So I would expect that at least some of the watersheds contiguous with the pebble mine site must have significant concentrations of copper. Are they barren of Salmon?

    I think I have at least defined a problem, that being that to be effective and convincing in altering the course of the development of the pebble mine will require much effort by knowledgable people and a lot of data.

    The second thing I have to weigh here is the claim that the permitting process has never failed to allow a mine to be developed. That may well be true because in part at least, any realistic permitting process is by definition designed to make mine developments environmentally responsible. It is the old pessimist/optimist false dichotomy. One way of looking at it is to claim that the process is so lax and undisciplined that anything goes, which is the upshot of the way the claim is stated. The other way of looking at it is the permitting process shapes and modifies plans so that they do minimal damage and some cost/benefit analysis is pushed to the benefit side. I have no idea which may apply to Alaska’s DNR and it would be a time consuming exercise to find out, but it would be extremely valuable to have that information from a credible source. When last I looked at the major project page for Pebble on the DNR web site, I noted that several reports were long past due. I also noted that some aspects of the pebble plan were questionable on their face, such as the earthen dam impoundments and suggested that the available permitting documents should be inspected to see whether the process had been properly exercised or whether, as in the case of the MMS in the gulf of Mexico, the regulators were simply rubber stamping industry claims.

    No amount of sound technical advice can affect the permitting process in Alaska, that is up to the electorate who choose the officials who appoint the officals who oversee the process and who write the laws that define the process.

    None of this is to say that the risk of destroying the salmon fishery is trivial, on the contrary, given what little I know of the mining plan, and the general circumstances, I would be inclined to speculate that the risk is considerable. But without even considering all the additional issues suggested by the post by Concerned Too, that the case made against the present state of the mine is weak and without more rigor and effort and data will be easily dismissed.

    Let me try to put it in perspective. The post above cites that the salmon fishery is worth $450 million a year. Estimates I have seen put the total reserves of pebble in the range of $500 to $600 billion. If we accept the obvious fact that not everyone in a position of responsibility is actually responsible, then it is easy to see that they would be willing to sell out long term sustainability for short term profits.

    The last thing to say is simply this, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. It is fine to make the claim that all mining is bad for the environment. Frankly it is, I would not argue that point, but what is not usually addressed is why does it happen? Very simple, demand. Maybe 100 years ago only local demand mattered, but that is not the case today. Today, global demand defines what can happen and to a large extent, what will happen. Until we, as a species overcome the myth of infinite growth and utilize our intelligence to try to exist in equilibrium with what our planet can provide, we will continue to “charge into the minefield”.

    • bubbles says:

      No amount of sound technical advice can affect the permitting process in Alaska, that is up to the electorate who choose the officials who appoint the officials who oversee the process and who write the laws that define the process.
      thank you KN for a very informative comment. the above sentence makes me think that the people in that area should be afraid. very afraid. somehow i don’t have a great deal of confidence in the people the electorate has chosen nor the officials chosen by them.
      i wish you were there to take a look-see. you i have confidence in.

    • Baker's Dozen says:

      I saw the Bingham Mine you talked about when I was preschool aged, shortly before it was named a National Historic Landmark. Mark on the Land would be a better description. My uncle worked for them. I remember I was fascinated by the size of the machinery and absolutely horrified at what the mine had done to the place. It was horrible then and is horrible now.
      My uncle quit shortly thereafter because he found he couldn’t work for a company that did that to the earth. Even back then, there were a few that destroying the earth was something we should be doing.
      If you think this is OK, well, google some images. If that’s what they have in mind for Pebble Mine, then there isn’t too much you can do to stop it.

      • Baker's Dozen says:

        was NOT something

      • Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

        My point was that Bingham is an example of a mine that has been operated for over 100 years in a reasonably responsible fashion. I don’t happen to think the plans for Pebble are reasonably responsible, on the contrary those plans do threaten entire watersheds.

        Mining is a necessary evil. Do you live in a house or apartment building? Do you drive a car? Do you use electricity? Do you live in a climate that is cold in the winter? We all do some or all of these things and as long as we do and as long as the number of us living on earth keeps increasing there will need to be mining. Actually even if the number of humans began to decrease at the rate it is now increasing there would still be a need for new sources of materials for a long time to come.

        There are no easy answers, but there are good ways to approach problems and not so good ways. The issue here is couched in the context of stop pebble. I don’t anyone can stop pebble, but I certainly think that the plans for pebble can be greatly improved over what they are now, thereby reducing the risk to the adjacent watersheds and the salmon and the rest of the human economy of the upper bay.

    • DuckDriver says:

      Krubozumo Nyankoye said: (snip) What is meant by a mine like this? If what is meant is mines of this scale the statement is demonstrably untrue, there are several mines of similar scale or larger most of which are still operating today which have not *destroyed their surroundings*. One is the Bingham Canyon mine very near Salt Lake City, Utah. That is why the vague – like this – is so unhelpful, because Bingham Canyon is very similar, it is a copper/gold porphyry, it is huge, it is hugely profitable, but it is not *exactly* like Pebble would be for a variety of reasons.

      Krubozumo, I live approximately 5 miles from the Bingham Canyon mine and am more qualified to
      speak about it than you. This mine is a tremendous eyesore for starters. They have destroyed
      5 complete mountain peaks so far during the mining process. Tons and tons of toxic tailings pollute the groundwater and contaminate the Great Salt Lake from this mine. The levels of arsenic are off the charts! When the mine is finally done producing the Kennecott Utah Copper
      Company has no obligation to do any restoration on this abomination
      as they had it declared a monument. This is what Alaskans can look forward to.

      To place a mine such as this next to Bristol Bay will be a tragedy, I guarantee it.

      I vote for Salmon, a completely renewable resource.


  5. physicsmom says:

    Glad that National Geographic is publicizing the Pebble Mine issue, so that a greater portion of the American citizenry will be made aware of the problem. I haven’t read it yet, but I do hope it covers both sides of the question. While I don’t support the mine, I understand the need for jobs and believe the fish processing should be done in AK. (Why wasn’t it set up that way from the beginning? More expensive to ship processed fish than fresh catch?) Anyway, I too would like some Pebble Mine stickers here in the lower 48 to display and maybe get a dialogue going. Thanks for keeping us up-to-date on this issue AKM.

    (P.S. I can’t believe that the built-in spell-checker is questioning the spelling of “dialogue,” which is the original and correct one, not the lazy and incorrect “dialog.” Argh. My English major heart bleeds a little).

  6. Marnie says:

    I know funds are likely limited by a nation wide PR effort to let people who love to eat salmon might be helpful.
    Let’s face it most of us lower 48ers haven’t a clue about the what is happening the reservoirs of salmon, crabs, lobsters, an other favorite yummies that come from American coastal waters.

    Shrimp cocktails, the availability and cost, are the best PR the Gulf Coast can have to get the rest of the country to understand what is going on in the BP aftermath.

    Too bad St Sarah only worships God’s creations as disposable income sources, she could do a lot of good for Alaska but I guess getting that 5th house (is she competing with McCain?) is more important than a live sustaining freebie from God food source.

  7. Moose Pucky says:

    Yes to salmon. No to Pebble.

  8. Concerned Too says:

    A FEW things to consider–(believe it or not I am more AGAINST the project than for it but hear what my neighbors are saying. THEIR needs need must be considered!)

    The National Geographic article hopefully does not stress the KING SALMON as an important fishery. That fishery has about been wiped out by the trawlers. Much bigger of a fishery than the Yukon but not getting the publicity.
    BB is the world’s largest SOCKEYE Salmon fishery.

    Pebble Mine will be much more of a copper than gold mine. Also, both of these minerals are needed for manufacturing everything from computers to those windmills we are all trying to put up.

    About the $450 million fishery….that is the value of what is shipped OUT of the state… usually for more processing, much in Washington state. Let’s see both the consumer and state demand more fish that is processed 100% in the state to provide much needed jobs. That would have an impact ALL over Alaska and mostly in the villages!

    To not be investigating the ENTIRE mine permitting process for any Alaskan projects and putting pressure on cleaning it up so ALL the projects in Alaska can be done safely is SHORT SIGHTED !!!

    Don’t let anyone tell you that the residents overwhelming are against Pebble. The poll that was done was VERY slanted and poorly done. Far from it.

    That less than 10% of the FULL TIME residents, and those in much need of employment, of the borough that Pebble will be located in have fishing permits. VERY hard to support the other 90% on that income.

    One of the much needed things that Pebble looks to bring to the region is CHEAP POWER. That alone could spur economic develop unlike the bay has ever seen.

    Dillingham, on the opposite side of the bay, is not due to get much benefit from the Pebble project. You don’t see much discussion from the various organizations based there on other mining projects in the watershed area due to possibly harm fishing waters. Believe me there a couple and just a few miles from the proposed Pebble Mine.

    Just a few things to consider when you live and at least try to work in Bristol Bay. As good as Trout Unlimited is they are working on many of their projects with people who live outside the bay. The efforts to publicize Sockeye Salmon by bringing it to high profile grocery and restaurants is not benefiting those who live and work full time in the bay!

    JUST SAYING this project is not one sided and needs more attention to why those who do support it are being pulled that direction. That effort would do much more good AND possibly have a better chance of uniting all stakeholders to stop the mine!

  9. marlys says:

    I remember watching the nightly news on the fateful evening, less then 48 hours before the vote on Prop 2, I think it was, to Protect Bristol bay.
    At the time I was already wary of our esteemed, I mean, erratic GINO, she had a few -gates under her belt by then, (dairy, trooper,..?)
    I deeply regreted supporting her in the election, rued the day I bought her line of BS about HELPING the fishermen and PROTECTING the fisheries! We talked at length about it , for cryin out loud!! (..sigh & self admonitory shakes of the head )

    But silly me, I honestly thought she could be counted on to try to protect something so fundamentally vital to Alaska, the world , and the future of this once fine planet.

    Boy, did I have some learning to do ! And what a harsh lesson that broadcast was for us all !
    No sooner did she wip off her proverbial Governor’s hat, ( half ass crown ) then my kids said I turned sheet white as I fell into a chair, stunned stuuupid and unable to speak for a long while.
    When I gained a little composure, I cried. My Husband called from the dock, I told him the news, he cursed, I cried somemore. He tried to comfort me because he knew how horribly guilty i felt about encouraging crew to vote for her.

    I simply didn’t do my homework, detested Frank and a lot of crewmembers were plenty pissed at Tony over Fisheries issues ( IFQ’s). I was oh sooo wrong and simple minded. May the US voter learn from this ! …To my credit, I proudly voted for Fran election prior…

    My simple minded Prayer for the People of the Bristol Bay Region is JOBS of the no peeble mine variety! Thats what its gonna take to compete with the luster of $$$ now. somehow, investment in exports of arts & crafts,.. call centers,.. factory that makes ‘rock ’em sock’em” scarah dolls ???
    I am only of adequate intellect and less than adequate means, so I pray for some sorta Bill & Milinda Gates miracle. Prince Charles, maybe Opra.

    I will keep giving back, in my little ways, always. My karma is my business, but if anyone wants to let me have it for being such an idiot, I say go right ahead. It probably would pale in comparison to my inner dialogue on the vile topic, besides many finer folks than I were fooled by her, as well, also,too.
    Peace and clean waters

    • physicsmom says:

      As often as people have said “What’s wrong with you folks in Alaska?” I have also said that there were many who were fooled by her phony charm. You are not alone, so call it sufficient unto the day that you have beat yourself up and go on from here, which it sound like you have. The mine project would be devastating and is a worthwhile fight. You’ve lived to fight again. Blessings to you.

    • Chaim says:

      Marlys, forgive yourself. No, I take that back — what’s to forgive? You wanted to do the right thing, you asked for the right thing, and you were betrayed. The natural response to betrayal is rage, it’s a potent force, and you obviously aren’t alone.

    • leenie17 says:

      There are hundreds of thousands of people all over our country who have been fooled by her. The big difference is that you quickly saw what she was really like and realized your mistake.

      People who are inately honest themselves tend to trust others…why would you assume other people would lie, cheat and steal if those actions never cross your mind? Instead, you assume that people will keep the promises they make because that’s what you do.

      You were smart enough to see that she had no integrity. Even after countless examples of her incompetence, viciousness, narcissism, divisiveness, bigotry, etc, tens of thousands of people are STILL fooled. You’re no longer one of them. Be proud of yourself for being able to learn from your mistakes.

      • marlys says:

        Thank you all for your Kindness:~)

        After she spoke Pro Pebble Mine, and at such a trickster time, it made it clear that she was more than a disappointment, she was a very dangerous sell out.
        Now, I warn Family & Friends down south, anyone who asks.

        Best fishes to us all!

        • B in Wasilla says:

          “””Now, I warn Family & Friends down south, anyone who asks.””””

          even though I am a devout non religious person I say Amen to that sister. I tell anyone within listening distance that the Queen Bitch is just that. I use a few other words also I think Skank and Money Grubbing Media Whore are few words and terms I have used to describe her.

  10. GoI3ig says:

    I wonder how $arah would feel if they drained Lake Lucille and make a mine in her front yard?

    • nswfm says:

      Would that self-absorbed psychopath $P even notice? I think not.

    • AK Raven says:

      She would fight it tooth and nail because it is in her back yard—-You know, while I was writing this, it occurred to me that she just as likely would put up a very tall fence so she doesn’t have to look at it.

    • MonaLisa (inCT) says:

      She’d get a bunch of little helmets with the light attached and some pickaxes and tell the kids to go play ‘Indiana Jones’.

    • Dagian says:

      You mean her “swimmin’ hole”? I bet she’d be dipping water out for her kids and no one would notice a difference in her children’s behaviour.

      Personally I posit that she’s been making them lick lead since birth.

  11. savethevalley says:

    These giant corporations – Big Mining, Big Coal – they are all the same. Rape and pillage the earth to line their greedy pockets. When will it stop? Not until we get the greedy politicians hands out of their pockets. Our elected officials and DNR should NOT be allowed to receive a penny in contributions or to be wined and dined by these corrupt companies.
    We are facing a similar issue, though on a much smaller scale, but involves people in addition to salmon and wildlife (there is a salmon stream likely to be destoyed here also). A mining company wants to come into our neighborhood to mine for coal and has no qualms about destroying our homes, our well water, our quality of life and threatening our health with the toxic by-products of coal and coal mining. I think everyone knows that arsenic and mercury are poisonous to health, but the mining company doesn’t care – they claim “jobs” , cbut are these jobs really worth a person’s life?

  12. eddie fireplace palin says:

    A nine-year archive of Bristol Bay photography can be found at the following link:

    A great look at the region that is ground zero for the proposed Pebble Mine project.

  13. ks sunflower says:

    Just a minor note: it’s “Jeeves,” not “Geeves.”

    I’m sure the passion of the issue overrode a minor typo. We all do that when we get worked up, and this Pebble Mine issue is one that all Americans should be worked up over.

    How the H-E-DoubleHockeysticks do we stop it!

  14. chloe says:

    Perhaps the backers of Pebble Mine need to be reminded of King Midas, whose request to the gods for a “golden touch” cost him is daughter (his touch turned her into a golden statue), his health (couldn’t eat the golden food), messed up his prized garden (same story). Finally the old boy realized that the cost of golden touch was just too great, and he petitioned the gods to take back their favor, which they did, but he was considerably poorer for the experience. Pebblers will scoff that this is just a legend, a myth, but we are learning that there is a kernel of truth in those old stories.

  15. Indigo Dancer says:

    Neeeeeeeeeeeeeeew Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay!

    Now let’s hope that people of influence realize that mining is bad and to not do it.

    If only this were as easy as the Palin girls.

  16. nswfm says:

    This post reminded me of the first things I read today:

    Look at the related post by the artist, williambanzai7, the blogger who collaborated on the above on crony america:

    Note the “dig the mineral jackpot pic” comment


    “The increasing violations of our Constitution and Bill of Rights in the name of security are simply the price to be paid by citizens of the military arm of a global corporate empire. Our empire is of a different type, one that uses military force or the threat of it to open up markets and natural resources to corporations and to control access to key natural resources. Read, “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” and “Blowback (2nd ed): The Costs and Consequences of American Empire.” ”

    I found williambanzai7 last year when $P went to Hong Kong for her first post plastic surgery speech when he posted a song parody he’d written on lynnrockets’ blog.

    These are definitely worth reading, all of them.

  17. lilybart says:

    Trout Unlimited is supported by lots of rich men in the NE who like to hunt ducks, but they would be for ANY and all mining or drilling you ask them about.

    One huge supporter is a HUGE GOP fundraiser out of Boston.
    Wonder what the members will say?

    • Dagian says:

      Trout Unlimited has spoken out against Pebble Mine, officially.

      “Kind of like if you name your son Geeves and he ends up being a butler.”

      The character’s name is “Jeeves”, by the way. But it’s still a good comparison!

    • JumpingJackSmelt says:

      No, No, No. This is not true. The chapter I belong to here in So. Cal, as I’m sure nationwide, have been strong advocates for environmental issues. Most of the members I know are true-blue treehuggers and fly fishers next. I’m certain this attitude is prevalent throughout Trout Unlimited. Do a modicum of research before bashing one of the few environmental organizations that put conservation and related issues above all else, to include profit. You may find yourself the next TU member, if you did. Oil and mining? That’s absurd. Love Ya.

  18. Susie Snowflake says:

    Where can I get a “No Pebble Mine” sticker for my car and more to give to my firends? We all need to step up our opposition to this mine project. I did not know that there has never been a project that didn’t survive the permitting process, so we can’t pin our hopes on this project being stopped as part of that process.

    • AKMuckraker says:

      If you are in Anchorage and you ever see me at an event, I always have some. So does Shannyn Moore. Renewable Resources Coalition also had tons of them at the Fair this year, so you can ask them too.

  19. Elizabeth says:

    No comments. I can’t be first! When I read the headline my mind was screaming “NOOOOOOOOO!” Now I’m glad it isn’t too late, and we can keep on screaming for real.