A full decade ago, when I was the editor of American Angler, I wrote the article below. (I’ve edited out a few dated references.) At the time, the fight to defeat the Pebble Mine project was just heating up, and anglers were organizing, proselytizing, and putting pressure on their legislators to protect the natural treasure that is Bristol Bay.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve heard about the proposed Pebble Mine project, in which North America’s largest open-pit mine would be built near the headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers in the heart of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest population of sockeye salmon. On the face of it, the idea of threatening such a resource seems ludicrous . . . that is, until you hear the figure $300 billion, which is the estimated value of the gold, copper, and molybdenum that lies under the ground at the proposed site. With cartoon dollar signs spinning in their eye sockets, how can we expect the corporate overlords at Northern Dynasty Minerals to give a rat’s ass about some fish?
It will be up to conservationists—including fly fishermen—to make the case against allowing Pebble Mine to be built, and the chorus of dissent has been growing steadily louder. This year, two films are helping to get the word out by reaching a wide audience. In January, Castaway Films released Equilibrium, a 22-minute film that shows the splendor of fly fishing in pristine environs and focuses on what could be lost if things go wrong at the mine (as they always seem to do). Felt Soul Media and Trout Unlimited-Alaska will soon debut Red Gold, which contrasts the renewable resource of the salmon run—supporting the commercial and recreational fishing industries, traditional ways of life, and the entire ecosystem of Bristol Bay—with the finite value of the minerals to be mined. In Northern Dynasty COO Bruce Jenkins, the film has a villain right out of central casting, and the images of the region and its residents are gorgeous and compelling. I highly recommend both films.
So what can the average fly fisher do to help the cause? Plenty. First, educate yourself. Watch the films, and then visit Save Bristol Bay, which is full of information about the proposed project and the ways we can stop it. Make sure to watch The Breach–a documentary about Pebble, while you’re there. Next, send a message to President Trump by clicking the “Take Action” button. For just a few minutes of your time, you can help to win what might be the most important conservation cause of the decade.
As lodge owner Brian Kraft puts it in Red Gold, “What we have right now is our responsibility. It’s our responsibility to ensure that we don’t go and screw this up, so that in fifteen years, or twenty years, or fifty years, people aren’t looking at us saying, ‘How did you let that happen?’”
Until recently, the fight to stop the proposed Pebble mine seemed to be going our way, and it appeared to the casual observer that the project was dead. But the new administration in Washington seems intent on breathing new life into the project, as the headline from Sunday’s Alaska Dispatch News made clear: “Reversing Obama, Trump EPA reaches deal with Pebble mine developer“.
Suddenly, my ten-year-old editorial seems relevant again. Like the killer in an ’80s slasher movie, the Pebble Mine Project is really hard to kill, and there are powerful, well-funded forces arrayed against us. I know that everyone at Orvis is committed to seeing this fight through to the end, and we hope that you will join us.