Bristol Bay in Danger!

Bristol Bay Region of Alaska (Map courtesy of prideofbristolbay.com.

In this somewhat odd occupation of writing columns about the outdoors I occasionally approach my weekly deadline in somewhat the same way Red Smith, a famous sportswriter of the 1940s, who wrote, “Writing a column is easy. You just sit at your typewriter until little drops of blood appear at your forehead. “ An earlier writer, Gene Fowler said it a bit differently, “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at the blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Then there are times when I look at the calendar and look at the news and feel like I’m drinking water from a fire hydrant. There is just so much going on that it’s almost impossible to pick a topic.

We were off camping and fishing on the upper Big Hole River a week and a half ago, away from news, telephone and internet, and came home to be inundated with the most recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. The president addressed the nation, sticking to a script for a change, but blamed video games and mental health for the epidemic of mass shootings. This again ignores the thousand pound gorilla in the room: the fact that the country is awash with firearms. There are an estimated 393 million civilian-owned guns in the U.S. That’s 1.2 firearms for every man, woman, and child in America. As the Washington Post reports, the U.S., with around 4 percent of the world’s population, accounts for nearly half the civilian-owned guns in the world.

Then there are public land issues. A friend, a retired Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employee, mentioned that he had seen, and this was confirmed in newspapers, new land use plans for Montana, in which virtually all BLM-managed lands, including sensitive areas of the Rocky Mountain Front and the Upper Missouri National Breaks National Monument were rated as open for oil and gas development, and virtually nothing would be protected from development.

Another ongoing news story is the National Rifle Association and how dissidents within the power structure are deserting what might be a sinking ship, citing how the organization has ignored extravagant spending by Wayne LaPierre and other financial mismanagement.

Then there is the news that the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew a 2014 Obama Administration ruling that had the effect of protecting the vast Bristol Bay region of Alaska. This is tantamount to giving a go-ahead to a consortium of foreign mining companies to begin development of the so-called Pebble Mine.

The Pebble Mine would be a massive project involving large open pit copper (plus gold and molybdenum) mines, slurry pipelines to a port on Cook Inlet, appropriation of some 35 billion gallons of water per year, building of roads and towns, and other infrastructure, in a relatively pristine wilderness. Scariest of all complications is the plan to build two artificial lakes to store acid mine waste behind 740-foot high dams, taller than the Washington Monument and St. Louis Arch—in a seismically active area.

What could go wrong?

The Bristol Bay region is home to the world’s largest salmon runs. All five of the eastern Pacific salmon species spawn in the bay’s freshwater tributaries. It’s a hugely important center for commercial salmon fishing, Native American subsistence fishing and hunting, and a thriving network of fishing lodges and outfitters that supports thousands of Alaskan jobs. As Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited puts it, “Alaska’s resource is outstanding and all we have to do to keep it intact is have the good sense to leave it alone.”

Nelli Williams, an Anchorage director for TU comments, “This foolish decision fails on all accounts. It neglects EPA’s responsibility to protect human health and clean water, it ignores science-based criticism of Pebble’s permit review by their own scientists…and is out of touch with the priorities of Alaskans and sportsmen and women.”

So, currently, I’m drinking from the fire hose, when what I’d prefer thinking about is late summer fly-fishing and the upland bird-hunting season, which is just around the corner.

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