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Bristol Bay Tribes' Fight to Fend off Pebble Mine Highlighted in National Geographic

National Geographic is focusing on the Bristol Bay Pebble Mine controversy in the wake of a November 9 report issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that reiterates the concerns of an earlier report that says environmental degradation is inevitable if the project is allowed to go forward.
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National Geographic’s In Focus feature this week scrutinizes Bristol Bay and the proposals by a two-conglomerate outfit calling itself the Pebble Partnership to dig a two-mile-wide open-pit mine in some of the most fertile salmon spawning grounds in the world.

The story highlights the push by Northern Dynasty Minerals of British Columbia and Anglo American, a London-based conglomerate, to dig the 1,700-foot-deep pit and accompanying underground operations, build a mill to crush and separate metals, and create tailings ponds that would be far larger than the mines themselves, National Geographic reports. Further, the companies say, this will not threaten habitat and wildlife. The yield: 80 billion pounds of copper and 110 million ounces of gold.

The fight against this mine is longstanding, and has gone all the way up to the federal government, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issuing a draft report last May that assessed the effects of such development on the Bristol Bay watershed area. At minimum, National Geographic reported, the project would entail the destruction of 55 to 87 miles worth of so-far-untouched streams and 2,500 acres of wetlands—and that doesn’t even begin to address the potential for disaster if any of the tailings ponds were to leak its acidic water and heavy metals into salmon spawning grounds.

More recently, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report issued on November 9 has brought scrutiny of the mining proposal before the public eye once again. The report corroborated the earlier findings, and its release may mark a watershed moment in the way Alaska balances natural resource exploitation with environmental preservation. The report, the culmination of requests that nine tribal governments sent to the EPA in 2010 asking for an examination, angered state and industry officials because it leapfrogged over them, the first time this had been done.

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“The battle may have reached the final stage, or at least a turning point in how Alaskans resolve disagreements over the exploitation of natural resources, long the backbone of the state economy,” National Geographic said.

Indian Country Today Media Network last year reported extensively on the Bristol Bay mining proposal and the wilderness and livelihoods it would infringe upon.

Read National Geographic’s “Alaska's Clash Over Salmon and Gold Goes National” from November 16 and the magazine’s “Alaska’s Choice: Salmon or Gold” from December 2010.

Related ICTMN stories: Allowing Mining in Bristol Bay Puts Wildlife at Risk

With Billions at Stake in Bristol Bay, Mining Company Spends Big