On May 11, Rob Vandermark, the Network’s executive director, and I had the honor and privilege of attending an event in the White House Rose Garden, celebrating a major conservation success, protecting Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine development.
The Network has long been a strong and vocal supporter of efforts to protect Bristol Bay, often echoing the words of the late Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who famously said, “This is the wrong mine in the wrong place.”
It was about a year ago that we hosted a Waterside Chat with Sam Snyder of the True Blue Strategies and Scott Hed with Businesses for Bristol Bay, who were both at the celebration. During our chat last May, we talked about the EPA’s announcement of a proposed determination to prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed as disposal sites for the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining under Clean Water Act Section 404(c). In January of this year, the EPA issued a Final Determination to prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed as disposal sites for mining waste. At the time of the decision, Rob Vandermark stated,
This decision provides the strongest level of habitat protection currently available for the largest sockeye salmon run in the world. A record-breaking 80 million sockeye salmon returned to Bristol Bay and its surrounding waters last year, supporting the traditions and livelihoods of thousands of people in the region, and feeding millions of people worldwide. The Network stands with Alaska Native Tribes and residents, local commercial and recreational fishermen, conservation groups, outdoor recreators, chefs, local businesses, and countless others who depend every day on a healthy and thriving Bristol Bay. After years of widespread opposition to this project, we’re grateful that the Biden administration has taken this significant step toward protecting the ecological integrity of this region for generations to come.
Alannah Hurley, a Bristol Bay native and executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, introduced President Biden at the White House event. In her remarks, she noted how important Bristol Bay was to the Alaska native community.
“This is everything our people have been fighting for: To make sure that our children will know who they are and will be able to continue to be Native people in Bristol Bay for generations to come. So to see our kids with the president today, celebrating this monumental, historic victory for us was just profound.”
President Biden captured the historic nature of the effort to protect Bristol Bay and why it was so important to those gathered in the Rose Garden.
In the end, we used our authority under the Clean Water Act to ban the disposal of mine waste in Bristol Bay watershed. Period. That means the mine will not be built. And for many of you, this has been the fight of your lifetime. I’m sure along the way you were told this mine was inevitable, that you should just accept it, that you should give up. But you didn’t. And thanks to the priceless resource that is protected for future generations who depend on it and is required and is a consequence of all of you.
To everyone who had a role in saving Bristol Bay: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Following the event, Scott Hed noted:
It was surreal to gather with so many passionate, talented, dedicated, and inspiring people who have worked for so long to make this reality. Alaska Native leaders, fellow conservationists, commercial and sport fishermen, business leaders, and more gathered to share in this collective victory – and to resolve to continue the effort to ensure all of Bristol Bay is protected for generations to come.
To safeguard the future of Bristol Bay, a coalition of organizations and people has formed Bristol Bay Forever. They’re seeking legislation to permanently protect the entire Bristol Bay watershed.
It’s not every day you receive these kinds of invitations. Rob and I both appreciated the opportunity to represent the Network at this historic event. And while Bristol Bay is safe for now, the Pebble Mine project has been considered dead before, only to return, zombie like, to threaten the Bristol Bay community and the salmon in the watershed again. We intend to stay vigilant and continue to support efforts to protect this exceptional resource.