Air view of Pedro Bay area on Illiamna Lake, Alaska. Photo George Wuerthner 

In December, the Pedro Bay Native Corporation (PBC) in Alaska placed 44,000 acres of its property under a $20 million conservation easement that may be the nail in the coffin for the proposed Pebble Gold and Copper Mine in Bristol Bay.

The Pebble Mine ore deposit is considered the second-largest ore body of its type in the world. However, most of the ore is low grade which requires significant processing. Hence the need to move the ore from the mine site on a tributary to Bristol Bay waters to a shipping port at Pile Bay on Cook Inlet.

The mine would be an open-pit mine a mile square in area and a third of a mile deep. Ponds would be dammed to contain tailing, including some toxic materials. A 165-mile natural gas pipeline would be constructed to provide power for the operation and 80 miles of road and pipeline to transport the mined concentrate to Cook Inlet.

Chigmit Mountains along Illiamna Lake, Alaska. Photo George Wuerthner 

Pedro Bay Corporation (PBC) oversees 92,100 acres of surface land allotted under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Pedro Bay village is located on the eastern side of Illiamna Lake, Alaska’s largest lake. A short road currently connects the village and lake with salt water at Pile Bay on Cook Inlet. Development of the Pebble Mine has been predicated on constructing a haul road from the mine site along Lake Illiamna to Pile Bay so that ore can be shipped economically for processing.

Fortunately, the PBC Board of Directors has unanimously concluded: “that the Pebble Limited Partnership does not meet our responsible development standards given the unquantifiable impacts the Mine and Transportation Corridor could have on the resources of Pedro Bay, therefore PBC opposes the Pebble Mine and Transportation Corridor.”

The new conservation easements occupy several portions of the proposed mine road and the existing Pedro Bay-Pile Bay road. The conservation easements prohibit the development and execution of any right-of-way agreements needed by the mine to develop the road across Pedro Bay Corporation lands to reach salt water at Pile Bay

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The Bristol Bay region is world renouned as a major salmon spawning and producing area in the world. Sport fishing for salmon and other fish is a major economic activity on Illiamna lake. Photo George Wuerthner

Opponents of the gold mine fear development could harm the Bristol Bay salmon fisheries. Bristol Bay is the most significant salmon spawning and rearing habitat region in the world. In 2022, Bristol Bay’s fishery run was the largest on record at 79 million fish. In addition, the salmon fishery is a significant economic driver in southwest Alaska, accounting for 57% of global sockeye salmon harvests.

I once witnessed the amazing fecundity of the Bristol Bay system. I kayaked around Illiamna Lake during the sockeye salmon run when I was younger.

I was windbound for several days on a campsite located on a cliff where I could look out across the lake.

The entire time I was stuck in that spot, there was a continuous stream of sockeye salmon passing below me as far out from shore as I could see. It was like witnessing the passage of one of the immense bison herds that some reported on the Great Plains. It was a phenomenon of Nature.

Under the advice of Donald Trump Junior, an ardent sport fisherman, the Trump Administration originally denied a key permit for the mine. However, the mine proposal is not dead. The Biden Administration’s EPA recently recommended denial of another important permit.

The mining company could side-step the road issue by barging ore across Illiamna Lake, but this would add to the expense of mine operations and may preclude development. But keeping in mind that this is the second largest ore body of its type in the world, I would not be ready to say the proposed Pebble Mine is dead.

Whether the conservation easements prohibit the mine or not, the conservation easement will preserve some of the most important salmon spawning streams in the lake.

The successful $20 million, 18-month fundraising effort — with half of the funding provided by The Wyss Foundation, Patagonia’s Holdfast Collective and Alaska Venture Fund — enabled The Conservation Fund’s purchase of three conservation easements on land owned by the Pedro Bay Corporation. The world owes the funders, the Conservation Fund and Pedro Bay villagers a debt of gratitude.

The conservation easements cover three areas around Knutson Creek, Iliamna River, and Pile River and safeguard the most productive and intact spawning and rearing habitats for sockeye salmon within the Iliamna Lake watersheds.

 

Conservation easements will cover some of the major salmon spawning habitat in Illiamna Lake. Photo George Wuerthner 

The shareholders of the Pedro Bay Native Corporation voted overwhelmingly to accept the conservation easements and will retain ownership of these lands.

About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

10 Responses to Conservation Easement May Kill Alaska’s Proposed Pebble Mine

  1. Maggie Frazier says:

    Wonderful! So good to see something productive rather than yet another industrial destruction.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      Yes, good news for a change. But ultimately, people have to evolve mentally and spiritually so that they no longer want or propose to do this kind of thing.

  2. Ed Loosli says:

    Huge thanks go to these amazing generous donors to biodiversity preservation. The successful $20 million, 18-month fundraising effort — with half of the funding provided by The Wyss Foundation, Patagonia’s Holdfast Collective, and Alaska Venture Fund — enabled The Conservation Fund’s purchase of three conservation easements on land owned by the Pedro Bay Corporation.

  3. Martha S Bibb says:

    Stop this darn mine once and for all. That means “for all”. We don’t need more polluted areas. At some point the whole world will be lost.

  4. This is great news–let’s not give up, until this is done, and the Damn mine plan is only a bad dream.

  5. Ida Lupine says:

    Whew! I’m sure everyone will be happy for the salmon and the protection of the watershed and lands!

  6. Ida Lupine says:

    Wow, what a holiday present when you think about it! I recall reading something awhile ago, the answer of one of the Native peoples when asked about the gold from this mine. He replied that they ‘already have gold’ with the salmon. Could not have been expressed better.

  7. Patrick says:

    Wealthy donors can certainly make a huge positive impact on conservation. Just need more of them to make these types of things happen. Thanks to those who stepped forward.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      Sure, except for the fact that these people became wealthy by wrecking the environment to begin with. The economics of this society are based on destroying the natural world through needless consumption/overconsumption. We can’t look to the rich to solve these problems, they’re a big reason for them. Of course this is a generalization, but it’s generally true.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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