Anglers, hunters ask agency to use authority to prohibit mining in sensitive watershed
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Sportsmen all over America stand behind the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to end the public comment period on its Bristol Bay watershed assessment on July 23, as planned, rather than extend the comment period any further.
The assessment, which was conducted over the last year and released for public review in mid-May, determined that large-scale hard-rock mining in the Bristol Bay drainage of southwest Alaska would jeopardize the world’s most commercially important sockeye salmon run and put in peril an irreplaceable sport fishery. Since the report was made public, over 1,000 people have attended EPA public hearings, and many thousands more have commented on the assessment online or through the mail. Citizens can continue to offer input on the report until the comment period ends July 23.
“The EPA is making the right call,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “More than 90 percent of all of the comments at public hearings in southwest Alaska have called for the protection of Bristol Bay from industrial mining. It’s time for the Obama Administration to stop playing footsie with process steps and get serious about using its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay—the world’s most important salmon fishery.”
The Bristol Bay sockeye salmon harvest accounts for 55 percent of all sockeye harvested worldwide. The drainage is also home to trophy runs of chinook and coho salmon, as well as steelhead, trophy rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic char, Arctic grayling and northern pike, making it a huge recreational sport fishery.
“Our industry is proud to join forces with so many diverse interests in fighting for Bristol Bay’s fishery, the thousands of American jobs it supports, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic impact it produces,” said Jim Klug, chairman of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “With the comment period coming to a close, the Obama administration and the EPA have an opportunity now to guarantee a future for Bristol Bay and the economic ripple effect that its fishery has on all of Alaska and on our industry.”
In the wake of the assessment, TU, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Wildlife Forever and hundreds of other hunting, fishing and shooting sports organizations called on EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act’s section 404(c) to protect Bristol Bay from future large-scale mining developments. This section of the Clean Water Act allows EPA to prohibit the issuance of a mining permit any time during the permitting process—the watershed assessment, sportsmen say, is more than enough evidence to support the use of this authority. There is precedence—since 1972, when the Clean Water Act became law, the EPA has used this authority 13 times.
“The Bristol Bay region provides thousands of renewable jobs that depend on healthy habitat,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “Additionally, this region is prized by American hunters and anglers for its fish and game resources. We’re asking the EPA to put an end to this terrible idea, and protect Bristol Bay forever.”
The Bristol Bay drainage offers trophy-quality hunting opportunities for grizzly bears, moose and caribou, among other species.
“Southwest Alaska’s salmon runs, bears, moose and caribou are cherished by our members who’ve contributed over $1 million to Alaska projects,” said Douglas H. Grann, president and CEO of Wildlife Forever. “The continued health of Bristol Bay ranks among our highest possible priorities. If American sportsmen can’t draw a line in the sand to defend Bristol Bay from a foreign-owned open pit mine, we should throw in the towel. This is a fight we must win.”