Why We’re Still Not Past Pebble Mine

The most recent attempts to revive the Pebble Mine proposal and roll back sensible limits on mining activity in one of the finest fishing destinations on Earth

Even by Alaskan standards—and we’re lucky to have our pick of remote streams with big and plentiful fish—Bristol Bay is a sporting paradise. It is recognized as one of the finest fishing destinations on Earth, tucked away in an isolated corner of southwest Alaska. The region also produces about half the world’s sockeye salmon, with a record 60 million fish returning last summer to our famed rivers.

There’s no question that Bristol Bay is unique, and yet we continue to have to speak up to make sure it stays that way. Here’s why.

Getting Past Pebble

The now-infamous proposed Pebble Mine would carve out an open pit at the headwaters of the Bay’s two largest rivers, threatening clean water and fish habitat. Somewhere between 1.2 billion and 11 billion tons of mine waste could then remain in the area forever.

That’s why anglers, recreation businesses, tribes, chefs, commercial fishermen, conservation organizations, and hundreds of thousands of Americans came together to successfully take the proposed mine from a done deal to a less-than-popular project—it has lost three major partners, but the mine’s remaining proponent, Northern Dynasty Minerals, is still looking for new investors.

Together, we’ve successfully created major hurdles for Pebble, and in 2014, there was enough widespread public support to place sensible limits on mining in the region. In 2017, the EPA attempted to roll back limits on mining, but those who recognize the value of Bristol Bay had something to say about it—and the agency listened. The EPA received over one million public comments in response to their attempts to withdraw proposed protections for Bristol Bay, and surprisingly, the agency announced in January 2018 that they would keep these protections on the table.

Though the protections are not final, they haven’t been eliminated, as we feared. Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue a final permit for Pebble Mine while a review of these protections is ongoing. And while the Pebble Partnership has been touting that it has a green light on all fronts to proceed, our decision makers are expressing serious reservations about the possibility that mining in Bristol Bay can happen safely—even in a pro-development political environment. EPA Administrator Pruitt and Governor Walker both made very strong statements on the heels of the announcement to maintain protections.

Why Aren’t We Celebrating?

Though this is a huge victory, Pebble Mine backers are gaining momentum and the fight is far from over. The vigorous support of hunters and anglers has been critical to protecting the bounty of Bristol Bay in the past. But we will to speak up again, as early as this spring.

At the end of 2017, Pebble Limited Partnership applied for the first of many dozens of permits they’ll need, and this kicked off a multi-year NEPA review and Environmental Impact Statement process. Mine opponents will continue to demonstrate at every level that for scientific, economic, and cultural reasons, Pebble should not be granted a permit.

Thousands of salmon converge at the mouth of a tributary stream in Lake Beverly’s Golden Horn, just above Lake Nerka, for the final ascent to their spawning sites. Photo courtesy of Jonny Armstrong and Wild Salmon Center.
What You Can Do

We expect the federal agencies to open a scoping comment period soon, and this is the first major step of the EIS process. Sportsmen and women need to make our voices heard once again during that process. Additionally, Alaskans are advocating for options at the state level that, if enacted, would establish higher hurdles for Pebble to overcome to get approval for its state permits.

As an Alaskan, a mother, and an angler, I’d like to thank the thousands of sportsmen and women from across the country who have already spoken up time and again to tell decision makers at all levels that Pebble Mine is not worth the risk in Bristol Bay. We’ve seen that when enough of us do so, we are heard.

Watch for your next opportunity to take action right here, at standup.tu.org/Save-Bristol-Bay, or on the Save Bristol Bay Facebook page.

 

Nelli Williams is Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Director. She has worked on the effort to safeguard Bristol Bay’s fish, wildlife, communities and jobs for nearly a decade. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband and two young children – they get out fishing and playing on Alaska’s rivers every chance they get.

Top photo courtesy of Ben Knight and Wild Salmon Center. 

 

7 Responses to “Why We’re Still Not Past Pebble Mine”

  1. Don Kromer

    I don’t believe this was a problem created by President Trump,this has been going on for a longlong time. I’ve been in that area hunting moose, several times and believe, the renewable fishery is worth more than all the gold will ever be. I think you real eco-nuts better look closer, at who is lobbying, your politicians,to do this, that is where I would start. Not blaming The President, his job is to enforce the law and protect the people , he does not have the power ,to permit mining, that has to be approved by the house.

  2. Mitchell

    The President is NOT a law enforcement officer, but a policy pusher. He can not grant permits anymore than issue them, but he can appoint the people who will do his bidding. His appointees are pro-industry like him. All the public comments may not make a difference with some of these heads, as can be seen by actions of Interior and others lately. This is a dark era for conservation.

  3. Mitchell

    Obama’s epa veto was based upon fake science and collusion with lobbyists. This is known – your “not in my backyard” mentality is small-minded. This can be done responsibly and safely and in the interest of our nation.

    • President Obama’s rejection of the Pebble Mine was not fake science. You cannot expect dams to hold back what is projected to create billions of tons of mining tailings. This area is one of the most productive salmon areas in the world and supports 14,000 jobs. This area has been productive for hundreds of years and will be destroyed if this mine is not rejected. The so-called “lobbyists” were probably environmental groups and outdoor suppliers trying to keep this area safeguarded for future generations.

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Chris Macaluso

March 7, 2018

Finally, Federal Fisheries Management for Us

The Modern Fish Act would allow updated management approaches that acknowledge the difference between recreational and commercial fisheries, and it’s nearing the finish line

Saltwater anglers celebrate this time of year, knowing that the bulk of winter has passed and warmer temperatures, calmer seas, and lines stretched by sportfish of all sorts are likely just a few weeks away.

But the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee recently gave anglers another reason to be optimistic about March’s arrival—last week, they approved the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, also known as the Modern Fish Act, by a wide margin. A bipartisan contingent of 22 out of the 27 committee members voted to approve the bill and advance it to the Senate floor.

This is great news for America’s anglers, because the bill contains a host of provisions aimed at improving federal management of recreational fishing, specifically by acknowledging in federal law—finally—that recreational and commercial fishing have fundamentally different approaches and management should be “adapted to the characteristics of each sector.”

Modernizing Management for Better Fishing

The Modern Fish Act allows regional fisheries management councils to maintain conservation measures and explore approaches that update management to better serve anglers. This includes strategies that have been very successfully used by state agencies to manage coastal and inland fish species.

The bill also calls for NOAA to work with the National Academies of Sciences to examine and improve data collection programs for recreational fisheries. More state-collected stock assessment and recreational harvest data could be used by federal managers under the Modern Fish Act, as well. More precise harvest data could result in longer, more stable recreational seasons.

Image courtesy of J.B.Pribanic.

Under the bill, NOAA will need to take a hard look at commercial and recreational fishing allocations in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic to determine if current allocations are based in the best available data and meet the economic and cultural needs of the entire fishery—not simply the commercial side. This could mean more fish allocated to recreational or commercial harvest, depending on how conditions have changed, but the updates are critical. Many current allocations are based in information from three decades ago or more and have not been examined with an eye toward meeting both sectors’ needs.

Finally, the Modern Fish Act calls for a thorough examination of the social and economic impacts of implementing additional limited-access privilege programs, also known as individual fishing quota systems, in fisheries shared by commercial and recreational users. While individual fishing quotas have worked well in the Alaskan crab and Pollock fisheries, which are entirely commercial, they aren’t suited for recreational fisheries where the fish must continue to support every American’s opportunity to fish.

Sportsmen would never suggest that private companies and individuals own ducks, deer, or largemouth bass—and private ownership of saltwater sportfish should not be tolerated either.

Widespread Agreement

It is important to note that this bill has garnered broad bipartisan support since being introduced by Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker and Florida Democrat Bill Nelson last July. Twelve co-sponsors have added their names to the bill over the last eight months, split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Help also came from both Republican and Democratic staff on the committee, who worked extensively with recreational fishing conservation groups over the last year or more to ensure that the bill accomplishes the targeted fixes to federal law that anglers are seeking, while making sure that resource conservation isn’t compromised. “This is the Commerce Committee at its best,” said Wicker after the February 28 committee hearing.

Since the bill was first introduced, the TRCP and a coalition of partner and non-partner groups—including the American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Yamaha Marine Group, and others—have worked tirelessly with staff from Senate offices on both sides of the aisle to address concerns and make reasonable amendments to the bill. Many concessions were made in the last 10 months to bring the Commerce Committee a bill that is a source of pride for Republicans and Democrats, and, more importantly, the sportsmen and women who have always been leaders in resource conservation.

“The Modern Fish Act represents five years’ worth of input from our community and will increase the level of trust between America’s 11 million saltwater anglers and federal fisheries managers,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re extremely encouraged to see these updated management approaches tailored to meet the unique needs of recreational fishing, rather than forcing recreational seasons into a management scheme designed for commercial fisheries.”

Photo courtesy of Pete Markham.

Certainly, when congressional staff is helping to write legislation with cooperation from recreational angling conservation groups, and both Republicans and Democrats are willing to compromise to improve legislation, it represents the best of our country’s lawmaking process. Hopefully we can expect to see this level of agreement and cooperation extended to other efforts to improve law and policy.

No Time to Lose

But even a popular bill isn’t necessarily a done deal—there are many demands competing for our lawmakers’ attentions, and we need to continue to engage Senate and House members to move the Modern Fish Act to passage as soon as possible. Saltwater angling and the management of our most important fisheries are closer than ever to getting well-deserved recognition from the federal government.

We can’t let another Congress go by without addressing the very real differences between recreational and commercial fishing—or improving fisheries management to rebuild trust between anglers and federal fisheries managers.

 

 

Whit Fosburgh

March 6, 2018

Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Spending Shouldn’t Be Overlooked

The Department of Commerce released the first-ever official data on outdoor recreation’s outsize impact on the American economy, and these numbers don’t lie

For the first time ever, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis has released data on the financial clout of outdoor recreation in America. Thanks to a 2016 law, the agency is now charged with tracking this sector as it does other parts of the U.S. economy.

The new BEA data quantifies what many of us already knew: Outdoor recreation is big business, accounting for $637 billion, or more than 2 percent, of the nation’s gross domestic product.

This doesn’t even consider trips of less than 50 miles—about two-thirds of all outdoor recreation trips are of the close-to-home variety—nor the sale of imported goods. Those numbers are included in the Outdoor Industry Association’s five-year report, the most recent of which showed that the outdoor recreation economy is worth $887 billion.

What is also striking about the BEA numbers is the growth rate of the industry. While the U.S. economy as a whole grew by 2.8 percent in 2016, the outdoor recreation economy grew by 3.8 percent—nearly 36 percent faster than the national economy.

It’s an extraordinary step forward to be able to quantify exactly how much America’s hunters, anglers, boaters, hikers, bikers, skiers, wildlife watchers, and other outdoor enthusiasts are contributing to a healthy economy and job market. When you consider that there are also many unquantifiable benefits of getting outside, including fostering healthy bodies and minds, you would think that growing this sector would be a top priority for our national decision makers.

This is not always the case. Right now, the same agencies charged with managing the 640 million acres of public lands that provide a foundation for outdoor recreation are being targeted for budget cuts. And the dilapidated infrastructure of our public lands facilities—from roads and visitor centers to trails and campgrounds—is an afterthought, at best, in the president’s recent infrastructure proposal, which is largely contingent on expanding the industrialization of our public lands.

According to the BEA’s findings, boating and fishing are key drivers of the outdoor recreation economy, accounting for almost $40 billion annually, but the president’s recent budget proposal shortchanges the federal agencies responsible for keeping our water clean and our recreational fishing sector thriving.

The EPA budget is slated for a 23 percent cut, and two U.S. Department of Agriculture programs aimed at incentivizing private landowners to improve land management practices and reduce polluted runoff would be eliminated. Meanwhile, massive dead zones caused by nutrient runoff in the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and South Florida directly impact fisheries and tourism.

It is time for the administration and Congress to take the outdoor recreation economy seriously and invest in this sector, and perhaps the BEA statistics will help this process. The availability of this new data should be celebrated, and Americans should demand that these numbers are recognized in every debate about the future of our country’s public lands, waters, and conservation incentive programs.

We can have strong energy, agricultural, and industrial sectors without directly harming the lands and waters that sustain the hunting, fishing, hiking, boating, birding, and biking industries—or the clean air, clean water, and open spaces that all Americans need.

But this will require a different mindset, one that rejects the notion that industrial jobs are somehow worth more than outdoor recreation jobs.

Coby Tigert

February 20, 2018

Putting These Public Lands Planning Tools on the Backburner Creates More BLM Backlogs

While new habitat challenges arise every year, land managers are stuck following management plans created in the 1970s and 80s—with no updates in sight

Conditions on Western landscapes are always changing, and sportsmen and women are often the first to experience the difference. We see intense wildfires burn large sagebrush landscapes, leaving invasive cheatgrass in their wake. The varying cycles of precipitation and drought have become more extreme, affecting wildlife habitats and sending wildlife into a roller coaster of population variation. And so the success of each hunting and fishing season ebbs and flows, as well.

While some of these unforeseen challenges have only emerged or escalated in recent years, many of the Bureau of Land Management offices tasked with facing them remain beholden to plans that haven’t changed in decades.

Like many of us who recall feeling a little less winded a few seasons ago, these resource management plans, or RMPs, aren’t getting any younger. And the ramifications are being felt in many of the places where we love to hunt and fish.

Stuck in the Past

With hundreds of plans in place to manage the BLM’s 245 million acres, ten or more revisions need to be completed each year to keep up with changing conditions on the ground and balance diverse demands on these lands. Exactly zero RMP updates were completed in 2017, largely due to a shift in administrative focus. Meanwhile, the old plans fail to address new problems and rely on science that may be decades old.

Delays in the revision process can often result in massive backlogs. In east Idaho, for example, five RMPs covering more than 5 million acres were expected to be in the planning process or completed by 2018. Of those, none have been completed and only one is in the planning process. And that plan—the Upper Snake RMP that will replace a plan from the 1980s—has been given a lower priority because it lacks oil and gas potential. Meanwhile, the importance of this habitat to tens of thousands of big game animals continues to go unaddressed.

Gradual Demise of Public Input

Updated plans not only reflect current resource conditions, but also public priorities. Based on legal requirements developed decades ago, the planning process provides the public with multiple opportunities to weigh-in on how they would like their public lands to be managed, either in writing or at in-person meetings. The BLM is tasked with providing information on any changes and other ways to engage on RMPs in progress.

We’re already contending with the absence of resource advisory councils—which have been shut down for nearly a year to be “reviewed”—and other cuts to public input. Neglecting RMPs is yet another way we are prevented from voicing our opinions on how public lands should be managed. These incremental changes add up to a big overall shift in how much say Americans have a say in the management of our public lands. These lands are important to all of us, and what seems to be unnecessary and never ending delays, has increased public dissatisfaction with the process and resulted in animosity and distrust.

Only by getting the planning process back on track can the BLM ensure that the interests of all Americans are incorporated into how our lands are managed for years to come. Our public land heritage is too important to put on the back burner.

The Buck Stops Here

Addressing the many clogs in the system that are contributing to the slowdown of RMPs means ensuring that the BLM is fully staffed and appropriately funded. The president, Secretary of the Interior, and Congress need to move quickly to fill important positons in the agency and budget for the future of public lands—because conservation shouldn’t be cut to offset new costs or pay for infrastructure.

We also need agencies to refocus on balanced multiple uses of public land, which includes managing for quality fish and wildlife habitat and our outdoor traditions. Let decision makers know that public land is sportsmen’s country by signing our petition to support responsible management of public land and wildlife habitat.

 

 

Kristyn Brady

February 9, 2018

Congress Passes Budget Deal with a Boost for Conservation Funding But No Fire Fix

Non-defense spending gets a bump, but the agreement doesn’t include a solution for fire borrowing, which saps the Forest Service of its budget for habitat maintenance and improvement

This morning, Congress passed a bipartisan budget agreement to end the cycle of short-term funding patches that has sustained the federal government through one-third of the fiscal year.

While a modest increase to conservation funding is likely with a $131-billion boost to non-defense spending, lawmakers again missed a major opportunity to fix the dysfunctional way we pay for wildfires in America—by forcing the U.S. Forest Service to borrow from accounts meant to fund maintenance and improvement of forest habitat once they’ve exceeded the budget for firefighting.

“Any increase to conservation funding is a good thing for America’s public lands, fish and wildlife resources, and sportsmen and women, especially given that conservation’s share of the federal budget has been cut in half over the last 40 years,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Conservation Funding BLM Montana
An increase in conservation funding means more support for our public lands. Image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.

“Congress’s failure to address fire borrowing in the most germane legislative vehicle for the purpose—especially after one of the most costly wildfire seasons on record—makes you wonder if they really want to find a solution for America’s forests and the federal land managers who are expected to safeguard these places on a shoestring. It’s frustrating for hunting and fishing groups who have been calling for a fix for years.”

Technically, funding for the government ran out at midnight last night, but the House voted to end the shutdown just a few hours ago. The agreement avoids a lengthy government shutdown, which could have temporarily halted ongoing conservation projects and closed some access.

Congressional appropriators still need to allocate funding to specific programs across the government by March 23. Appropriations bills will ensure that new conservation projects can begin and funding for outdated or ineffective efforts can be used for something else.

President Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 is expected early next week, as is the official version of a leaked report on proposed infrastructure improvements that may present opportunities to improve public lands facilities and wetlands. Stay up to date on TRCP’s response here.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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