Alaskans approved a ballot measure this week to protect the Bristol Bay region from mining developments. The state’s citizens have enabled Alaska’s Legislature to ban proposed mining in the Bristol Bay watershed if the project will harm wild salmon in the fisheries reserve. Prior to this measure, only state and federal agencies reviewed and made final determinations on mining permits.
The measure is in response to the controversial Pebble Mine proposal, which if built would become one of the largest mines in the world. Controversy over the proposed mine’s potential impacts to habitat and wildlife in the area have led many Alaskans to become more vocal about the project. The area supports important populations of waterfowl, ptarmigan, brown bear, moose, caribou, and 46% of the world’s sockeye salmon. It is a world-class destination for both hunting and fishing.
The Wildlife Society supported the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed restrictions on development of the Pebble Mine back in September. The Society’s letter highlighted the importance of this region to wildlife populations and the risks a large mine would pose to the integrity of the ecosystem. The EPA is due to make a final decision on that determination by February 4, 2015.