Posted on Wed, January 07, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
0 Comments | Categories: News, Current Events, Seafood, Take Action,
by Slow Food USA staffer Patrick Keeler
Good Luck, and Good Fishin’
Those were the words of Alaska’s Governor Sarah Palin on opening day of salmon fishing season in June of 2007 to the communities along the Nushagak river and the headwaters of Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska. These waters represent the largest wild salmon runs in the world, where over 60 million red sockeye salmon return each season from a single spawning event. Last night a few of us from the Slow Food USA office went to a screening of the new film “Red Gold”, which documents these shimmering fish, their fragile place in the food chain, and the livelihoods of the indigenous and small family fisher communities that depend on this resource.
The wild salmon industry represents over $300 million dollars of Alaskas economy annually, and the sport fishing industry $60 million. However, both the ecosystem and economy of this region are at risk due to a mining company’s proposed excavation of the largest copper (and gold) deposits in North America, and the second largest of its kind in the world worth an estimated $345-500 billion. In territory prone to earthquakes, the company (Pebble Mine) will need to build a toxic runoff catchment dam (FYI, the EPA ranks open pit mining the most polluting industry in the nation); the proposed dam would be larger than the controversial Three Gorges Dam in China! All of this is possible because the land in question is state-owned.
“Red Gold” is a cinematographically beautiful, and emotionally moving film that presents the natural beauty of this relatively untouched landscape, and the peoples that survive and make their livings off the land, rather than approaching it as community protest. Were to fall in love with the natural world here first, in order to realize how precious a resource this would be to squander on a few years return on metal.
While the prospect of this mining operation is dismal, the good news lies in the fact that more than 80% of the communitys population is against Pebble Mine. Private landholders in the area formed a coalition to bring Clean Water legislation to the Alaska ballot this past November that would halt the mines progress. After all, even those who are in favor of the mine must subsist on the natural resources of the area. The initiative failed to pass the vote however, in part due to that mavericky Ms. Palin, who on the eve of the presidential election took off her campaigning hat and told the citizens of Alaska that she was not in favor of the Clean Water legislation. Her voice helped swing more than 10% of the states voters to block the bill. Palin was bolstered of course by the more than $15M spent by the mining factions in the 08 state campaign. Part of the problem is the disproportionate population distribution of the state, in which more than half the residents live in and around Anchorage and Juno, resulting in an obvious case of near-sighted NIMBYism itll bolster Alaskas bottom line, and they dont live there.
Adding fuel to the fire, on Nov. 14th, the Bush administration and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opened up 2 million acres of land for mining around the currently proposed site. Within the last 30 days the BLM has also ended the moratorium on development of the Bering Sea. Not all is lost yet; were counting on the new Obama administration to see the light on this issue they will have 30 days from Obamas inauguration to overturn these recent BLM rulings.
During the Q&A following the movie, the audience was told that Pebble Mine is still in the permitting stage and they have already rushed to apply for permits granting them the largest share of water rights to the area; it is expected that all permits will be filed by 2011. And while no project has ever been halted in Alaskas history once it has reached the permitting stage, the community and the country is mobilizing support, much in part to the efforts of filmmakers Ben Knight, Travis Rummel and producer Lauren Oakes of Trout Unlimited Alaska. After numerous autumn screenings in Alaska, the filmmakers saw a direct increase in registered voters in opposition to the mine. Screenings have been held across the country from Washington, DC, to San Francisco, Seattle and now NYC to raise awareness about this truly national global resource.
The good news is this: we can still stop Pebble Mine!
How you can help: