A massive mine proposal could wipe out half of the world’s remaining wild population
By Aaron Kase
Thursday, Jun 20, 2013
The habitat for half the world supply of wild sockeye salmon — as well as a critical area for other wildlife, tourism and native peoples — is at urgent risk of being filled with pollutants, and sterilized in the name of gold and copper mining.
Dillingham is a town of about 2,300 people, perched on an outlet into Bristol Bay, a body of water set between Alaska’s southwest coast and the Aleutian islands. The only way in or out is by boat or airplane. The town’s economy, and that of almost every settlement along the bay, relies on the thriving salmon population that returns each year to source rivers and streams to spawn.
The fish productivity, and in turn the entire lifestyle of southwest Alaska, is hanging in jeopardy under the looming threat of Pebble Mine. The proposed copper and gold site is projected to be the largest open pit mine in North America and would have a devastating impact on the habitat for salmon and other wildlife.
Verner Wilson III’s first memory is of trying to save a fish. The Yup’ik Eskimo, who grew up in Dillingham, Alaska, remembers visiting his family’s fishing camp when he was little. “I saw all of these fish wriggling around on the beach,” he says. “I tried to save one, take it and put it back in the water.”
His grandmother stopped him, explaining that the fish were the family’s food and livelihood. “I’ve been fishing ever since,” says Wilson, now 27.
Now Wilson is trying to save a lot of fish. Representing the World Wildlife Fund, he has been traveling the state and all the way to Washington, D.C., to rally opposition to the mine, while an unlikely coalition of commercial, subsistence and sport fishermen alongside environmentalists and native tribes has mobilized to preserve one of the last great salmon fisheries left in the world. “Every single piece of the economy here is tied into fishing one way or another,” says Katherine Carscallen, who also grew up in a Dillingham fishing family. “It’s our livelihood and lifestyle that would be completely erased if this mine went through.”
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