Gaps Revealed in Research Developed to Promote Pebble Mine

Advocates for construction of a massive copper, gold and molybdenum
mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed are wrapping up a series of
panel discussions in Anchorage aimed at better informing the public of their research.
The Pebble Limited Partnership, with the Keystone Center of Colorado
as its facilitator, scheduled four panel discussions based on its 27,000-page environmental
baseline study, in an effort to explain to the public how mining and fisheries can
co-exist in Bristol Bay. The majority of residents of the Bristol Bay region are
strongly opposed to the mine, which they feel would be destructive to the multi-million
dollar commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries.
The US Environmental Protection Agency meanwhile is working to
complete its Bristol Bay watershed analysis, to determine effects such a massive
mine would likely have on the environment and fisheries habitat of the world-class
sockeye salmon fishery. The EPA draft report issued earlier this year determined
that such large scale mining would have adverse effects on spawning habitat critical
to this diverse salmon fishery. The Pebble Limited Partnership, backed by other
mining advocates, has challenged that report.
During a panel discussion Oct. 9 on fish, wildlife and habitat,
retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Hal Geiger voiced criticism
of sections of the Pebble report, saying the research did not answer the question
“what fraction of the Bristol Bay resources will be affected.
“We are lost in the details and we need to have this explained
to us in a way that is easier to understand and gives us some confidence,” he said.
Geiger said that if Alaskans are going to make tradeoffs between
mineral resources and salmon resources, then Pebble has to provide more information
so people understand just what those tradeoffs are.
Fisheries scientist Carol Ann Woody, whose extensive field work
on salmon in the Bristol Bay watershed has made her critical of the mine project,
questioned the approach, data quality and intended uses of the data in the study
regarding salmon escapement.
Keystone’s Todd Bryan said he felt the panel discussions, engaging
scientists from around the country who are volunteering their time, are identifying
places in the baseline studies that need to be improved, but also confirming research
that has been well done.