National Geographic : 2010 Dec
• Bureau of Land Management land in the middle of the Bristol Bay watershed be opened to min- eral exploration and that a section of the bay itself be opened to o shore oil and gas produc- tion. e Obama Administration has rejected both proposals, but either could be revived. If the partnership's vision for Bristol Bay comes to fruition, wider changes will surely follow. "We will bring inexpensive power to the region," Shively says. By that, he means not only to the headwaters area around the mine but to Dillingham and Naknek too. A deepwater port near Williamsport, on Cook Inlet, and the haul- road corridor might be rst steps leading to the creation of new towns and industrial enterprises in the watershed. "It'd make me sick to see a highway com- ing through this land," says Bella Hammond's 23-year-old granddaughter, Lauren Stanford, sitting in her grandmother's kitchen on Lake Clark. "RVs don't belong here." Aware that much more is at stake than one huge mine, many opponents are campaigning for the creation of a regionwide conservation zone. It would be modeled a er the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve, which encompasses the entire watershed and within which petroleum extrac- tion is e ectively banned. In the conservation zone, large-scale hard-rock mining would also be prohibited, though small, environmentally friendly projects would be allowed. Bills to restrict Pebble-scale mining have been intro- duced in the Alaska legislature. Backers hope that as more people learn about the project and its possible impact, support for a reserve will grow. To be effective, to say nothing of fair, any plan for preserving the Bristol Bay ecosystem must also ensure a viable economy for the hard-pressed residents of the watershed: jobs and small-business opportunities in the rec- reation and tourism industry, such as guiding and outfitting, and mechanisms for locals to buy back some of the hundreds of commercial shing permits now owned by outsiders. Incen- tives for the direct marketing of salmon would help, by allowing the people who catch the sh to bypass the big processing plants and sell An exploratory drill rig pumps water as it probes the Pebble deposit. Demand for gold and cop- per, used in most things electric, is fueling the project. But with sher- men, environmentalists, and some jewelers arrayed against the mine, its future---and that of Bristol Bay's salmon---remains uncertain.