What is a bigger gamble than the largest bet in Vegas? The proposed Pebble Mine up in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The winnings? Low-grade gold and copper deposits. The stakes? A pristine ecosystem where tens of millions of salmon return every year to spawn and, in turn, support commercial, sports and subsistence fishing as well as a vast array of wildlife. Grizzlies, wolves, whales and seals all depend on the salmon in this region for their survival. Alaska Natives have relied on subsistence fishing, hunting and gathering in this ecosystem for centuries -- a way of life now threatened by Pebble Mine.
Although the foreign mining partnership -- comprised of Anglo American plc and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. (including Mitsubishi and Rio Tinto) -- claims that it will "respect all of Alaska's natural resources," the stakes are too great to roll the dice. Extracting Pebble's low-grade mineral deposits would require mining on a colossal scale: a cavernous open pit (2 miles wide and 2,000 feet deep) and underground block caving (up to 5,000 feet deep). By the partnership's own estimates, this brutal hard rock mining will generate over 9 billion tons of toxic waste and will require the construction of three enormous earthen dams (all over 700 feet tall -- think the size of three Hoover Dams, only built out of dirt not concrete) to store their waste forever.
Not to mention that these earthen dams will be constructed in an earthquake-prone area, where it would take as little as two parts per billion of copper to damage the navigational ability of salmon to return to their spawning streams and, thus, their ability to reproduce. These are the same salmon that support life in Bristol Bay. Doesn't that sound like a house of cards just waiting to collapse?
To protect the Bristol Bay ecosystem and all the life that depend on it for survival, NRDC has joined a broad coalition of Alaska Natives and fishermen in opposition to Pebble Mine. NRDC anted up by adding Bristol Bay to our BioGems Campaign where hundreds of thousands of concerned BioGems Defenders will take action to defend this national treasure and fight the foreign mining companies bent on gambling away one of America's last wild places. (Read the press release here.) Given Bristol Bay's extraordinary ecological, economic and cultural resources, Pebble Mine is simply a gamble not worth the risk.
This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.