Across the country, our Great Waters, which are recognized for their national significance, provide drinking water for millions, support critical jobs and local economies, and offer outstanding recreational opportunities within and surrounding our national parks. These and other crucial waterways continue to provide success, challenges, and new opportunities to inform and drive NPCA's work to protect and enhance our national parks. As we celebrate World Water Day on Saturday, March 22, I wanted to highlight a few significant updates on efforts that NPCA is working on across the country.
Bristol Bay and Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
Two summers ago, I enjoyed the only-in-Alaska experience of flying into Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, a park created in 1980 to protect a portion of Bristol Bay's wild salmon ecosystem and the Alaska Native cultures that traditionally depend upon the fish. Watching brown bears teaching their young cubs to find clams and lush, green grass reminded me of my grandsons and the skills for life-long success that our family tries to pass on to them, like eating healthy, local food and living in harmony with our environment. A cornerstone of the bears' diet, like ours, is wild salmon. The linkage between clean water and healthy salmon populations to sustain these majestic, amazing animals is clear. Beyond the bears, Bristol Bay generates $480 million annually in commercial fishing, wildlife viewing, and tourism - all income sources that are dependent upon healthy wild salmon populations.
NPCA has long supported efforts to protect the wild salmon fishery of Alaska's Bristol Bay from the threats of developing the massive Pebble Mine prospect. If Pebble Mine is permitted, it could be North America's largest open pit mine and spur a sprawling mining district to be built on lands adjacent to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. NPCA believes that mining operations with the potential to cause serious and extensive harm to clean water and wild salmon habitat do not belong in the headwaters of Bristol Bay and they certainly do not belong upstream of our national park.
Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will formally review options to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska, from the risky business of industrial mining. Providing sound reasoning behind its decision to move forward using its Clean Water Act authority, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stated:
"Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries. It's why EPA is taking this step forward in our effort to ensure protection for the world's most productive salmon fishery from the risks it faces from what could be one of the largest open pit mines on earth. This process is not something the Agency does very often, but Bristol Bay is an extraordinary and unique resource."
EPA's news gives us reassurance that our voices are being heard and that protections are on the way.
Elwha River and Olympic National Park
After more than two years of work on the largest dam removal in U.S. history, the Elwha River in Olympic National Park will soon be completely free from remnants of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams; a victory that provides long-lasting reason to celebrate.
NPCA spent numerous years leading up to the beginning of the removal, leadings efforts to encourage Congress fund the project and raise awareness on the importance of this massive restoration. Former Washington Congressman Norm Dicks will forever deserve our thanks for his leadership in providing Congressional funding for the project. NPCA is continuing to support re-vegetation efforts, rallying our volunteers and supporters to join us in planting projects, in partnership with the National Park Service. Proving nature's powers of rejuvenation, more than 1,000 wild Chinook salmon returned to the restored lower stretch of the river last fall. When the fish return again later this year to spawn and begin new life cycles, they will enjoy renewed access to more than 70 miles of water.
Chesapeake Bay and Freedom to Float
NPCA is also working hard to better connect communities to the Chesapeake Bay with our Freedom to Float Campaign. NPCA will host more than 20 restoration and volunteer events with six coming up this spring. Last year, working alongside volunteers and partners, we reached more than 2,500 urban public school students with educational programs. Through such efforts, we are helping to connect thousands of outdoor enthusiasts and our next generation of park stewards with the nearly 12,000 miles of Chesapeake shoreline that have little or no access. By securing and protecting these shorelines, we make the land and water safer and cleaner for wildlife and migratory fish and more accessible to millions of people that live near the Bay. Our work creating public access locations is providing an opportunity to educate, inspire personal connections with nature, and promote citizen stewardship and landscape conservation.
By working with unique and diverse populations across the country, our Great Waters and important water work continues to expand and inspire - on World Water Day and throughout the year.