Frontiers: Clean water, wild places, healthy communities


Tim Bristol is playing offense. That’s how the Trout Unlimited Alaska director described his group’s efforts to protect Alaska’s vital watersheds at the Feb. 20 Frontiers in the Environment seminar, “Watersheds: Clean Water, Wild Places, Healthy Communities.”

Trout Unlimited Alaska is fighting to protect two critical habitats and communities that rely on them: Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska and the Tongass National Forest in the southeastern panhandle. Both areas boast productive salmon fisheries that have vital economic benefit to the communities that rely on them, said Bristol. Both are at risk from development projects that threaten the health of their watersheds.

The untouched waters of Bristol Bay support the largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world, providing nearly all regional employment, said Bristol. The bay is under threat from a proposed copper mine to be situated at the headwaters of two major rivers feeding the bay. The Pebble Mine would be the largest open pit mine in the world, spanning 20 square miles, with a mine tailing containment dam covering 10 square miles. The potential for contamination from these types of mines in this type of complex geography, where groundwater is so close to the surface, is very high, said Bristol. Toxic mine waste could greatly harm the health of the salmon run, along with the livelihoods of the people who depend on them, he said.

Advocating for protection of Bristol Bay, Trout Unlimited has reached out to a broad constituency of fishermen, Native Alaskans, sports enthusiasts and business owners from across the country. It hopes to make Bristol Bay a national conservation icon by rallying opposition to Pebble Mine. Bristol said he hopes individuals and groups will convince the Obama administration to invoke a section of the Clean Water Act that would deny the mine on the basis that it would have “unacceptable adverse impact on one or more of various resources, including fisheries, wildlife, municipal water supplies, or recreational areas.”

Like to learn more? Watch the archived video of Bristol’s talk here. And join us at noon Feb. 27 in St. Paul or live online for the third Frontiers in the Environment talk of the season – “Sound Ecology: The Environmental Effects of Mechanical Noise and Human Music” by IonE resident fellow Mark Pedelty, associate professor of mass communication, media studies and anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts.

Monique Dubos is a freelance writer and photographer. She currently works at the University of Minnesota.