Alaskans have much in common with our neighbors in British Columbia. Our histories are tied closely to the use and development of renewable natural resources, which form the backbone of our economies, cultures and lifestyles. We understand the importance of wise stewardship of this natural wealth.
Our home in Bristol Bay is the source of nearly half the world's wild sockeye salmon: a wild, sustainable food supply for families all over the world. It is the economic driver of our region, and a cultural linchpin. Our lives and businesses center around the monumental pulse of the 30 million-60 million wild salmon that return here, year after year. It's like no place else on earth.
Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Vancouver-based mining company, is hosting its annual shareholder meeting this week to discuss the Pebble mine: a massive open-pit copper and gold mine the company wants to develop at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. The plan calls for digging up and dewatering many miles of streams where our salmon spawn. Those same streams are responsible for the chinook and coho salmon that indigenous people throughout the watershed rely on for their subsistence harvests. Those same streams provide the wilderness fishing experience that many visitors come from around the world to experience. These streams are the basis of our livelihoods, communities and culture. And they are no place for a mine.
We, along with thousands of Alaskans, Alaska Native tribes and corporations, local business owners and fishermen, alongside hunters and anglers, chefs, jewelers and millions of other Americans, have fiercely opposed this project for nearly 15 years; and for good reason.
The history of mining in salmon habitat is not a positive one. Time and again, communities throughout Pacific Coast watersheds have seen salmon runs decline due to the loss of habitat associated with unsustainable development. More recently, we've seen firsthand that storing billions of tons of mine waste in the wet climates of the Pacific Northwest cannot be done safely — as British Columbia residents who lived through the Mount Polley mining disaster in 2014 know all too well.
Northern Dynasty, it seems, is fixed on repeating the mistakes of the past. The plan currently on file already calls for a mine footprint larger than one deemed by the U.S. government as posing "unacceptable adverse impacts" to the environment. Most recently, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declared, "Any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there. Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection."
Joining this assessment of the Pebble project is a string of the world's largest mining companies, who have all learned the hard way that the project is a venture too risky for investment. Anglo American, Mitsubishi and Rio Tinto walked away from Pebble despite initial investments topping more than half a billion dollars. In May, Toronto-based First Quantum Minerals joined their ranks, opting out of a proposed deal and walking away from its initial $37.5 million investment. The collapse of the deal sent Northern Dynasty stock prices tumbling.
Northern Dynasty, which lacks the financial muscle to move the Pebble project forward on its own, is yet again looking for another investor to finance permitting and development. The permitting process has just begun, and the first round of public comment wraps up this week.
Pebble mine puts our local communities, Alaska's fishing and tourism industries, our economy and our culture in harm's way. It would be wise to back out now and avoid the further financial loss that is inevitable in the pursuit of this fool's gold of a mine. We are committed in our opposition to Pebble. We will fight for as long as necessary, doing whatever it takes to protect our way of life.
Mary Ann K. Johnson is a lifelong subsistence user in Bristol Bay, and a board member for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. Brian Kraft is a pilot and owner of two Bristol Bay sport-fishing lodges. He is an Alaska resident and avid angler, and has been in the guiding business for close to 30 seasons. Norm Van Vactor is a Dillingham resident and the CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation.