The Cordova Times - Bristol Bay Area Plan revisions questioned
Bristol Bay residents concerned over the state's proposed revisions to an area management plan that could ease development of a massive mining say they plan to submit their own alternative plan before the April 4 public comment deadline.
Proponents of the mine say that they can develop and operate the project in harmony with the world renown wild sockeye salmon run of the Bristol Bay watershed. Many fisheries biologists, commercial, sport and subsistence harvesters maintain that the Pebble mine would be devastating to the fishery, which is crucial to the region's economy, lifestyle and cultural roots.
"We want to rewrite the Bristol Bay Area Plan to incorporate our concerns," said Lindsey Bloom, program manager for Trout Unlimited's Alaska program.
Trout Unlimited, the Alaska Independent Fisherman's Marketing Association and six tribal councils in the Bristol Bay region are working to overturn the Alaska Department of Natural Resource's 2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan, in a move they say will restore balance to the area's land management.
The 2005 plan, which covers over 12.6 million acres of state uplands and 6 million acres of submerged lands and tidelands, put much of the acreage initially designated at habitat back in 1984 into the category of general use. It leaves without the protection of habitat designation salmon streams too shallow or narrow for a canoe, and no habitat classification for moose wintering area, caribou calving or winter habitat or subsistence use, said Tim Troll of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, in a recent interview with Dillingham pubic radio station KDLG.
That acreage reclassified as general use land was primarily used as habitat in 1986, Bloom said. "What has changed in 20 years? DNR is supposed to classify area for a particular use. General use in many ways is an abrogation of their responsibility. That is the big change."
DNR's public review draft of the determination of reclassification and plan amendment to the 2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan, if approved, would ease the way for development of the Pebble Mine, a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine proposed by the Pebble Limited Partnership, which has invested millions of dollars in the project. The partnership is foreign owned, by Northern Dynasty, a Canadian mining entity based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Anglo American plc, an international mining concern based on London.
In 2009, Bristol Bay tribes, commercial fishing groups and Trout Unlimited challenged the 2005 area plan in court. To address issues in the lawsuit, DNR agreed to revise the 2005 plan.
These groups now say the state's proposal fails to take into account the concerns and opinions of local communities and does little to protect wild game, salmon, subsistence recreation, sport fishing or other public uses of fish and game.
They want the revised plan to increase habitat classifications for wildlife and fish, prohibit metallic sulfide mines in the Nushagak and Kvichak drainages, and implement a new Mineral Closing Order that would ban new mining claims on or along salmon spawning streams threatened by mining.
They are also asking for voluntary cooperative planning and reestablishment of the system used in the 1984 plan that automatically reserved water levels for fish, so that anyone wanting to take water out of a stream had to prove that fish would not be harmed. In addition, they want a Bristol Bay advisory board made up of local residents.
Information regarding the 2012 amendment to the Bristol Bay Area Plan is at http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/planning/areaplans/bristol/amend/index.cfm
Comments on the amended plan may be sent to Ray Burger, Resource Assessment and Development Section, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, 550 West 7th Avenue, Suite 1050, Anchorage, Alaska 99501-3579.
They may also be filed online at http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/planning/areaplans/bristol/amend/comments/
You can reach Margaret Bauman with comments and suggestions at