An agreement reached by an Alaska Native village corporation to permanently protect over 44,000 acres of salmon habitat could present challenges for Canadian developers who want to build a copper, gold and molybdenum mine in the Bristol Bay watershed.
Shareholders of the Pedro Bay Corp. voted on Tuesday June 8, to protect their land for subsistence and cultural use, and to benefit fish and wildlife, with an agreement for The Conservation Fund to purchase easements for those lands from the Pedro Bay Corp. for $18.3 million.
The agreement involves acreage around Knutson Creek, Iliamna River and Pile River and would help protect spawning and rearing habitats for sockeye salmon within the Iliamna Lake watersheds. The easements would be managed by the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, whose mandate is focused on preserving salmon and wildlife habitat in the Bristol Bay region.
“The board of directors of the land trust is excited and proud to be part of this continuing cooperative effort to assure the future of salmon in Bristol Bay and the future of the subsistence, recreational and commercial fisheries that depend upon those salmon,” said Tim Troll, executive director of the land trust.
The conservation easements cover a portion of the proposed northern transportation route for the proposed Pebble mine. Terms of the agreement would prohibit executive of any right-of-way agreements with the mine project due to the conservation easements’ restrictions on development, said officials with the Pedro Bay Corp. and the Conservation Fund.
The conservation easement would also make it difficult for the mining firm to put in the copper ore pipeline they planned to span 80 miles from the mine to the port.
Spokespersons for the Pebble Limited Partnership in Anchorage were not immediately available for comment. The PLP, a subsidiary of Vancouver, British Columbia-based international mining corporation Hunter Dickinson, is currently in the appeals process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which last year declined to approve a key permit for the project. A decision on that appeal is expected to take possibly over a year.
“This transaction supports the values of our community members by protecting their land, their subsistence and their traditional way of life,” said Matt McDaniel, CEO of the Pedro Bay Corp. “This is an opportunity that will provide our community benefits and economic value in perpetuity. After years of consideration, the shareholders have now made an informed decision on how to manage and protect their privately held ancestral lands.”
The Conservation Fund has launched a fundraising campaign to enable its purchase of the conservation easements by the end of 2022. Once the agreement is complete, the corporation will retain ownership of the land subject to terms of the conservation easements to be held by the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust. In coordination with the corporation the land trust will be responsible for administering and enforcing terms of the conservation easement in perpetuity.
The agreement stemmed from talks in 2016 during which The Conservation Fund and the Pedro Bay Corp. began discussing a partnership to preserve critical salmon habitat on lands owned by the corporation on Iliamna Lake. Those discussions led to a conservation easement that protects over 12,600 acres across an estimated 143 islands that support the genetic group of island beach spawning sockeye and haul-outs for one of only five populations of freshwater seals in the world. The existing conservation easement on the Iliamna Lake islands and this new project. when complete, will collectively protect over 56,000 acres of Pedro Bay Corp. land.
The Conservation Fund is accepting donations in support of this effort at cdv.tiny.us/pedro.