Thursday, February 9, 2012

Let's Not Let Them Muck Up the Alaskan Wilderness!

Scenes from our last Alaskan trip in March, 2005. Top - a scene from the Seward Highway south of Anchorage very similar to the sort of views from Bristol Bay. Bottom: Approaching Mount Denali by small plane.

When last in Alaska, in March 2005, my wife and I got to see many sights including massive wilderness regions near Mount McKinley ('Denali") as well as immense glaciers in the southern region just below Anchorage. In the latter case, we were shown just how much particular glaciers had receded in just the last two decades. Meanwhile, during a visit to the Ice Art Exhibit in Fairbanks, several ice towers (including one 150' tall) collapsed due to melting permafrost beneath.

It would be simple to say that climate change-anthropogenic global warming is the only culprit threatening Alaskans, but there are also more immediate threats. One such is a planned, open pit pebble mine in the heart of the watershed that feeds Bristol Bay, see e.g.

For those who take the time to peruse the preceding link you will get an idea of an unspoiled "Eden" with vast tundra, harboring crystal clear streams and pristine lakes that span a stunning array of national parks and wildlife refuges. Indeed, the planet's largest sockeye salmon streams run through this marvelous land which also supports an abundance of bears (brown bears, aka 'Grizzlies'), whales, seals, and eagles....including bald eagles...our national symbol.

The problem here is that the effluent generated by mining operations (mainly run by the foreign-owned companies Anglo-American and Rio Tinto) will unleash millions of metric tons of mining waste replete with cyanide, sulfuric acid, arsenic and dozens of other toxic chemicals. None of which are supportive of life.

Little wonder that in the wake of these planned destructive operations, thousands of native Alaskans, led by the Nunamata Aulukesai ('Caretakers of the land') have joined with Alaskan fishermen and conservationists to organize opposition to this impending ecological holocaust and save their way of life - as well as the pristine environment which beckons so many of us when we visit the Great state.

Will the effort succeed? No one knows. What we do know are the following facts compiled by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

1) The mine would redefine the word 'huge' with a gaping pit wide enough "to line up nine of the world's longest cruise ships and deep enough to swallow the Empire State Building".

2) The ancillary industrial infrastructure would include transmission lines, and 86 miles of shipping roads as well as dredging of the Cook Inlet, which is home to the endangered Beluga Whale. This to be done in exchange for "a new deepwater port".

3) The mine itself will sit in an earthquake zone near the Lake Clarke fault, a 135 mile tectonic zone and barely 125 miles north of the site of the monstrous 1964 Anchorage quake that set off a tsunami.

In respect of (3), if there was a quake, at least a billion tons of contaminated material could be released into the streams and habitats of Bristol Bay.

We sincerely hope that by the time of our next visit to Alaska, likely in early 2013 for the Solar maximum, the pebble mining plan will be scuttled and Alaska's virgin wilderness nature once more preserved from the ravenous parasites who'd plunder her!

No comments: