Cassie Pence
Greener Pastures
Vail, CO Colorado

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December 2, 2012
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Discover the beauty of Bristol Bay

If you love to eat wild salmon, especially delicious sockeye, then you hate Pebble Mine.

Pebble Mine is a proposed open-pit mine located in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers, two of the eight major rivers that feed Bristol Bay - a pristine Alaskan watershed with the most productive sockeye salmon rivers on the planet. It supports $500 million in commercial and sport fishery. The mine, on the other hand, with intentions of digging up the second-largest deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum ever discovered, has an estimated value of more than $300 billion.

Pebble Mine - if approved - would be one the world's largest open-pit mines, and even more concerning, it would require the world's largest dam to contain the mine's toxic waste, an estimated 2.5 to 10 billion tons of it. Complicating the huge, sludgy containment pond (as if that's not bad enough) is the fact that Bristol Bay is a seismically active region, and independent scientists have questioned whether the dam could withstand the force of a massive earthquake, such as the 9.2 quake that devastated Anchorage in 1964, according to Save Bristol Bay.

Like I said, if you love salmon, you hate Pebble Mine.

On Tuesday, the Eagle Valley Alliance's Sustainable Film Series continues at Loaded Joe's showing "Red Gold," a documentary that tells the story of Pebble Mine through those who would most closely be affected by it - Bristol Bay's subsistence, commercial and sport-fishing communities. Unlike many environmental films, "Red Gold" doesn't bash the two mining companies, Northern Dynasty Minerals and Anglo American, that have proposed the mine. Instead, through gorgeous imagery and compelling interviews, "Red Gold" reveals the unique beauty of Bristol Bay and its people who have lived off its waters for generations. The film seeks to convince its viewers that this area is worth protecting - forever.

Besides, hard-rock mining speaks for itself. It's the No. 1 most toxic industry in the nation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"I realize we need those precious metals, there's no getting around it - for computers, hardening of steel for surgical tools - but there are deposits in other places that we can get it. This is the only sockeye wild run left on the planet of this size, it's not the place to have something like the Pebble Mine," said Kaleb Walker, a commercial fisherman on the "Sound and Fury" for Captain Robert Lebovic in Bristol Bay. Walker spends June through August fishing in Alaska, and the rest of the time, he lives in the Vail Valley operating his sustainable seafood business, Kaleb's Katch.

Walker organized Tuesday's showing of "Red Gold," and he will be there to talk about the beauty of Bristol Bay - what the film calls "a fully functioning ecosystem" - and why he opposes Pebble Mine. But it's not the first screening Walker's attended. Walker watched the release of the documentary in a boatyard in Bristol Bay with many of the men who are featured in the film, including Walker's skipper.

"We put it in a projector and watched it on a sheet," Walker said. "It was really intense and fun watching it with these guys for the first time."

Knowing that some fishing can be very unsustainable, causing environmental degradation with a likeness to a mine, Walker wants to stress that Bristol Bay fishery is extremely sustainable.

"It's very closely managed by five to six different organizations to ensure checks and balances," said Walker, who has a bachelor's degree in Natural Resource Management from Western Carolina University.

The fishermen cannot cast their nets until a certain number of salmon have escaped the fishing grounds, ensuring those fish won't be caught and are left free to spawn and create more fish. No bycatch is allowed - unwanted marine creatures that are caught in the nets while fishing for another species - and the nets they use are shallow, as to not disrupt the river beds.

"When those fish do come through to the fishing grounds and there are boats everywhere, it's mind boggling to see the volume of biomass and to think there are still hundreds of million still going to spawn," Walker said.

The verdict is still out on Pebble Mine, and Bristol Bay's fate is largely in the hands of the EPA, Obama and you, dear fish lovers. At the showing, Walker will have petitions to sign and raffle items, such as fly-fishing gear, $1,000 worth of delicious fish and Smith sunglasses. All raffle ticket sales go toward the efforts to ban the Pebble Mine. Walker also will hand out $5 gift cards to use toward purchase of salmon from Kaleb's Katch, sold Sundays at the new Edwards Winter Market at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards, of which Walker is the founder.

"We can't sacrifice a renewable resource that has been working so perfectly for so long and so sustainably for a nonrenewable resource that will be gone in 60 to 80 years," Walker said. "It's an opportunity as a whole to stand up to something, a company, a wealth of money, and tell them that Bristol Bay is not the place for this mine. We don't need to jeopardize this nutritious, sustainable food source for future generations."

Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She owns Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company, and is actively involved in the Eagle-Vail Community Garden, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and Slow Food Vail Valley. Contact her at cassie@organichousekeepers.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Dec 2, 2012 04:20PM Published Dec 2, 2012 04:12PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.