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Fly-Fishing: Ruling against mine will help protect fish

Thursday, March 6, 2014
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I've never understood the appeal of gold.

I guess it’s good for conducting electricity or something, so maybe it’s useful for electronics or engineering.

But the gold bricks in Fort Knox strike me as having as much intrinsic value as regular bricks. And while jewelry made of gold is pretty, jewelry made of fake gold is exactly as pretty.

Is the appeal of gold that there isn’t much of it? That men have died trying to get it out of the ground?

Beats me. But this much is obvious: There is only one reason to mine for gold, and it’s not to contribute to the electronics industry or help lovers get engaged. You mine for gold to get rich.

Now, salmon and rainbow trout — there’s your bling, shiny and beautiful and mysterious. There’s something that has intrinsic value.

Environmental activists and the recreational fishing industry, along with the commercial and Native Alaskan fishermen who make an honest living providing something useful, were thrilled Friday when the Obama administration signaled the lust for wealth is not a good enough reason to destroy one of the world’s great salmon runs.

The Environmental Protection Agency took an unusual step, one it’s taken fewer than three dozen times in its 43-year history, in announcing it may restrict or even prohibit the massive Pebble gold and copper mine proposed for the headwaters of Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska.

The EPA declared the mine would have “significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries.”

Stopping the largest open-pit mine in North America, one which could wipe out more than 90 miles of salmon and trout streams, which would require billions of tons of permanently toxic mine waste to be stored in lagoons in a region known to experience earthquakes, has been the top priority for Trout Unlimited for years.

Celebrities have denounced the project, and companies including Tiffany, Zale, Wal-Mart and QVC have said they would not sell gold mined at Bristol Bay.

The EPA had signaled its dim view of the Pebble Mine with an assessment it released in January after a two-year study.

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, the larger of the two companies planning the project bailed out in September, despite having spent what Bloomberg Businessweek said was more than $500 million on preliminary work.

In response to Friday’s announcement, the president of the Pebble Mine Partnership ranted about federal “overreach,” but said his company would “continue to state our case with the EPA as we work through their process.”

Still, the mood at Northern Dynasty Minerals, Pebble’s parent, must be grim after hearing the chief White House spokesman say President Obama “strongly supports that decision by the EPA.”

The Washington Post reported Jay Carney called the EPA announcement “consistent with the president’s commitment in the State of the Union to protect pristine American places for future generations.”

At stake here was more than a pretty place with good fly-fishing. The salmon of Bristol Bay support thousands of jobs in a local economy worth many millions of dollars.

But it is indeed a sporting paradise.

“This is the best place in the world to fish for salmon and trout, period,” said Tim Bristol, director of TU’s Alaska Program. “Sportsmen and women from Alaska and all over the United States have led the charge against Pebble Mine and for the protection of Bristol Bay’s salmon and trout for a long time.”

TU flea market

This year, the Clearwater chapter of Trout Unlimited flea market will include more than fishing-related items.

Bob Mead of the chapter said the event will include vendors of non-fishing items such as jewelry, maple syrup, cake and soup mixes and collectibles.

The flea market will still feature fishing tackle, books and videos, art, fly-tying supplies and more. It will be held April 12 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Albany Ramada Plaza Hotel, 3 Watervliet Ave. Ext. Admission is $3; children under 12 free.

A table costs $20 plus 10 percent of sales, with additional tables at $15. Contact Mead for more information at 399-9000 or rmead1@nycap.rr.com.

 
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