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IJNR's Bristol Bay Institute

 

Travel with the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources to Alaska

Bristol Bay, Alaska, is home to the most productive and valuable salmon fishery in the United States. Producing half of the world’s sockeye, providing 14,000 jobs, and contributing $1.5 billion annually in economic output, it’s a system that illustrates the possibility of sustainable and stable resource extraction. Remote and almost wholly undeveloped, the area supports robust and healthy terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, as well as a strong recreational fishing and tourism economy. It is also home to Alaska Natives — mostly Yup’ik Eskimo, Alutiiq and Athabaskan tribal members — who have been living within, relying upon, and cultivating a relationship with this landscape for more than 10,000 years.

At the same time, there are those who believe different resources in the region — namely gold, copper and molybdenum — could provide a far greater economic return. Located at the headwaters of the two major rivers that flow into Bristol Bay, a massive mineral deposit has caught the eye of two multinational mining companies — Anglo American PLC and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. The proposed Pebble Mine would require an open pit two to three miles wide and thousands of feet deep, as well as thousands of acres of tailings reservoirs that would hold mining waste in perpetuity.

Proponents of the mine tout economic returns, job creation, and global demand as incentive for proceeding with the project. Opponents fear contaminated groundwater, damaged ecosystems, development of infrastructure, the crash of the salmon fishery, and the erasure of a way of life that has persisted for millennia. The prospect of the mine has unified unexpected allies, including the commercial, recreational and subsistence fishing communities, who have joined forces to protect the resource that sustains their livelihood.

While the proposed mine is front and center in many minds, it is only one of many stories unfolding in the region. And, as is the case with all stories involving natural systems, extractive industry, multiple invested stakeholders, rural communities, and vast sums of money, those playing out in the Bristol Bay region are complex and nuanced.

In early September of 2019*, IJNR plans to bring 10-12 competitively selected professional journalists from around North America to Bristol Bay to learn firsthand about the various natural resource issues playing out in the region. This expenses-paid fellowship will explore numerous potential topics. Deadline to apply: Jun 26.

* Please note: Program dates are approximately Aug 31-Sep 7. Actual dates may shift by a day or two in either direction, pending programmatic and logistical constraints. Exact dates will be confirmed as soon as possible.