So it’s a summer Sunday evening. During the course of the last two spins of our still fair but teetering planet, many of us have gone to great lengths to escape the giant brick oven of Brooklyn, to throw ourselves down at the edge of a body of water – the great ocean, a lake in the woods, the municipal melting pot of a public pool, or even a pint of fresh craft beer (which does qualify as a body of water of last resort). Now, you’re probably home, windows cast open to catch the cool, fragrant breeze of a summer’s eve, trying to keep from fixating on the mayhem that awaits, first thing in the morning, on the corporate cubicle fields or the sprinkler section of your kid’s favorite playground.
Before you finish that glass of wine and drift away on a relaxing Netflix cruise to nowhere, think about taking two minutes to do something good. Another body of water, although probably not the one you sprawled out alongside this weekend, needs some love.
Here’s the deal: Bristol Bay, Alaska is one of the few shining examples of what can happen when humans decide to act responsibly in the harvesting of our planet’s natural resources. Much of the world’s supply of wild, sustainably-caught salmon is pulled from Bristol Bay’s waters as sockeye, coho, chum, silver and kings return to the bay’s headwaters each summer to spawn.
As you may have heard, a consortium of mining companies wants to build one of the world’s largest open pit gold mines at the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two of the eight major rivers that feed the bay. The mine would generate massive amounts of highly toxic waste, which the mine’s developers have proposed storing in a ten square mile containment pond, secured behind the planet’s largest-ever (685 foot high) earthen dam, which would require environmental treatment, long, long after the mine itself has been scraped of every last bit of gold.
OK, seriously? We’re going to put one of the planet’s last and most important sources of sustainably-caught wild salmon at risk to let a bunch of mining companies dig out a few mountains in search of gold? Huh? People are crazy, and this would be hilarious if it were not real.
In May, the EPA released an assessment of potential impacts of the mining project on salmon in the bay. It found that even without a major accident, the mine will eliminate or block up to 87 miles of salmon streams, and bury around 4,200 acres of wetlands that are a critical part of salmon habitat, and that, “at least one or more accidents or failures could occur, potentially resulting in immediate, severe impacts on salmon and detrimental, long-term impacts on salmon habitat.”
The EPA report is open for public comment through Monday, July 23. That’s tomorrow. If you prefer the lean and luscious ruby beauty of a side of wild salmon to the pink, antibiotic-ridden flesh of their farmed cousins who spend their lives making short laps around polluted cages in the aquatic equivalent of feedlots, take a minute to register your concern with the EPA here, and send a nice pre-composed note to your senators, congresspeople and president, courtesy of the Save Bristol Bay organization here. The clock is ticking. (The form kind of makes it look like you have to be some sort of government agent to comment, but you do not.)
And if you’re really into gold, don’t worry. There’s $350 billion in gold bars stored in the vault fifty feet below sea level at the Federal Reserve building right across the river in lower Manhattan. Seems like enough to keep us covered for now. At least through Labor Day.