Who cares about the Pebble mine?

I am an environmental activist who opposes open-pit mining in the Illiamna region of Bristol Bay. I write caustic letters to the editor and I attend dull greenie meetings, where I listen to good-hearted folks in various stages of hysteria.

And I find myself asking, why do I care? I don’t own a tourist business and I don’t fish in Bristol Bay. In fact, I probably will never visit the site of the proposed Pebble mine. So what the hell, why do I continue to annoy my friends down at the chamber of commerce — good-hearted folks who just want some decent jobs for their kids?

Perhaps my fervor on this issue stems from the following sentiments expressed in an editorial in the Cheechako News, written in 1961: “We think a time has come for Alaskans when we must readjust our appraisals of the Great Land. We propose that a new policy for the future be implemented based upon the simple assumption that the dominant Alaskan resource is the wilderness itself, and the development of all things in Alaska shall henceforth be pursued only to the end that such developments shall not in any appreciable manner depreciate the wilderness resource.”

Those were bold, if not suicidal words, coming over 50 years ago, from a tiny newspaper in the midst of cash-starved Kenai homesteaders on the cusp of a major oil boom. I believe that they were also profound and amazingly farsighted. No matter whether we pick berries in Tyonek or peck away at computers in downtown Anchorage, Alaskans share one unique bond: the wilderness is our backyard. The world is full of pretty places, but few on the vast scale of our wilderness, which is what makes it truly a wilderness.

Pebble mine promoters promise a sanitary operation which will leave Bristol Bay waters pure and pristine. Whether true or not, this promise evades the absolute certainty that open-pit mines will permanently destroy and degrade a huge area of pristine wilderness. In another 50 years, when the jobs are gone, the bulldozers gone, and the money is gone, our grandchildren and their grandchildren will be left with a moonscape of barren craters. 

And they will wonder “what were they thinking?”

John Rate