E.P.A. Vetoes Pebble Mine!

On January 31, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the disposal of mine waste associated with the Pebble deposit in southwest Alaska. The mine could have become one of the largest open pit mines in the world and would have imperiled Earth’s last great salmon run. The EPA’s decision is a great victory for the Bristol Bay region and its salmon.

Seventy-nine million salmon returned collectively to Bristol Bay in 2022, setting a new record high for the region. Bristol Bay’s wholly intact watersheds make this possible. Water flows freely from snowmelt-fed rivulets and springs high in the mountains through the chains of lakes that occupy glacially-carved basins and into the lower stems of rivers that empty into the Bering Sea. Adult salmon swim upstream without encountering human-made obstructions or water diversions. And, instead of being displaced by shore-line hardening structures to protect buildings or roads, such as it is throughout much of the U.S. west coast, billions of salmon fry in Bristol Bay find ample refuge in the slack-waters along stream margins, grassy marshes, and lakes. Vast numbers of salmon don’t even see a bridge during their entire lives. The diversity and health of the watersheds make Bristol Bay whole. 

Turbulent water filled with salmon. A red-colored salmon's tail fin breaks the surface at upper left. At center, a more silver-colored salmon's face breaks the surface.
salmon jumping at waterfall. salmon are jumping from bottom center to lip of falls on upper left.
GIF of underwater footage of salmon fry. Water is clear. Salmon swim in current facing right over pebbly bottom.

I was late to the Pebble fight, only learning about the proposed mine in 2007 during my first summer as a park ranger in Katmai National Park. But many people in the Bristol Bay region have been advocating against Pebble Mine for 20 years. I hope the fishing boat captains and their deck hands; Alaska Native Tribes, village councils, and coalitions; lodge owners, employees, and fishing guides; chefs; scientists; those who work for non-profit and conservation organizations; and many others have the opportunity to rest well for at least a few days now that the threat of the mine is no longer looming. I thank them for their work.

Landscape scene from mountaintop. Scree slope in foreground transitions to lowland area with, forests, some mountains, and large lakes. No human development can be seen.
GIF of underwater footage of sockeye salmon. Salmon are facing left over stream bottom covered in cobbled

Before I had the fortune of living in the Bristol Bay area, I did not understand—or even fathom—the importance of salmon to place and people. The calendar in Bristol Bay is centered on salmon. The region’s economy is centered on salmon. Its ecology is centered on salmon. And it works, beautifully.

I’ve said many times before that our world is wounded. Too much of humanity seems to have a unique desire and capability to consume land, habitats, material without considering the rights of other creatures or the value that future generations of people might place on those things. I wish I could take everyone to Bristol Bay at the height of the summertime salmon run to see the fishing fleet and processors, to stand on the edge of a river while tens of thousands of salmon swim upstream, to watch brown bears gorge on their most important and sought-after food, to see an ecosystem functioning at its fully realized potential. It just might change your perspective on what should be and what is possible for our world.

8 thoughts on “E.P.A. Vetoes Pebble Mine!

  1. Wow! What a victory, thank you for sharing that great news!
    My husband and I enjoy your work and commentary on Explore.org and in your writings. We also loved your book about the bears at Brooks Falls and hope to visit there in person someday. It was wonderful to read that the salmon are thriving (annd will continue to thrive) and that last year was the biggest run recorded!
    Thank you!


  2. Thanks so much Mike for sharing your thoughts! This is just the best news ever! A lot of us have been celebrating the good news all week. If humans valued all living things equally the planet might have a fighting chance, but our need to take and control seems to be insatiable. As statements have come out from Pebble’s John Shively and Governor Dunleavy declaring they will fight this decision, we all have to be prepared to support the many groups who have been in this fight for decades. Alaska’s Native Tribes have had this fight hanging over their heads for so many years and they never gave up. I really hope they are celebrating now. If/when the fight returns, the Explore warriors for Bristol Bay (my name for our bear chatters) will be ready to speak up to protect our beloved bears, salmon and the pristine ecosystem that is Bristol Bay.


  3. Hi Mike,
    I’ve been fighting this battle for several yers. Got the wonderful news a few days ago. I just don’t get why it took 20 years for the EPA to reject this Canadian mine. It was abundantly clear to me from Day 1 that it would contaminate the water and destroy the salmon runs affecting the native population, fishing industry and our wonderful bears and be a serious destructive force to our pristine Alaskan environment. If they are so focused on destruction, let Pebble Mine do it in their own back yard – Canada. Not that I think it’s a good idea anywhere. Somehow, I’m sure we will need to continue fighting these battles to save our water, our wildlife, our country and our planet.


  4. Hi Mike Really terrific news! This coupled with the day of celebration for the life of P-22 here in LA really gives hope for a respectful partnership between humans and all other creatures. I thought of you when Raul Campos, a DJ at KCRW 89.9 here in LA, just played a song from The Chemical Brothers called Salmon Dance. I think you would enjoy it. I also want to say how much I enjoyed your book, esp. the fascinating chapter about salmon. I have read it twice now and since I, along with many others, are in the midst of bear longing, I think I will go for a third time. My boyfriend was a passionate fly fisherman. but we never spoke about the courageous salmon. I have learned so much from the talks, play by play and just everything you and the rangers give us every season. I began watching during the COVID lockdown and now Katmai and the Decorah Eagle cams are part of my life. So I send you my deep respect and thanks, Jackie O’Dell >


  5. Mike your Comments are beyond always so
    Perfectly said & thought out, we all have
    The Biggest Thank You’s for all your
    Hard Work , along with all the Rangers
    To make Katmai, plus the whole entire
    Ocean a Now Safe Place for many Years to come
    They say it takes a Village to Help so many
    Thank You’s for to Everyones Tireless Work
    On stopping Pebble Mine , Just so sorry
    Took it 20 years long
    It’s such a Shame to loose so much land
    In areas that Animals Strive in,
    If we don’t Speak up for what’s right for
    The Salmons & many other Fish & Animals &
    Our Economy they’d win
    That we Alaskans depend on
    As this Brings me to my next item
    Of STOPPING NPS with all of us speaking
    To keep Saving our Beloved Bears & Wolves
    From Be Hunted , Trapped & Baited
    My thoughts always go to 2014 Your self & so many other Rangers , on a Huge Mission to
    Save our Gorgeous 854 Divot from a
    Snare . Always Grateful for what you all did to Save Divots life that day,
    So it’s like a New Challenge to hear all our
    Voices loud & clear to not allow any
    Animals to be hurt in any Alaska State Parks
    It Opens a Door of Evil I call it.
    With Millions of people visiting our Great
    State they come to see the Animals in our
    Beautiful Parks ,
    they don’t want to hear of our Beautiful Animals
    Being Hunted ,
    All Animals should be Safe in there own
    I’m Hoping you Can do a Live Chat about
    This quickly?? Since we have till
    March 10 th ,to Tell NPS keep our Animals
    Safe , as this would Jeopardize the Best
    Of Breeders to Continue
    Thank You very much Mike for all you
    & everyone else does to make this World a better place
    Always The Biggest Thank You to our
    Charlie for bringing us our Daily Cams to
    Enjoy so so many Beautiful Animals to watch
    It’s a Huge Eye Opener of what everyone needs
    To do for keeping Natural Setting for all
    The Critters in the World they need our Protection & they need there land to continue
    To Strive
    We Dearly Love these Cams Charlie
    Thank You 🥰🐻

    Terri in Wasilla

    Hunting Trapping & Baiting in our Alaska Parks
    It seems there’s always a next fight to
    Have to Win


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