Thursday, December 08, 2005

D-day on the salmon stream?

There seem to be several invasions of major Alaska salmon spawning systems in the works. At the Pacific Marine Expo. confab on forming a B.B. Regional Seafood Development Organization, one local spoke almost exclusively on a proposed open-pit mine right next to one of the big sockeye lakes that run into Bristol Bay.

The oil pipeline in the Copper River's upper watershed is risk enough for some people.

Then this morning I ran into this article about development projects in the Copper River system. One of them would be a Korean coal mine that would require several mountain tops to be removed. There are some local people working real hard to make sure things don't get out of hand in what they consider one of the last great reserves of primitive earth left, with such an abundance of fish and wildlife.

In fact, an Eyak native activist flew to Korea to tell the board of directors that their pride and joy mine project could become the biggest ecological embarassment they could imagine. I'm not taking any sides here, because I've worked a cubicle away from a State mine development specialist. Some mines work out real well, like the Greens Creek mine on Admiralty Island. Basicaly one small entry hole in the ground and a dock there and one in Juneau. And a lot of pay checks getting cashed at Wells Fargo.

But I've driven by Hells Gate on the Frazer River in British Columbia enough times to remember what development can do to a salmon run. They think the sockeye run up the Frazer got to over 100 million fish in the late 1800s. Even if they did knock it down to an annual 50 million fish run, if they hadn't wiped out the run with one dynamite blast, we would be seeing a much different B.C. today.

You're not even talking about dams like the dozens on the Columbia River. There they just decided, to heck with the salmon. In B.C. the ecosystem was changed so radically by the disappearance of all those fish that they never were able to rebuild the run. Some mines, clearcutting, bear viewing, roads, etc., have very little impact on the environment and other people's livelihoods, and others, a lot.

Electricians and astronauts know the risks in their jobs but they do them anyway. An electrical shock could be slight or it could be the "big one." And an astronaut might miss the moon by just an inch too much, and well, you can imagine the rest. The point is that nobody knows what's going to happen over time with a lot of little risks, or one giant risk.

And if the public and the Forest Service folks in Alaska recommended not messing with the Copper River Flats, why do high government officials go over their heads? Are they going to quit their government jobs for the lure of riches in the coal fields?

You might think that Cordova is the same gritty little town it's always been, even with the income stream of the Copper River salmon runs. But what about all those cars and boat engines that they send money to Detroit for? And all the colleges and retailers around the country they do business with.?

And if you know how to use a financial calculator, you can do a future worth calculation on the income stream from all the salmon runs in Alaska that are in jeapordy, for just the next 100 years. Then the future sum with the multiplier effect factored in. Then compare that to the income Alaska got from mine labor during the short life of the mine, if the miners are from Alaska even. The mine owners certainly won't be.


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