Politics & Government

Mining ban sought for Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed

A coalition of sportsmen groups, businesses and conservation groups is petitioning the Obama administration to block mining on federal land in the Bristol Bay watershed — home to some of the world's most productive salmon streams.

The groups on Wednesday sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, asking him to reject a plan from the final months of the Bush administration that, among other things, would open roughly 1 million acres in the Bristol Bay region to potential mining and oil and gas leasing.

The change in the land's status, proposed last November, awaits Salazar's approval and must undergo additional legal scrutiny before anyone could stake a mining claim or purchase oil and gas leases there.

"It's at the secretary's discretion at this point," said Theresa McPherson, an Alaska spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The main reason the BLM plan has created such an outcry is that opponents fear it could foster creation of a large, industrial mining region, a scenario that federal officials and some private geologists have said is unlikely.

Most of the affected land is in the same two river drainages as Pebble, the giant copper and gold mining prospect north of Iliamna. Pebble is located miles upstream of the BLM land, but it straddles the headwaters of the two rivers, the Nushagak and Kvichak. The Nushagak has the state's biggest king salmon run and the Kvichak has the largest sockeye salmon run.

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