A surprise intervention from Donald Trump Jr has breathed life into efforts to protect the biggest remaining wild salmon run on the planet.
Earlier this week, Trump Jr expressed his opposition to the controversial Pebble mine at the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The move breaks with the Trump administration’s efforts to advance the mine’s development.
Trump Jr retweeted a tweet that called on his father and the Environmental Protection Agency to block the mine’s development. He added: “As a sportsman who has spent plenty of time in the area I agree 100%. The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with.”
Opponents of the mine are cheered.
“Those of us who’ve been in the fight, fighting elbow to elbow for years, decided we’re going to have a moderate celebration,” said Nanci Morris Lyon, owner of the Bear Trail Lodge, who guided Trump Jr, his son, and his brother Eric Trump on their August 2014 fishing trip to Bristol Bay. “We all agreed that it’s the first glimmer of hope we’ve seen in some time.”
The fishery – home to all five species of Pacific salmon – regularly supplies more than half of the world’s entire sockeye catch. It’s the backbone of a $1.5bn commercial and sport fishing industry that supports 14,000 workers every year, and is the foundation of the traditional ways of life of the indigenous people who represent 80% of the region’s population.
The Pebble mine has been at the center of a decades-long fight that has come to a head in recent weeks. Residents of the bay and local and national environmental groups have been fighting the mine’s development since the early 2000s, when the small Canadian company Northern Dynasty Minerals filed plans to develop the massive deposit of gold, copper, molybdenum and other minerals discovered under two of Bristol Bay’s most productive salmon streams.
In 2014, the Obama administration blocked the Pebble Mine’s development under the Clean Water Act after scientists found it would result in “complete loss of fish habitat” in some areas of Bristol Bay, which is one of the last pristine watersheds unaffected by dams, fish hatcheries and climate change.
But in July 2019, the Trump administration lifted the barriers blocking the Pebble Mine’s permitting process. The move was in keeping with the administration’s permissive extractive resources agenda on the nation’s public lands, which has included rolling back national monument protections to boost oil and gas drilling, and leasing permitted mines on the doorsteps of Congressionally protected areas.
On July 24, the Army Corps of Engineers issued its final environmental analysis for the mine, which essentially green lights development of what would be the largest mine in North America. Many experts have criticized the environmental review process as hurried and containing crucial gaps in the science.
“It’s disappointing but not surprising the [analysis] is such a rushed, inadequate review of Pebble’s impacts on our home,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, which represents the 15 federally recognized tribes in the area. “Despite this, the environmental review still makes clear that Pebble would permanently destroy thousands of acres of wetlands and more than one hundred miles of streams, forever devastating our region.”
Pebble would permanently destroy thousands of acres of wetlands and more than one hundred miles of streams
The fight to save Bristol Bay has uniquely unified subsistence fishermen, sport fishermen and commercial fishermen, as well as the majority of Alaska’s residents; polls conducted in 2020 found that 62% of Alaskans opposed Pebble Mine.
“From the beginning, the beauty, productivity and economic value of Bristol Bay has attracted defenders from across the political spectrum,” said Tim Bristol, executive director of the Alaska-based conservation organization SalmonState.
“Donald Trump Jr’s opposition to the Pebble mine is a vivid reflection of that reality.”
Lyon said she’s not surprised at Trump Jr’s statement.
“I very clearly remember Donald Jr and Eric both expressing appreciation for the experience they had, how they couldn’t believe the number of the fish, the quality of the fishery,” she said. “I have been believing that they were sincere and open in their expression to me when they were here. I had to believe that would at some point prevail.”