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Alaska’s true reality show: salmon or gold mine

Read National Geographic's December issue to learn why Bristol Bay must be protected

ANCHORAGE -- All eyes are on Alaska this month as "Sarah Palin's Alaska" debuts to high ratings on TLC. Viewers were wowed by breathtaking images of the arctic wonderland, but behind the scenery, there's a darker reality facing the Last Frontier.

National Geographic's December issue, which is now available online, delves into the brewing controversy surrounding a potential mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay, and has sparked international concern over what might happen if one of the world's largest copper and gold mines is developed in the home of North America's leading king salmon populations. 

The magazine's feature, "Alaska's Choice: Salmon or Gold," hits newsstands on November 30. The 25-page article, written by Edwin Dobb and photographed by Michael Melford, takes readers on a journey across Bristol Bay, one of the world's most biologically productive habitats, where Native Alaskans have lived off the land for centuries. Bristol Bay also happens to be the same spot where foreign mining companies want to build one of the world's largest copper and gold mines, a controversial project called Pebble Mine.

Trout Unlimited, an international non-profit dedicated to the conservation of freshwater streams, rivers, and habitats for trout, salmon and other aquatic species,  is working with a unprecedented coalition to protect Bristol Bay from the dangers of mining. This diverse effort brings together Native Alaskans, the commercial fishing industry, the sports fishing industry and tourism-related businesses.

"This mine could mean the devastation of a 40,000-square-mile wetland - about the same size as Kentucky - and put at risk the world's largest sockeye run, as well as the thousands of jobs associated with this $450 million-a-year fishery," said Tim Bristol, Director of Trout Unlimited's Alaska Program. "We're not against mining; there are appropriate places in Alaska for mineral development. But the size, type and location of Pebble Mine pose too high a risk to be allowed to proceed."

National Geographic's more than 6.6 million worldwide readers can now see the global importance of this area for themselves. Photographer Michael Melford also has an online slideshow at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/12/bristol-bay/dobb-text and spoke to Trout Unlimited about his experience.

"Bristol Bay is truly wild; it's a rare gem where fish, wildlife and Native culture go hand-in-hand," Melford told Trout Unlimited. "It's difficult to believe this pristine wilderness might be compromised with an open-pit mine. The time I spent in Alaska was special and unforgettable, and I hope Bristol Bay, its fishery and habitat, continues to thrive for generations to come."

"Sarah Palin's Alaska" is airing a show specifically on Bristol Bay on Sunday, Nov. 28. Her husband, Todd, is an avid Bristol Bay fisherman, and they named their daughter after the Alaskan fishing region.

Everett Thompson, a Bristol Bay fisherman quoted in the National Geographic article, said he hopes all the recent focus on Alaska encourages more people to understand the importance of the Alaskan fishing industry, and of Bristol Bay.

"There's nowhere on Earth like this place," Thompson said. "This is how we live our lives, fishing and living off the land. Pebble Mine could change everything."

To find out more about Trout Unlimited's efforts, see www.SaveBristolBay.org

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