An effort is underway to change a planning document for the Bristol Bay region in such a way as to stop the development of large mines.
6 tribal entities in Bristol Bay, Trout Unlimited and the Alaska Independent Fishermen's Marketing Association are proposing their own plan to guide how the State of Alaska deals with state owned land in the Bristol Bay region.
The whole issue goes back to the development of the "2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan" by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The 6 tribes, Trout Unlimited and AFIMA all filed suit against the State about the changes included in that area plan and how the plan was developed. The lawsuit was settled last year, and as part of the settlement DNR issued some proposed amendments to the 2005 plan that are currently up for public comment until April 4th. Instead of just commenting on what the State is proposing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are putting forward their own plan that basically calls for the entire Nushagak and Kvichak Watersheds to be off-limits to large-scale mining. The details of new plan were unveiled last week during a public meeting in Dillingham. Tim Troll often works with tribes on land use issues and he's the Executive Director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust. He confirms that the alternate plan seeks to stipulate that all of the water in the Bristol Bay region is used by salmon.
"So what we want to do her is shift the burden so that if you want to come in and do a development project, that's fine, but let's not pretend that the salmon are not there. Lets assume they are there."
Troll says the alternative will be part of the public comments submitted to DNR regarding their proposed amendments to the 2005 plan.
"We want to make sure that our alternative becomes part of the administrative record that goes to DNR."
The 2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan covers a massive area made up of over 12.6-million acres of state uplands and 6-million acres of submerged lands and tidelands. The revisions put forward by DNR last month would increase the lands classified for wildlife habitat and public recreation by over 700-thousand acres and revise the management intent for another 1.3-million acres by including the management of wildlife habitat and sensitive fisheries for those areas classified for "Resource Management" in the 2005 plan. The "Citizens Alternative" unveiled last week seeks to eliminate the "General Use" category changes included in the 2005 plan and it includes language prohibiting metallic sulfide mining in the Nushagak and Kvichak Watersheds. It's being supported by Trout Unlimited, AFIMA, the Nondalton Tribal Council, the Koliganek Village Council, the Ekwok Village Council, the Curyung Tribal Council, the Levelock Village Council, and the New Stuyahok Traditional Council. Tom Tilden is the First Chief of the Curyung Tribal Council and he says one of the goals of the "Citizens Alternative" is to make up for the lack of input area residents provided in the process of putting together the 2005 plan.
"In 1984 there was a lot of notice, a lot of meetings, and a lot of participation. In 2005 when we were approached we were very cautious because we were not sure if they were asking us or telling us and we thought we had more time to comment. It caught us totally off guard."
The "Citizens Alternative" unveiled last week in Dillingham is not yet available online but information on the plan can be obtained by contacting anyone of the plaintiffs in the case including the Curyung Tribal Council. The deadline to provide comments on the revisions to the "2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan" put forward by DNR is April 4th and you can take a look at the revisions on the DNR website.