Alaska, a mine threatens thousands of bears’ natural habitat

Pebble Mine, a new mining project in Alaska, threatens the habitat of thousands of brown bears as well as the local fishing industry.

The Alaska Peninsula is a strip of land located between the Pacific Ocean and Bristol Bay, extending 800 kilometres to the south-west of the eponymous US state. Its northern reaches are rugged and mountainous, while the southern part is flatter and more forgiving. The peninsula is home to thousands of brown bears.

Alaska, plans for a new gold and copper mine

In fact, the local habitat is so ideal for this species that approximately a third of Alaska’s 30,000-strong population lives on the peninsula. Here they can take advantage of abundant food also thanks to reservoirs that thaw each year around the time the bears’ hibernation comes to an end.

Today this almost uncontaminated region is under threat. The construction of Pebble Mine for the extraction of gold and copper looms over the bears’ livelihood. Plans for the mine involve excavating close to water sources at high altitudes that feed the entire bay.

bear alaska
A brown bear in Alaska © US Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images

The Guardian reports that the project would cause the destruction of thousands of hectares of wetlands. Today, these ecosystems are home to a great many fish, which are brown bears’ main source of food, and the risk is that pollution caused by the mine may contaminate these animals.

The Environmental Protection Agency goes back on its word

Furthermore, the 140-kilometre-long transportation and infrastructure corridor needed to service the mine would have a devastating impact on the territory. The local fishing industry, which currently employs 14,000 people, also faces the risk of serious repercussions.

A 2014 report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had already highlighted Pebble Mine’s enormous impact, specifically the significant risks for fish populations. However, under Donald Trump‘s administration, the agency overturned its previous assessment.

Because of the EPA’s about-face, the local population, fishing groups and environmentalists are evaluating the possibility of undertaking legal action to stop the mine from going ahead.

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