President Obama has used his executive authority to make Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay off limits to oil and gas leasing, safeguarding habitat for the largest wild sockeye salmon runs in the world.
Other species that will also benefit from leaving this pristine bay in tact include sea otters, seals, walruses, Beluga and Killer whales, and the endangered North Pacific Right Whale.
It’s a wish come true for local citizens, fisherman and Native tribes who have been trying to protect it – and the surrounding Bering Sea – for decades as The Fish Basket Coalition. "The region’s incredible fishing, wildlife and cultural values are permanently protected in one of America’s iconic marine habitats," says Marilyn Heiman, director of the Pew Charitable Trust’s US Arctic Project, and a member of the Coalition.
40% of America’s wild-caught seafood comes from Bristol Bay, crucial for the $2 billion a year fishing industry. The spectacular, remote area is also an economic engine for tourism.
Pointing out the Bay’s importance as an economic engine and sustaining Alaska Native communities for centuries, President Obama also says, "With migratory birds, sea otters, whales, and seals, Bristol Bay is truly a place unlike any other. Simply put, these waters are too special and too valuable to auction off to the highest bidder. They belong to all of us – and to future generations."
Attempts have been made in the past to open it to oil leases, including Former President GW Bush, who set in motion a lease sale that would have opened about a fifth of the area.
President Obama is exercising his authority under section 12 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which gives him the authority to withdraw offshore areas from potential oil and gas leasing. President Eisenhower first used this authority in 1960, withdrawing an area that’s now part of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Since then, Presidents on both sides of the aisle have protected areas from oil and gas leasing.
Under the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act of 1953, the Department of the Interior develops an energy development leasing program every five years for federal offshore waters.
The current program spans 2012-2017, and opens 15 areas to potential leases – over 75% of the estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in US federal offshore waters.
What impact will this have on Pebble Mine? This largest open-pit mine in North America – up to 2 miles long, 1.5 miles wide, and 1700 feet deep – would extract copper, gold and molybdenum in the heart of Bristol Bay. It would be sited at the headwaters of two rivers that feed right into the bay.
Another place we hope Obama will protect is Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge, always on the hit list for oil drilling.