Report Finds Lake Clark National Park in Pristine Condition, Resources Threatened by Mining

Date:   July 14, 2009
Contact:   Jim Stratton, NPCA, 907.229.9761
Lindsay Bartsh, NPCA, 650.269.2911
Melissa Blair, NPCA, 907.441.6722

Report Finds Lake Clark National Park in Pristine Condition, Resources Threatened by Mining

Park's ecosystem is one of the healthiest in the country; Pebble Mine could harm park's clean waters and wild salmon runs

Anchorage, Alaska— An assessment released today by the nation’s leading voice for the national parks, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), finds that Lake Clark National Park & Preserve’s ecosystem is in excellent condition, receiving one of the highest scores among parks assessed throughout the nation, largely because of the park’s remoteness, lack of major road systems, and distance from sources of pollution.

Yet NPCA cautions that a future mining district being explored across 1,000 square miles adjacent to Lake Clark National Park & Preserve is the single greatest threat to the integrity of the park’s resources, including the region’s abundant fish and wildlife and the rural lifestyles enjoyed by local subsistence users and community based commercial fishermen.  Future mining prospects are anchored by an exceptionally large deposit of copper and gold, called the Pebble Mine. Staked just 14 miles from the park’s southwestern boundary, the mine is predicted to be a catalyst for industrialization in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, a move which could seriously degrade air and downstream water quality, fragment salmon and wildlife habitat, and diminish the backcountry wilderness experience that is central to the area’s tourism and sporting industries.

“Alaska is often considered our last chance to do things ‘the right way’,” says Melissa Blair, the National Parks Conservation Association’s Alaska Field Representative. “In the case of Bristol Bay, doing things ‘the right way’ means embracing clean waters, wild salmon, and traditional lifestyles - the exact values that led to the designation of Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks in the region’s headwaters. The track record of industrial mining has not been kind to rivers or wild salmon, and the fact that the Pebble mining district is being planned so close to our phenomenal national parks is very concerning.”

The National Parks Conservation Association’s report finds that Lake Clark’s programs aimed at preserving and celebrating the park’s many cultures is one of the very best in the nation, receiving the highest score (84 out of 100) of any of the more than 60 parks NPCA has assessed to date. This high score is a testament to Lake Clark’s management and the relationships it has developed with local communities.

Lake Clark is renowned for its wilderness character as memorialized in the journals and documentary film of Dick Proenneke, Alone in the Wilderness. Proenneke’s hand-built cabin is now maintained as a living museum, a highlight of the park for many visitors, and an example of the Park Service’s commitment to telling the park’s human story.  High marks are given to the park’s strong history and cultural ethnography programs and, in particular, its excellent relationship with the region’s indigenous peoples established over the past three decades.

According to the NPCA’s Center for State of the Parks report, Lake Clark’s natural features such as wildlife, air, and water quality ranked “excellent”, scoring an overall 91 out of 100. Exceptional among other biological reserves worldwide, Lake Clark has been inhabited by people for thousands of years and continues to support modern local communities, yet its ecosystems are nearly pristine. The report cites the park’s ability to integrate people into protecting the ecosystem as a key factor in the health of the park. For instance, the park has captured the traditional knowledge of neighboring Dena’ina Athabascan communities about fisheries, wildlife, landscapes, and other ecological changes they’ve observed. This data, such as key spawning locations and changes over time, water quality, and the decline of fish in certain areas, informs park mangers and scientists that are interested in helping to protect park resources in light of mining threats.

The park is a freshwater spawning destination for a genetically-unique portion of Bristol Bay’s wild salmon run, the largest remaining intact wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world; a significant factor in the creation of Lake Clark National Park. If built, the Pebble Mine could pollute waters that salmon must attempt to migrate in order to reach spawning grounds in the freshwaters of the park.

Further, a mining district next to the national park may diminish visitors’ perceptions of the park as a wilderness experience and could weaken the region’s strong tourist draw, negatively affecting the viability of local tourism and sport fishing economies.

“There aren’t any examples around the world where a large open-pit mine and a vibrant tourism industry coexist,” says Dan Oberlatz, a longtime Lake Clark backcountry tour operator. “It’s never been done.”

NPCA’s report warns that a 2008 Bureau of Land Management decision to open nearly one million acres of federal lands in the Bristol Bay watershed to new mining operations could amplify the region’s modern-day gold rush. These federal public lands, which are adjacent to both Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks, have been closed to mining for the past 38 years and protect key wildlife habitat and watersheds.

The National Parks Conservation Association launched the landmark Center for State of the Parks program in 2000 to assess the health of national parks across the country.

To download the full report, please click here.

For hi-res images, click here.

For additional information, click here.



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