Army Corps says no to massive gold mine proposed near Bristol Bay in Alaska

The Trump administration denied a key permit on Wednesday for a massive gold and copper mine in Alaska striking a devastating blow to a project opposed by an unusual coalition that includes the president’s son as well as conservationists and Alaska Natives.

In a statement, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska Commander Col. Damon Delarosa said the agency would block Pebble Mine because it determined that the plan the Pebble Limited Partnership submitted to deal with the project’s waste “does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and concluded that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest.”

While the Trump administration has pressed ahead to weaken environmental protections and expand energy development before the president’s term ends in January, the upcoming mine decision represents a major win for environmentalists, fishing enthusiasts and tribal rights.

Trump officials had allowed the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, to apply for a permit even though the Obama administration had concluded in 2014 the firm could not seek federal approval because it could have “significant” and potentially “catastrophic” impacts on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in nearby Bristol Bay. As recently as July, the Corps concluded that the mine would have “no measurable effect” on area fish populations.

But a slew of Alaskan and federal agencies warned that the project would inflict permanent damage on the region, destroying more than 2,800 acres of wetlands, 130 miles of streams and more than 130 acres of open water within Alaska’s Koktuli River Watershed. The proposed site lies at the river’s headwaters.

And an unlikely coalition of opponents formed when Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Vice President Pence’s former chief of staff, Nick Ayers – who all have enjoyed fishing or hunting around Bristol Bay – joined with traditional environmental groups and the region’s tribes in opposition to the project.

Opponents received a major boost in September when the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of secretly-taped Zoom calls in which the project’s top executives boasted of their influence inside the White House and to Alaska lawmakers to win a federal permit. Alaska’s two GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, issued statements saying they opposed the plan and within days Pebble’s CEO, Tom Collier, resigned.

Pebble issued a plan to the Corps this fall outlining how it would compensate for any damage inflicted by the project, which would span more than 13 miles and require the construction of a 270-megawatt power plant, natural gas pipeline, 82-mile double-lane road, elaborate storage facilities and the dredging of a port at Iliamna Bay.

While the company applied for just a 20 -year permit, Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ronald Thiessen said in secretly-recorded conversations that he expected the operation could extract valuable minerals for decades longer than that.

Federal officials concluded that the plan the company outlined for curbing the operation’s environmental impact was not sufficient, the two officials briefed on the decision said.

President-elect Joe Biden has already said he would not allow the mine to be built.

“It is no place for a mine,” Biden said in a statement in August. “The Obama-Biden Administration reached that conclusion when we ran a rigorous, science-based process in 2014, and it is still true today.”

Trout Unlimited President Chris Wood, whose anglers’ group had campaigned against the project, said that a decision to deny it a permit would be “a victory for common sense. Bristol Bay is the wrong place for industrial-scale mining, and we look forward to working with the state and other partners to protect Bristol Bay and its world-class fisheries permanently.”

Click HERE for the full article by Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

The plight of the Gila trout

Deep in the New Mexico desert, amongst Anasazi ruins and rough, wild country lurks the rarest of the rare.

Huddled as close to the fallen tree as we could get, Kirk and I looked at each other, our eyes wide with surprise and a touch of fear. The bullet had missed us by a wide margin, but the fact that we could hear it as it zinged overhead after the ricochet was unnerving.

“Wait for him to reload,” Kirk said. “Then we’ll get over that little rise and out of range.”

A few more shots rang through the trees along the creek bottom, and we could hear the lead crashing through the cottonwoods just a few dozen yards away. With each shot, we sank lower to the ground, making ourselves as small as we possibly could.

Finally, the shots ceased, and we popped up from the shelter and sprinted about forty yards over a small rise and out of the spray of handgun shots coming from the unknowing shooter. We hollered and yelled as we ran, but we suspected the target shooter was wearing earplugs as he or she clipped the trees from a nearby stretch of private land along the remote little creek, deep in the heart of southern New Mexico’s Gila country.

We’d spent a couple of hours driving a deeply rutted gravel road into the backcountry during the July monsoon season, and then hiked a few miles up a tiny creek that held one of the last stronghold populations of native Gila trout — one of only two trout subspecies native to the far southwest. The other native — the Apache trout — swims a bit farther to the west in Arizona. Both are rare, but efforts to recover them at that time were moving along nicely. We didn’t know that, years later, this little creek would fall victim to a hotter-than-hell wildfire, and the efforts to restore Gilas to this watershed would have to start all over from scratch.

And it’s not the first time a restored Gila population had to be brought back from the brink. Climate-induced wildfires are more and more common along the Mogollan Rim, and restored Gila trout streams have been in the crosshairs of wildfires a number of times. Thankfully, hearty Trout Unlimited volunteers have helped state fish and game managers salvage as many of the priceless fish as possible, rearing them in hatcheries until their wild habitat bounces back from its touch with inferno. Efforts to restore Gila and Apache trout continue today, even the face of ever-intensifying fires and a warming climate that’s noticeably different than it was even just a couple of decades ago.

But ignorance, at the time of our visit, was bliss. The bottom country around this remote stream north and east of Silver City was lush and green, not what you’d expect in the desert Southwest. Wildflowers soaked up the sunlight after a week of solid rain, and the grass along the trail draped over the bare dirt, disguising our path as we pushed deeper into the wilderness in search of these special trout.

Seven of us pierced the Gila wildlands that day, and, despite the best efforts of a clueless pot-shotter, all seven of us made it out without holes in our hides. We never figured out who was shooting or what they were shooting at.

But we did catch Gilas. Lots of them.

On the whole, they’re a pretty unremarkable fish, at least to look at. They look a little like their cousins to the north, the Rio Grande cutthroats, but without the heavy spots and, of course, without the tell-tale gill slash. They also resemble another Gila cousin — the rainbow, but without the red stripe. But, for small water, they were strong, thick-bodied, bronze-hued trout that put a good bend in a light, glass rod. And chasing them where they belonged, in this remote and wild country about a hundred miles from the Mexican border added to the adventure of checking another fish off the life list.

Kirk, at the time a guide, editor and freelance fly fishing writer, remarked more than once about the countryside and the sheer bounty of the mountains that sprang from the arid desert and pushed their way into the clouds. The summer monsoons — at times so torrential that every low spot on the map brimmed with standing water after a storm — greened up the landscape and pushed the Gila’s fauna into full view. We chased wild turkeys out of the piñons, spooked fat and happy mule deer and watched golden eagles ride the steamy thermals overhead.

After days spent hiking deep into the backcountry along the West Fork of the Gila River in search of brown trout, and touring Anasazi cliff dwellings abandoned for some unknown reason a thousand years ago, we rested our bones at the funky Gila Hot Springs Lodge, where good whiskey and warm water lulled us to sleep.

But the day I held that first Gila trout in my hands — a victim of a high-floating Adams — will always be special to me. Native trout, because they’ve been pushed into the recesses of their former ranges, are special creatures in a world where better is often measured by bigger. That’s certainly true in much of the Gila, where smallmouth bass and opportunistic browns now dominate the main stem of the Gila River. The native fish, pushed nearly into memory, now thrive only in tiny waters where the only people interested in seeing them rise to a fly are those of us willing to navigate treacherous mountain roads and then hike deep into the wild.

But what most folks don’t realize is that the trophy fish in today’s chopped up version of our country’s once-pristine heart aren’t the interlopers that’ll hit a popper in froggy water or chase a streamer in a deep hole under the highway bridge. The real trophies are the fish you can only get to with effort and tire rubber and locked-in hubs. And even then you have to park and walk, sometimes for miles, because that’s what it takes to experience the land as it was a century ago, or longer. And that’s the kind of land that nurtures the rarest of the rare.

Long live the Gila trout, and God bless the angler willing to chase them. As long as we walk the creekside trails and marvel at a creature so rare that it nearly winked out of existence, we know someone cares enough to check in on them now and then.

And as long as we tell our children the tales only these adventures spawn, we can rest knowing these fish have a future.

Click HERE for the full article by Chris Hunt in Hatch magazine.

Bounty on brown trout to protect native fish

LEES FERRY — The reflection of the red rocks made it tough to tell where the water ended and the cliffs began as Barron Tsinigine cast his line into the river. It was daybreak and he had been fishing for rainbow trout, until he found out he could earn $25 for landing a brown trout.

That’s when his plan changed.

“I’m in the same boat as everyone else right now. I’m unemployed and it’d be nice to make a little bit of cash, as well as get a meal,” Tsinigine said. “I’ll be out here fishing either way, at least now I can get paid for it.”

Tsinigine was one of the first anglers to participate in Arizona’s incentivized harvest of brown trout. Wildlife agencies are funding the pilot program to cull the brown trout population in the Colorado River, in the hopes of keeping the predacious trout from moving downstream and endangering native fish, like the humpback chub.

Anglers can catch a $25 check for every brown trout harvested, as long as it is at least six inches in length. To receive the reward, the brown trout must have been caught legally in the Colorado River, in the roughly 15-mile stretch between the Glen Canyon Dam and the Paria River inflow.

There is a newly established station at the Lees Ferry boat ramp where anglers can clean the trout and fill out data cards. They must also deposit the fish head and entrails at a collection station outside the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center.

“The only extra step for me is filling out a card and I want to do that because how else are they going to know where to send my check,” Tisingine said, with a grin. “I drive by the center no matter what. This is as simple as it can be. My wife will be thrilled.”

By incentivizing anglers like Tsinigine, the National Park Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department are hoping to avoid the use of more aggressive management tactics — like disrupting spawn beds or electro-fishing — to diminish the population of brown trout.

“It is unfortunate that such a coveted sports fish, like brown trout, lives in an area that is incompatible with our native fish management plan,” said Scott Rogers, an aquatic wildlife program manager for the Game and Fish Department. “But we’re not trying to remove every brown trout, just enough to mitigate the risk of them moving downstream.”

Program to thin fish population

This is one of the first such harvests in Arizona. It will run for the next three to four years, at which time wildlife agencies will reassess the trout population.

The brown trout, known for its olivebrown scales and its ability to evade capture, is a fish-eating predator that was introduced to the state in the 1930s.

“As brown trout become adults, they feed almost exclusively on other fish and they have a voracious appetite,” said Ken Hyde, chief of science and resource management for the park service at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. “Our real worry is that they move downstream and start eating native fish that are considered endangered or threatened.”

Generally, fish only move downstream when they run out of space or food. According to Hyde, monitoring data from the Game and Fish Department has shown a dramatic increase of brown trout over the last six years.

“As a fish-eating fish, having them in the same system as endangered or threatened native fish can be problematic if we don’t manage it closely, which is why we’re trying this incentivized program,” Rogers said. “This is an experiment, but we’re hopeful that it will be successful.”

If at the end of the pilot program the harvest is considered unsuccessful, the two agencies will turn to more aggressive mechanical removal tactics.

“We’re asking the public to pitch in because we need their help to avoid taking more drastic steps,” said Jeff Arnold, a fish biologist for the park service at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. “Mechanical removal is more expensive and much less popular among native tribes and angler groups because they think it will have a negative impact on the rest of the fishery.”

Mechanical removals include the disruption of spawning beds and electro- fishing.

“An incentivized harvest is the least intrusive type of management, which is why we are starting with that,” Rogers said. “By communicating with anglers, we’re hoping to convince them to partake in this program so that we can avoid any other invasive and aggressive means of mitigating the brown trout problem.”

The first time Jim Strogen went fishing was when he was 3 years old, or perhaps he was 2. He doesn’t remember. But he says he probably learned to fish faster than he learned to walk.

The lifelong angler is a recreational fishing representative for the technical working group of the Glen Canyon Adaptive Management Program. Strogen has been acting as a bridge between agencies and anglers throughout the development and launch of the trout harvest.

“The hardest part of starting a new program is getting the locals to buy in,” Strogen said. “It’s hard for some anglers to understand the importance of native fish down river because, from an angling perspective, humpback chub isn’t something we care as much about as brown trout.”

According to Strogen, the idea of catching and killing fish for money is also alien to many anglers, especially fly fishermen, who primarily practice catch and release.

“It’s not inherently obvious to a lot of anglers why catching a brown trout and killing it is a good thing because many have been taught it’s better for the environment to release them,” Strogen said. “But in this case, keeping and killing the trout is what’s best because if this type of management fails, then those agencies are going to have to try something more aggressive.”

Throughout the development of this pilot program, Strogen, Hyde and others involved in its development have been conducting informational meetings with popular fishing organizations, like Trout Unlimited, to explain directly to anglers how an incentivized harvest will help.

“Anglers are key to helping us manage brown trout,” Hyde said. “It’d be tough to get trout numbers back down without them.”

Incentivized harvests elsewhere

While this is one of Arizona’s first paid harvests, other states, such as Washington, have been funding similar programs for years.

According to Hyde, the brown trout program was generally modeled after the Northern Pike Reward Program run by the Colville Confederated Tribes’ Department of Fish and Wildlife.

For the past four years, anglers in Washington have been rewarded with $10 for every northern pike harvested in the Columbia River between Wells Dam and the Canadian border. Like the brown trout, the northern pike is an invasive species that feasts on other fish.

“For us, any northern pike is a bad northern pike. We want them all gone. They can consume so much fish that they can essentially wipe out all our other fisheries,” said Holly McLellan, the principal biologist for the tribes. “We’re very concerned about the expansion of northern pike into waters where they can consume salmon and other native fish.”

Since the start of the reward program in 2017, more than 3,100 northern pike have been caught by anglers, a third of those pike this year. The pike program operates on a budget of approximately $30,000 a year and has funding through 2025.

One of the key differences between these two incentivized harvests is the six-inch size minimum in Arizona. In Washington, a harvested northern pike of any size is compensated with $10. Last year, the average size of pike turned in for a reward was 16.5 inches.

“We’re really trying to concentrate on adults because they’re the biggest, the most likely to eat the most amount of fish,” Hyde said. “If the adults also move down river, they are more likely to spawn and continue expanding the brown trout population.”

Since the launch of the pike program, McLellan says one of the challenges has been maintaining anglers’ interest. While the first year of the program brought in over 1,000 northern pike, the next two years saw a steady decline to just under 400 pike in 2019.

That has now bounced back to 1,060 pike turned in by mid-November of this year. One of the reasons for the renewed interest is the improvements the department has made to communication, according to McLellan.

Consistent reminders on social media as well as the promotion of the program in nearby cities and towns has kept the harvest on the minds of avid anglers. McLellan believes this is an important aspect of any successful program because it corrects misinformation and reminds anglers that they can both help the environment and earn money.

“We want anglers to feel like they are part of the solution to this problem. Together, we can accomplish our objective in removing them,” McLellan said. “The rewards program is the angler’s way of helping solve the problem.”

Anton L. Delgado is an environmental reporter for The Arizona Republic/ AZCentral. Follow his reporting on Twitter at @antonldelgado and tell him about stories at anton.delgado@arizonarepublic.com.

Environmental coverage on az central.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at environment.azcentral.com and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“We’re asking the public to pitch in because we need their help to avoid taking more drastic steps.”

Jeff Arnold Fish biologist, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Click HERE for the full article by Anton L. Delgado in The Arizona Republic.

Hands on Conservation

It is said that hands-on experience is the perfect teaching companion to classroom discussion and reading. The Trout In the Classroom program is a great example of this.

Started in 2006, the program inspires aquatic and water conservation knowledge in schoolchildren across Arizona.

Partners in the Arizona program include the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Council and Chapters of Arizona Trout Unlimited, and many hunting and fishing clubs across the state. Partial funding is provided by grants from the sales of Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation’s Conserving Wildlife specialty license plates.

One of the first programs of its kind in Arizona, Trout In the Classroom provides knowledge to young people (grades four through 12) as they raise trout from eggs to fingerling-size fish in their classrooms. Teachers and students are trained to feed the fish and monitor tank water quality.

“We equip teachers with the information they need to inspire students to learn and research any questions they have about fish biology,” says Trout Unlimited Arizona Council Chair Steve Reiter. “We know there are less young people getting outdoors and so we bring the experience to them.”

“In the program, students use STREAM [science, technology, recreation, engineering, art and math] approaches, learn about habitats and water resources and gain a valuable conservation perspective,” says Jim Walker, chair of the Arizona Trout In the Classroom program.

In 2014, AZGFD’s Aquatic Branch Chief Chris Cantrell and Statewide Hatchery Program Manager Geoffrey Rabinovich met with Walker and the Trout Unlimited team to discuss expanding the program from three classrooms into additional schools. The next year, Rabinovich was approached by Cantrell to be the new AZGFD liaison for the program.

“I wanted to help provide the tools to facilitate student learning of trout culture, fish biology, conservation and sportfishing,” Rabinovich says.

Since the 2014 meeting, the team has increased participation to 37 class-rooms as of last year. The long-term goal is to involve 100 schools statewide.

Department hatchery program staff Bryce Sisson, Trevor Nelson, David Fox, Kyle Tulisiak, Wayne Jones and Cindy Dunn are also instrumental in helping coordinate the program.

The Gila Trout Chapter in Payson has been involved with Trout In the Classroom for 10 years. “We are always anxious to educate children about the ecosystem of Arizona streams and lakes,” says Dorothy Howell, coordinator of the program and one of the chapter leaders. Howell and her volunteers are the primary contacts with teachers, helping them with equipment and advice about how to maintain healthy trout.

“The students are more involved in their learning because they are active with it, making it a more meaningful experience for both teacher and students,” says Kim Hansen, a sixth-grade teacher at Ruth Fisher Middle School in Tonopah.
Each year, the program begins with a teacher workshop, an educational opportunity that still continues today. This year’s workshop will be held online and in one-on-one pairings to meet CDC Covid-19 standards.

With the help of volunteers, Trout Unlimited chapters deliver and assemble 55-gallon fish tanks, a chiller to maintain water temperature and all the supplies and chemicals needed to help the eggs hatch and grow into fingerling-sized trout in each classroom. With an extensive statewide volunteer delivery process to the schools, AZGFD provides the trout eggs and fish food for the program.

“Trout propagated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department are a resource provided for all licensed anglers,” Cantrell says. “The Trout In the Classroom partnership with Trout Unlimited and participating Arizona schools provides the department an additional opportunity to broaden our reach into the diversity of Arizona.”

When each program ends in May, teachers report their findings to Trout Unlimited. To develop and practice their public-speaking skills, students present program reports to other classes, school officials, local service clubs and nonprofit organizations.

The fish are donated to conservation centers to nourish captive wildlife recovering from illness or injury. In the future, with disease precautions in place, it may be feasible to stock the fingerlings in rivers and streams.

Trout In the Classroom partners also hope the program encourages young people to venture outdoors to further explore nature with their friends and family and consider a career involving conservation.

To learn more about Trout In the Classroom, visit aztic.org.


Click HERE for the full for the full article by Anna Johnson in Arizona Wildlife Views.

Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited receives $2,500 grant

The Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited received a grant of $2,500 through the Trout Unlimited national Embrace A Stream grant program.

Volunteers from the council and chapter will use the funds to restore portions of Christopher Creek near the R-C Scout Ranch, about 20 miles east of Payson.

The project includes improving coldwater stream flows by habitat enhancements and restoration of native Gila trout. AZTU and its chapters will build rock and log barbs, improve a leaking spring-box diversion allowing cold water flows back into Christopher Creek. Additional improvements include: increased public access to Christopher Creek; reestablishing a youth fishing pond by draining, dredging, removing cattails, adding spawning beds, and refilling the pond by adding native roundtail chub and longfin dace.

“We are thrilled to be able to do more great work restoring and improving Christopher Creek and the R-C Scout Ranch pond thanks to this Embrace A Stream grant,” said Steve Reiter, Arizona Council chair. “With this grant, we will engage more than 100 volunteers from our local community to work on a creek we all know and love as residents and anglers.”

Embrace A Stream is a matching grant program administered by Trout Unlimited that awards funds to local chapters and councils for coldwater fisheries conservation. Since its inception in 1975, the grant program has funded more than 1,100 individual projects for $4.75 million in direct cash grants. Local chapters and councils contributed an additional $14 million in cash and in-kind services to EAS funded projects, for a total investment of more than $19 million.

This year, 17 chapters and councils were awarded grants for projects restoring stream habitat, improving fish passage, and protecting water quality in 18 states. The grant program is funded almost entirely by individual donations from Trout Unlimited members and conservation-minded individuals.

“We are thrilled to support the Arizona Council in its efforts to improve such an important local trout stream,” said Russ Meyer, chair of the Embrace A Stream grants committee, a group of Trout Unlimited volunteer leaders from across the country. “This year’s grant applications were extremely competitive, but the proposal for Christopher Creek stood out in our committee.

Click HERE for the full story in the Payson Roundup.

Restoring Christopher Creek

The Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited received a grant of $2,500 through the Trout Unlimited national Embrace A Stream grant program #embraceastream. Volunteers from the council and chapter will use the funds to restore portions of Christopher Creek in Gila County near the R-C Scout Ranch, about 20-miles east of Payson. The project includes improving cold-water stream flows by habitat enhancements and restoration of native Gila Trout. To accomplish these goals AZTU and its chapters will build rock and log barbs, improve a leaking spring-box diversion allowing cold water flows back into Christopher Creek. Additional improvements include: increased public access to Christopher Creek; reestablishing a youth fishing pond by draining, dredging, removing cattails, adding spawning beds, and refilling the pond adding native roundtail chub and longfin dace.

“We’re thrilled to be able to do more great work restoring and improving Christopher Creek and the R-C Scout Ranch pond thanks to this Embrace A Stream grant,” said Steve Reiter, Arizona Council Chair. “With this grant, we will engage more than 100 volunteers from our local community to work on a creek we all know and love as residents and anglers.”

Embrace A Stream is a matching grant program administered by Trout Unlimited #embraceastream that awards funds to local chapters and councils for coldwater fisheries conservation. Since its inception in 1975, the grant program has funded more than 1,100 individual projects for a total of $4.75 million in direct cash grants. Local chapters and councils contributed an additional $14 million in cash and in-kind services to EAS funded projects, for a total investment of more than $19 million.

This year, 17 chapters and councils were awarded grants for projects restoring stream habitat, improving fish passage, and protecting water quality in 18 different states from coast to coast. The grant program is funded almost entirely by individual donations from Trout Unlimited members and conservation-minded individuals who know that local restoration projects, led by local volunteers, can make a big difference in improving the health and habitat in our nation’s rivers and streams.

“We’re thrilled to support the Arizona Council in its efforts to improve such an important local trout stream,” said Russ Meyer, chair of the Embrace A Stream grants committee, a group of Trout Unlimited volunteer leaders from across the country. “This year’s grant applications were extremely competitive, but the proposal for Christopher Creek stood out in our committee.”

About Trout Unlimited

Trout Unlimited is the nation’s largest coldwater conservation organization, with more than 300,000 members and supporters dedicated to conserving, protecting, and restoring North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. Visit us online at www.tu.org.

About the Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited

The Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited serves more than 3500 members and supporters in the state of Arizona through its four chapters. The chapters: Grand Canyon in Flagstaff, Gila Trout in Payson, Zane Grey in Phoenix valley, and Old Pueblo in Tucson, work with partners throughout the state to:

  • restore local streams and rivers,
  • engage over 250 area youth in outdoor education programs,
  • co-host with Arizona Game and Fish Department, an annual Native and Wild Trout Conference; and,
  • are active in 37-schools with TU’s Trout in the Classroom program, reaching over 4,000 students and the program connects with an additional 10,000 people through visits by parents, relatives, school administrators and classroom guests.

Click HERE for the full story by Juliet Eilperin at MyLocalNews.US.

Alaska mining executive resigns a day after being caught on tape boasting of his ties to GOP politicians

Mining executive Tom Collier, who boasted in secretly taped conversations that he had leveraged his ties to Republican officials to advance a controversial project in Alaska, resigned Wednesday.

Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, offered his resignation a day after the group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of Zoom calls in which he talked of currying favor with the White House and Alaska lawmakers to win federal approval for a massive gold and copper mine.

Collier and Ronald Thiessen, CEO of the Canadian parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, were recorded separately suggesting that GOP politicians would not block Pebble Mine even though some had raised concerns about its environmental impact.

Collier, who served as chief of staff to then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt under President Bill Clinton, stood to receive $12.4 million in bonuses if the federal government approved a key permit for the mine and it could be upheld in court. Speaking to EIA investigators, who were posing as possible investors in the project, he touted his effort to funnel money to Republican politicians in Alaska and defeat those who sided with Democrats against the mine.

“I’ve supported all the Republican candidates in the state,” said Collier, who is registered as an independent. “I meet with the two senators, the congressman, the governor on a regular basis and they welcome me as someone they know supports the Republican Party.”

“Now, having said that, it’s entirely possible that we may have [former vice president Joe] Biden as a president, and if we do, I’m gonna brush off my Democratic credentials and start using them a little more actively than I do,” he added.

After the tapes became public Tuesday, several politicians mentioned by Collier and Thiessen in the recordings sought to distance themselves from the men. A spokesman for Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) said, “The individuals in those videos embellished their relationships with state and federal officials at all levels.” Officials at the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency also said the comments in the tapes did not accurately reflect their agencies’ interactions with Collier and Thiessen.

In the statement, Northern Dynasty Minerals said Collier “has submitted his resignation in light of comments made about elected and regulatory officials in Alaska in private conversations covertly videotaped by an environmental activist group.”

A wide range of critics — including Alaska Natives, environmentalists and many anglers, such as the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.; the vice president’s former chief of staff, Nick Ayers; and Fox News host Tucker Carlson — have opposed the proposed mine out of concern that waste from the operation could pollute Bristol Bay. The waters, in southwest Alaska, are home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

Within a matter of weeks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could grant a permit for the mine. While the agency found in late July that the project would have “no measurable effect” on the area’s fish populations, it informed Pebble Limited Partnership last month that it had to do more to show how it would offset the more than 100 miles of streams and 2,300 acres of wetlands it would permanently destroy.

Thiessen, who was caught on tape disparaging GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, offered an apology Wednesday but did not step down from his post.

“The unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made, or the crass way they were expressed,” Thiessen said. “On behalf of the company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans.”

Chris Wood, president of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, said in a phone interview that Collier’s resignation marked a blow for a project that does not deserve federal approval.

“Tom Collier is a fall guy for a project that is fundamentally flawed and has essentially been a flimflam operation from the very beginning,” Wood said. “From the beginning, it has been an exercise in obfuscation. They took more than a dozen years to get an application together, and then they lied about the scope and scale of the potential project — either to Congress or to investors. But no matter how you slice it, they lied.”

In the taped conversations, Thiessen and Collier suggested that while they were seeking a permit for a 20-year operation, it might expand and last for as long as 180 years. In Wednesday’s statement, Thiessen left open the possibility that they could apply for additional permits to extend the scope and duration of the mining operation.

“What we have said consistently, and is reinforced in the ‘Pebble tapes’ released this week, is the operator of the Pebble mine may decide at some point in the future to propose additional phases of development, but there exists no formal plan to do so today,” he said.

Pebble Limited Partnership has named former chief executive John Shively as interim CEO.

Click HERE for the full story by Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Proposed Pebble Mine project cannot be permitted in Bristol Bay

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finds controversial project will likely result in significant degradation and significant adverse effects to waters, fish.

ANCHORAGE, AK – Today, in a move welcomed by thousands of American workers, Alaskan communities, and the most prolific wild salmon fishery in the world, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) said it found the proposed Pebble mine would likely cause significant degradation and significant adverse effects to the waters and fisheries of Bristol Bay, and cannot receive a permit under the Clean Water Act as proposed, creating a significant barrier to the project moving forward.

“This is a great demonstration of democracy in action and a victory for common sense. The finding demonstrates that the voices of millions of Americans still matter and reflects the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence that’s been brought to bear,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The more public scrutiny this mine faces, the more science that’s brought to bear in its review, the more it stinks. The resources that sustain this bucket-list destination for sport anglers, local communities and commercial fishing families are worth protecting. Thank you to the legions of supporters that helped us get here.”

Because of the proposed mine’s massive risks, for more than fifteen years Trout Unlimited has worked with communities, anglers, hunters, Tribes, businesses and local and national partners to galvanize opposition to this project. Hundreds of thousands of anglers, and hundreds of outdoor businesses have made their voice heard time and time again, most recently appealing to the Trump Administration directly.

“This is a good day for Bristol Bay,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director of Trout Unlimited. “No corner should be cut when considering a giant mine in the heart of a place this cherished and important. The Pebble Partnership put forward a half-baked plan with a litany of problems. Pebble had its opportunity to go through the process, but the project fails to meet the standards required. Kudos to all the decision makers involved for calling Pebble out on that.

Over the two-year permit review process, many organizations, federal and state agencies, independent scientists, and countless individuals raised potentially fatal concerns about this project. Among them are the project’s destruction of streams and wetlands, its untested and incomplete water management and mitigation plans, unreliable tailings dam design, seismic activity near the deposit, and its huge economic costs. Those concerned about the proposed Pebble mine also cite threats to existing businesses, communities, and cultures that rely on the intact fishery, among various other issues.

“Today’s actions reflect just how bad this mine proposal is and how incompatible it is with the Bristol Bay region,” said Brian Kraft, owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge, president of Katmai Service Providers and TU business member. “Some places simply are not compatible with large industrial, open-pit mine operations, and the Bristol Bay region’s spawning grounds certainly are one of those locations. This is a good day for the people of Bristol Bay that have loudly said for 16 years now that this is the wrong place for this mine. It’s a good day for Americans who care about clean water, healthy fisheries, and existing jobs that rely on those fisheries.”

The final Environmental Impact Statement documented nearly 200 miles of impacted streams, and 4,500 acres of impacted waters and wetlands (See FEIS at 4.22-15, Table 4.22-1.). The Army Corps said the function of the tailings facility was “uncertain,” and the Corps’ EIS contractor described it as “very similar” to the facility that failed catastrophically at the Mount Polley mine in 2014.

“This is a moment to celebrate,” said Williams. “The opposition to this project runs strong and deep, the science is clear, and there is no way this ill-conceived project can coexist with Bristol Bay salmon. The message is clear from sportsmen and women across the country to the Pebble Partnership: It’s time to pack up and go home. You’re not welcome in Bristol Bay.”

Critical document release confirms the damage Pebble will bring to Bristol Bay

On Thursday, July 23, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a critical document in the permit application review process for the proposed Pebble mine: the final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The FEIS shows more than 191 miles of streams and 4,614 acres of wetlands would be impacted if phase one of the proposed Pebble mine advances, with 185 miles and 3,841 acres permanently impacted.

The FEIS is one of the final critical documents in the permitting process for what could be the largest open-pit mine in North American in the headwaters of the largest sockeye salmon fishery on the planet.

Take action today. The White House needs to be reminded that anglers depend on Bristol Bay. Please send a follow up request for the president to deny Pebble’s permit through the Army Corps of Engineers now.

The FEIS will be the basis for the Army Corps of Engineers’ record of decision, which will grant or deny Pebble their most important federal permit. The Corps must wait at least 30 days after the release of the FEIS to issue their record of decision.

“The proponents of this proposed mine remain unable to prove they can move forward safely, without jeopardizing my industry and others. They’ve had their chance to go through the process. Now enough is enough,” said Brian Kraft, president of Katmai Service Providers, which represents dozens of sportfishing and tourism businesses in Bristol Bay. “If this administration wants to uphold rural American jobs, then the only option is to deny this permit.”

In January 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which was followed by a national public comment period. Over 685,000 Americans -including thousands of TU members- formally opposed the mine and noted significant inadequacies and gaping holes in the review of the Pebble project proposal.
Other federal agencies – including the Department of Interior, the EPA and the State of Alaska – identified these issues and raised significant concern in their comments, including as recently as few months ago during review of the preliminary final EIS, which remain unanswered today.

Following the agency comments, Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan publicly stated that if the Army Corps fails to address the concerns that agencies noted with the DEIS, a permit should not be issued.

The release of the FEIS is a critical component of the rushed and fast-tracked two year permit review process for the proposed Pebble mine that the Army Corps of Engineers began in December 2017. Need an overview of how the process has carried out since then?

In May, over 250 fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation businesses and organizations, and 31,000 sportsmen and women signed a letter calling on the president to deny Pebble the permit. The President, through the Army Corps of Engineers, still has the power to choose a powerhouse American fishery, 15,000 American jobs and a sporting paradise over a foreign mining company with a risky and incomplete plan.

Take action today. The release of the FEIS launches the last window of time for the President to intervene before a key permit for the mine could be issued. Sign our request to the President – yes, again – asking him to stop the proposed Pebble mine now.

Click HERE for the full article at tu.org.

Why The Great American Outdoors Act is Such a Big Deal

A view of Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon. USDA Forest Service photo by Cecilio Ricardo

The Senate just passed the largest public lands funding legislation since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. Here’s what it means for hunters and anglers.

On June 17th, the U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act with a vote of 73 yays and 25 nays. This news made headlines across an America that was reeling from protests, amid the profound uncertainty of a pandemic, at a time of polarized politics at a scale and fury not seen since the Civil War. As Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico said, “I’ve done conservation work for 25 years, and most of it has been relatively incremental. This is the first time I’ve worked on something that is truly on a scale that Teddy Roosevelt himself would be proud of.”

Holy smokes. What is it?

Senate Bill 3422, or the Great American Outdoors Act accomplishes what hunters, anglers, and other conservationists (along with just about everybody from historical preservation groups, healthy-living advocates, veteran’s groups, watershed and floodplain managers, small business advocates, and so on) have been trying to do for decades now: permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and fund it for the full $900 million per year as was intended when Congress created the program in 1965. The bill also allocates $1.3 billion over the next five years to address the shameful neglect of maintenance and other needed work on our National Park system, but more about that a little later.

What is the Land and Water Conservation Fund and what does it mean to Americans?

As I wrote here, in 2018, when it seemed as if Congress was actually going to let the Fund die:

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The Senate at the time had passed the bill by an astounding 92-1 vote. LWCF was created from a small portion of the royalties produced by oil and gas production on the Outer Continental Shelf. It costs taxpayers absolutely nothing. LWCF was allocated for $900 million per year (from total royalties that vary between $5 and $7 billion annually). The idea was to take a small portion of the revenues from a non-renewable resource owned by the American people, and use that money to help build a nation where all the citizens, rich and poor, would have access to the very best of what our country offers.

It would be impossible to overestimate the impact of this simple legislation on our society. The LWCF has, over its 52-year history, contributed more than $16 billion to conservation and recreation projects in 98 percent of all counties in the United States and in all 50 states. The LWCF is America’s most important conservation and recreation funding source, bar none. The fund is used to conserve huge landscapes that soak up floodwaters, recharge aquifers, and provide clean drinking water to millions of Americans. It pays for tennis courts, ballfields, playgrounds, and swimming pools in underserved communities just as it was intended; part of the original goal was to make sure that Americans, whether rich or poor, would be stronger, healthier, fitter, and have access to outdoor spaces and outdoor sports that built body and mind. It has been a crucial tool for maintaining working lands, from timber to ranching, and for the support of wildlife refuges that provide habitat for an estimated one-third of our most threatened plants, wildlife, birds, and fish. Economists estimate that for every dollar invested from the LWCF, communities see a return of $4, which is why the fund is considered the linchpin of what is now an $887 billion annual recreational economy in the U.S., a powerhouse that accounts for 7.6 million jobs and is the only such economic engine that is based almost entirely on having and keeping the kind of healthy and sustainable natural environment—clean water and air, public lands, open space, plenty of wildlife, and strong fisheries—that has made the U.S. the envy of the world.

Because of the relentless advocacy of American citizens from all walks of life and every political persuasion, LWCF not only did not die, it rose from obscurity to become a symbol of political success. Support for LWCF, or lack thereof, has become a reliable measure of who in Congress supports our proud traditions of a bipartisan and pragmatic approach to conserving lands, waters, public hunting and fishing, and rural economies.
The Great American Outdoors Act addresses a problem with LWCF that has plagued the fund since its inception: sly politicians from both parties—who understood that Americans were mostly too busy to notice that needed conservation or watershed protection work was not occurring—began to rob or divert money from the Fund.

The original goal of distributing $900 million to the states for conservation and recreation has been met only twice in the 52-year history of the Fund. Some $22 billion earmarked for the LWCF, money belonging to the American people, meant to be used for American communities and public lands, have been diverted to other uses. No one can say what successes those diverted funds could have created, what expensive disasters of flood, drought, or pollution could have been avoided, or what impoverished child could have learned to hunt and fish on public lands and in public waters. That money—our money—is gone.

We cannot go back and get it. But the Great American Outdoors Act can prevent this from happening again. It establishes the $900 million per year in the LWCF, makes sure it is off limits to those who would steal or divert it, and makes sure it hits the ground in your state where it will deliver the most bang for the buck.

As Steve Kline of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) puts it, “That money was being paid into the LWCF trust fund for conservation all those years, and Congress spent it on other stuff. The Great American Outdoors Act puts a halt to that, by ensuring that those dollars are being used for their legislated purpose.”

What about funding for the huge backlog of maintenance in our National Parks and other public lands?

The Great American Outdoors Act includes another $1.9 billion per year for the next five years, to start to address that backlog (estimated at around $12-$18 billion). This allows for the repair and maintenance of roads, housing, toilets, trails, and walkways—infrastructure that has never been more important than in these times of record visitation of our National Parks by people from all over the world.

This $1.9 billion per year will also come from oil and gas royalties, and not from the LWCF. It will be called the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund (as described here in this excellent one-page summary from Sen. Cory Gardner)

Kline says that the TRCP, which has been working on LWCF and related conservation funding issues for almost two decades, wants to make sure that some of that annual money for deferred maintenance goes to public lands outside the National Parks, as well.

“The Parks are extremely important, and they are absolutely going to get what they need to fix these problems—that includes a road or picnic area in a little national park in Alabama or Virginia as well as major work in the big parks like Yellowstone or Zion. But Congress has systematically underfunded all of our public lands to the point that this backlog on maintenance has become a monster on the backs of our public lands’ managers.”

Kline says that, while the issue of collapsing infrastructure in the iconic National Parks gets most of the press, “the problem of deferred maintenance is just as critical on Bureau of Land Management lands, or U.S. Forest Service or federal Wildlife Refuge lands, as it is in the iconic National Parks. Those are the lands that are most important to American hunters and fishermen, and we wanted to make sure we could get that work done. Deferred maintenance on public lands keeps Americans off their own landscapes. That is something we are going to fix.”

As Senator Heinrich said, “It was a fight to get that funding for the Forest Service and BLM and the refuges in there. But we did it.” The annual funding increase for the U.S. Forest Service will be around $285 million, and the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which manages the refuge system) will get around $95 million per year. If the Great American Outdoors Act passes the House and is signed by President Trump, we are going to get a tremendous amount of work get done over the next five years, with soaring employment opportunities on our public lands and parks.

What’s the next step for the Great American Outdoors Act?

Much has been made about the politics of the Great American Outdoors Act. Skeptics have pointed out that the two Republican champions of the bill, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, are locked in a re-election death-match with strong Democrat candidates in their states, and they needed to prove their conservation credentials to outdoorsmen and women voters who may be sitting on a very sharp political fence.

But skeptics can be correct and still miss the point: When politicians on both sides of the aisle are pushing the largest public lands funding legislation since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, American voices are finally being heard. Steve Kline notes, “Looking at that vote count, 73-25, I’d say that there are very few issues today that could ever produce that kind of overwhelming agreement in the Senate. It is conservation that gets that kind of vote count. Not much else.”

(Check this list to see how your Senators voted, and then contact them to thank them for a yes vote, or ask them why they voted no on such a landmark piece of legislation.)

The Great American Outdoors Act has passed the Senate. It will now go to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote, and if it passes there, it will go to the desk of President Donald Trump for his signature. The President has said that he supports the bill, but in all the tumult we are witnessing in our nation, he could still change his mind.

It will be up to the American people—especially American hunters and fishermen—to keep calling their representatives and voicing their whole hearted support for this landmark piece of conservation legislation. It is not over, as Senator Heinrich noted, until the President signs it.

Click HERE for the full article by by Hal Herring on the Field & Stream website.