The following have been identified as potential threats to the currently intact fish habitat in the Southwest region of Alaska:
- mineral development and associated infrastructure
- fragmentation of land ownership
- energy development and associated infrastructure
- climate change
- invasive species
Mining for gold, platinum, and mercury has been a consistent part of the Southwest Alaska economy since the U.S. purchased it from Russia. Although mining is currently occurring only on a small scale, a controversy rages over a number of proposed resource extraction projects. These include the proposed Pebble Mine, a potential $300 billion deposit near the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers—the source of the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon and Alaska’s largest king salmon run, respectively. Pebble ranks among the largest undeveloped copper deposits in the world and has the potential to be the biggest open pit mine in North America. EPA estimates that development of a 6.5 billion-ton mine, just 60% of Pebble, could eliminate 90 stream miles and 22 salmon stream miles; reduce flows and thus fish production in 34 more miles; have toxic effects on fish in 35 stream miles; have toxic effects on fish prey in more than 50 stream miles; and eliminate 4,800 acres of wetlands affecting quality and quantity of salmon habitat.
Fragmentation of Land Ownership
Many small tracts of private land, mostly Native allotments, are located along rivers and lakes where fish and wildlife are abundant, access and harvest are easiest, and camping is good. These same qualities make allotments attractive locations for lodges, recreational subdivisions, and other development. Because of their strategic locations, private lands have enormous potential to impact the long-term sustainability of fish, wildlife, and habitat, far exceeding the modest acreage they encompass. The landowners are frequently older Alaska Natives with conflicting desires. They want their land to remain natural but sale of their property brings needed cash. These twin desires are difficult to reconcile so owners often must make the painful decision to sell their land and see its conservation values lost. Influenced by the pressures of daily life like everyone else in society, local landowners who cannot meet their economic needs through conservation will sell the land for other purposes. History in the lower 48 states demonstrates that habitat fragmentation is a major contributor in the decline of native fish and dependent uses. Stable, high value habitats must be ensured if future generations are going to enjoy the diverse and high quality fishing opportunities that Southwest Alaska provides today. The option of selling to a conservation buyer provides money and protects the conservation value of the land.
Energy Development and Associated Infrastructure – coming soon
Climate Change – coming soon
Invasive Species – coming soon