Dear Secretary Salazar:
The Bristol Bay region in southwest Alaska is one of America's truly pristine wild places. The waters of the North Aleutians Basin and Bristol Bay provide critical habitat for some of the world’s highest concentrations of whales, seals, walrus, seabirds, salmon, crab, and halibut. The region’s salmon runs, including the largest runs of wild sockeye salmon in the world, underpin the Bristol Bay region’s economic, social, cultural and ecological well-being. Bay fisheries contribute up to about forty percent of the wild seafood Americans eat, support vibrant sport fishing industries, and sustain centuries-old Native subsistence traditions.
It is hard to believe that this natural treasure has regularly come under threat of development by corporations eying oil and gas deposits under the water. Harder to fathom is that this ecosystem could be torn up for oil and gas deposits that are projected to yield just $7.7 billion in revenue over 25 to 40 years—far less than the $80 billion that a sustainable commercial fishing industry could generate during the same period.
Since the 1980s, the region’s waters have been leased for oil and gas development. After the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill, the federal government then repurchased those leases at great taxpayer expense, and imposed a moratorium. That moratorium was later withdrawn. I appreciate that in 2010 you wisely withdrew Bristol Bay from leasing plans, offering presidential protection through 2017. However, as evidenced by the region’s history, in a few short years the push to drill could again make this ecologically valuable area available for drilling.
Secretary Salazar, you have an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy for all Americans by permanently protecting Bristol Bay for its unique and stunning beauty, its wildlife, and its sustainable fishery. To expose such valuable, job-creating fisheries to the risks of oil spills, seismic testing, and disruptive drilling infrastructure does not make sense.
Some places are just too special and valuable to drill. Bristol Bay is one of them.
The time has come for you to take the next step to ensure a healthy and sustainable future for the region, and the wildlife and jobs it supports. Now is the time to ensure lasting protection for what is, in your own words, "a national treasure.” Please take action this year to permanently protect Bristol Bay and the North Aleutians Basin from oil and gas development.