Tim Sohn is a freelance journalist based in New York and a Correspondent for Outside Magazine.


"All Will Be Revealed. Maybe," a review essay of Carl Hoffman's Savage Harvest, about the Michael Rockefeller mystery, incorporating my own reporting on the story.

"Powder for the Purists," on snowcat-assisted backcountry skiing in the southern Cascades at Oregon's Mt. Bailey.

"What a Catch," a look at the family of salmon fishermen bringing their products to Brooklyn and Portland via an innovative CSA-style distribution model.

"Operation Hollywood," a behind-the-scenes look at action film Act of Valor and the active-duty Navy SEALs who star in it.

"The Novelist," an interview with octogenarian writer James Salter, unrivaled prose stylist and all around legend, in Outside Magazine

"Artists in the Convent," a New York Times piece about a struggling Brooklyn parish that's opened its doors to artists.

"Shattered Idyll," in which I visited a soon-to-be-demolished ghost town on the Connecticut coast. Read it in the New York Observer or on Yahoo News.

"Graveyard Shift," a look at midwestern skiing at Paoli Peaks, Indiana, Skiing Magazine; read it here.

"The Life and Death of Shane McConkey," Outside Magazine; read it here.

"Gold Fish," a feature on the salmon fishermen of Bristol Bay and their fight against the proposed Pebble Mine, Outside; read it here.

"Everyman's Everest", a first-person account of my climb of Aconcagua (22,834 feet), Men's Journal; read it here.



Savage Harvest Review Essay on Slate

My review essay on Carl Hoffman’s Savage Harvest and the enduring quest to solve the Michael Rockefeller mystery is now up on Slate. It’s partly a book review, partly a recollection of my own Asmat adventure, and partly an attempt to grapple with the problematic questions—historical, cultural, linguistic, colonial, narrative—that underlie this seemingly evergreen story. An excerpt:

“I believe I’ve solved it,” says Carl Hoffman in the book trailer for Savage Harvest, his investigation into the mysterious disappearance of 23-year-old heir Michael Rockefeller off the south coast of New Guinea in 1961. It’s a bold claim: The Rockefeller disappearance has become known as one of the 20th century’s most enduring unsolved mysteries, catnip for generations of journalists and adventurers, all looking to answer the same question: Did Rockefeller drown trying to swim to the marshy shore of the Asmat region after his boat capsized (the family’s official story), or did he make land, there to be killed and eaten by the very Asmat people whose art and carvings he had been collecting? His last words before diving in and swimming toward shore, uttered to a companion who stayed with their overturned craft and was rescued the following day: “I think I can make it.”

Did Michael make it? Probably. Has Hoffman solved it? Sort of. In both cases, it’s complicated.

Read the rest here.

And if you’re looking for a more straight up review of Savage Harvest, there’s no shortage of them out there. Joshua Hammer reviewed it in the New York Times Book Review this past weekend, following Bill Gifford in the Washington Post, Roger Lowenstein in the Wall Street Journal, and a host of others.

And while my review is less straightforward than the others, I generally agree with their assessment: this is a book worth reading.


Rio Tinto Backs out of Pebble Mine

At the head of the Kvichak River, Bristol Bay, 2012.

In another blow to the already beleaguered Pebble Mine, Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto announced Monday that it was ending its involvment with the controversial project and gifting its 19.1% stake in Pebble prospect owner Northern Dynasty Minerals to two Alaskan charities, the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation. This leaves Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty without a partner for development of the mine, a process it cannot afford to undertake on its own.

There were hints that Rio was headed towards this decision--in December they announced a strategic review of their investement in Pebble, and then in February, the Rio representative on Northern Dynasty's board resigned--but the announcement triggered another fall in Northern Dynasty stock prices nonetheless. This comes on the heels of a tough six months for Pebble's prospects: In September, Anglo-American, which owned 50% of Pebble, pulled out of the project, taking a loss of $300 million; soon after, layoffs began for Pebble's Alaska staff; then in January Alaskan Sen. Mark Begich came out in opposition to the mine; in early February, the Pebble Partnership replaced its long-time CEO; and then the bombshell in March, when the EPA, which had been studying the potential effects of a large-scale mine on Bristol Bay's salmon run, announced that it was invoking its power  under section 404c of the Clean Water Act and intiating a process that could lead to a "veto" of mine permits, and which effectively blocks the mining companies from applying for permits for the foreseeable future.

According to Rio's press release, their divestment is the result of the strategic review's  conclusion that "the Pebble Project does not fit with Rio Tinto's strategy", and its decision to give away the shares was an effort to insure that Alaskan stakeholders have a voice in the process. But the more likely explanation is that they simply could not find a buyer.

Pebble opponents were jubilant--"Thank You, Rio Tinto" ran the headline of a post by the NRDC's Joel Reynolds on HuffPo--and even optimistic. "Rio Tinto's divestment from Pebble may not be the final nail in the coffin," Bonnie Gestring, Northwest program director of Pebble critic Earthworks, told the Washington Post, "but it's surely one of the last."

Of course, not everyone's so happy, and Alaska Governor Sean Parnell took the opportunity to once again hammer the EPA for what he sees as an unprecedented encroachment on Alaskan sovreignty, which he blames for scaring off companies like Rio. “It’s disheartening to see a company like Rio Tinto take its business elsewhere as a result of the current federal regulatory environment,” said Gov. Parnell in a statement released by his office. “Even more troubling is the EPA’s efforts to preemptively veto a project before any proposal has been submitted and before a public permitting process has even commenced."

The oddest part of Rio's move, though, may be how they have chosen to dispose of their shares, currently valued at about $16 million. "By giving our shares to two respected Alaskan charities," said Rio Tinto Copper CEO Jena-Sebastien Jacques in the company's release, "we are ensuring that Aaskans will have a say in Pebble's future development and that any economic benefit supports Alaska's ability to attract investment that creates jobs."

Having local stakeholders more involved will be a good thing, but there are two salient, though unspoken, ironies here: first, Northern Dynasty's share prices tumbled after the announcement and have dropped nearly ten percent from close of trading Friday through today, eroding the value of the gifted stock by $1.5 million; and second, and more interestingly, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), whose Educational Foundation will receive half of Rio's stake, has been a powerful and vocal critic of Pebble, which could make them particularly interesting as an owner.

"This gift provides an example of what open discussion and relationship building between stakeholders with differing views can accomplish," said BBNC President Jason Metrokin, according to the Anchorage Daily News. "However, BBNC's opposition to the proposed Pebble mine has not changed."

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2014/04/07/3413818/mining-giant-rio-tinto-pulling.html#storylink=cpy

For their part, Northern Dynasty remained stonefaced as ever. "We look forward to meeting with the leadership of the Alaska Community Foundation and Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation in the days ahead," said Northern Dynasty President & CEO Ron Thiessen in the company's statement, "to better understand their long-term goals and aspirations, and how their ownership interest in Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Project can make the greatest possible contribution to the people and communities they serve."

Is it just me, or does that not sound entirely enthusiastic? Watch this space for more on this story. 


More Stories to Chase: A Remembrance

(When news reached NYC that journalist Matthew Power had passed away while on assignment in Uganda--NY Times obit here for further details--tributes began popping up almost immediately, which makes sense for a man who was so generous and cultivated so many friendships. And cultivate is the right word: an avid gardener, Matt knew that some effort, attention, and nourishment were as necessary for friends as for plants. When a call went out for essays and remembrances of Matt, with the suggestion that Matt would have wanted us to write through the grief, all I could think of was the last afternoon I spent with Matt. The vignette below is the result. --TS)

The last time I spent an afternoon with Matt was on a sunny, crisp day in December. After a couple weeks of emailing back and forth, trying to make our schedules mesh, we met for lunch at a coffee shop a few blocks from his house in Lefferts, the day before Matt was to head off to South Sudan for a story about a remote Doctors Without Borders post there.

It was a sort of too-Brooklyn-for-its-own-good place—“A beachhead of the coming gentrification,” Matt said, before steering me towards the grilled Portobello sandwich.

We spent the lunch discussing what we always did, writing and the work and the pieces in front of us and the ones coming down the pike and the ones we hoped some day to get to. Matt was a star in our world of magazine writers, out-working, out-producing and out-writing most of the rest of us, but with a humility that never sought to outshine anyone. He gave of his time generously and genuinely, and on that afternoon, there was never any inkling that we were anything but equals having a lunch, sharing stories of the highs and lows of this writing life.

Except that for Matt, the lows always paled in comparison to the prolonged high of getting to tell stories and be paid for it. He seemed to do the job so much better, more fluidly, with less hand-wringing than others of us, at least partly because he never lost that initial sense of joy. He never stopped believing that what we do is a privilege, and that it’s important.

It wasn’t until after lunch that we moved on to what both of us considered the more exciting segment of our two-part itinerary: we went back to Matt and Jess’s house on Hawthorne Street. I’d recently begun a renovation project, and when Matt caught wind he invited me over so he could show me what he’d done at his place. I knew going in that it would be incredibly informative, and I suspected it would be also be entertaining. It was both, but it was also something else: motivating.

If ever I was tempted in the months that followed, while embarking on my own renovation, to overlook a detail, or to claim that whatever deadline I was on had left me without enough time for housework, I thought back to that afternoon. To his attention to every unloved cranny of that house. To his soliloquies about the oddest home-ownership minutiae. To him, standing in the back garden, pointing up at the tin can he’d jury-rigged to catch overflow from an ill-fitting downspout that had flooded his bedroom while he was off on a story and someone else was staying there. To his crooked smile as we stood in the dungeonesque “gym” in his basement, contemplating a residency program centered on voluntary imprisonment in such a space, with no release until a satisfactory number of pages had been generated. 

It was a nothing moment but it encapsulated many things: the willingness to dream; a recognition of the discipline required to produce good work; the attention to detail, in both writing and home improvement; the giddy appreciation of the absurd; and the generosity both of time and of spirit that made him such a positive influence on me and literally hundreds of others.

As it wound on towards late afternoon, we said our goodbyes. I had a deadline and he had to pack for Africa. As I walked off to the subway, Matt called after me with one last suggestion. “Better start thinking about your spring planting,” he said. “We’ll talk about it when I’m back.”

We never did connect for the planting tutorial, and since hearing the shocking, tragic news that Matt had passed away while on assignment in Uganda, I’ve been thinking often of that December afternoon. Looking back through the email chain that preceded it, all the usual Power hallmarks are there: prompt responses, answers to every question, and a refusal to let the vicissitudes of our schedules defeat our efforts to meet up. There were also, embedded in the messages in a subtle, older-brotherly sort of way, kernels of advice.

I’d been beating myself up about a book that was about to come out—I was writing a review, but it was a story I had a long history with, and I was kicking myself for not having churned out a book on the topic years ago. Matt was typically gracious, typically useful.

“I can totally empathize, but no use beating yourself up about a book you didn’t write,” he wrote. “There are always more stories to chase.”


Early days: That time I wrote about Viagra

Back when I was starting out and hungry to get my name in print by whatever means necessary, a kind editor at Outside named Grant Davis started letting me write portions of our monthly, Front-of-Book fitness roundup, The Pulse. It was a break, and I tackled it with all the juvenile gusto you might expect, assaulting the editors with countless awful ideas. But enough of them stuck that I snuck into print, and got some pretty good reporting experience in the process. This entry, from March 2003, which I just came across while attempting to update some links on this site, was probably my favorite. Here it is, in all its choppy-prosed glory:

NO MORE HEAVY BREATHING: Researchers at London's Imperial College School of Medicine, working with researchers in the Kyrgyz Republic, are using VIAGRA to alleviate pulmonary hypertension, a factor in high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), the lethal condition in which the lungs fill with fluid as a result of lower oxygen levels at higher elevations. "The assumption is that if you can prevent pulmonary hypertension, you might offset or prevent the chances of edema," says researcher Martin Wilkins. "And Viagra can do that." But how? In addition to the, shall we say, helping hand that Viagra provides for men, the drug also relaxes blood vessels running to and from the lungs that might otherwise constrict in a low-oxygen environment. This doesn't make the pill an altitude-sickness cure-all. When it comes to preventing acute mountain sickness or high-altitude cerebral edema, "Viagra is unlikely to have any effect whatsoever," says Thomas Dietz, a doctor with the International Society for Mountain Medicine. Still, it may be good news for your lungs. And the doctors say mountaineers on Viagra won't have to worry about stretching out their snow pants—unless a particularly attractive female yeti happens by.

It was my favorite less for the not-so-subtle erection jokes than for the hilarious, perfect illustration by the prolific John Cuneo. Here was a throwaway blurb, based on dubious science, but somehow, once paired with Cuneo's illustration, it became something (slightly) more:

Illustration by John Cuneo, courtesy of Outside.

At the time, this all represented, to me, a sort of amazing alchemy: I could write some text; that text would be sent off to an illustrator; this would return; they would run together. My words had put this chain in motion. My little words. Again, it was nothing, but in some part of my cub-journalist brain, it aligned exactly with my overly idealized version of what magazines might be: synergy between text and illustration, the creation of an immersive reader experience, little bits of serendipity folded between pages.

Either that, or I was 24 at the time and it made me laugh. Still does.


Release Day: Searching for Michael Rockefeller in "Savage Harvest"

Argosy Magazine, September 1969.

Congrats to Carl Hoffman on today's release of Savage Harvest, his book about the 1961 disappearance of young heir Michael Rockefeller in the Asmat region of New Guinea. I'll have more to say about the book shortly when my review is published, but for now, listen to Carl talk about it himself on NPR's Weekend Edition and Fresh Air.


Gone Too Soon: Matthew Power

Word began reverberating this morning in the relatively small world of magazine journalists via email lists and various social networks that we'd lost one of our own: Matthew Power--kind, generous, curious, brilliant, and indefatigable--passed away while reporting a story for Men's Journal in northern Uganda. He was profiing and following a man who is attempting to walk the entire length of the Nile, and initial reports indicate that Matt died of some combination of heatstroke and overexertion, in a place remote enough that there was no possibility of timely medical assistance. 

Matt was a friend, a guiding light, and an inspiration. While the rest of us would get bogged down, fed up with the vaguaries of the magazine world, Matt was always charging forward towards the next story, always one step ahead of the rest of us, always producing quality work at a rate that astounded me. He was also always generous with his time, his contacts, his words of encouragement, and his laughter. He was the kind of writer and journailst that many of us aspire to be, and he will be greatly, greatly missed.

I will leave it to others who knew him far better than I did to pen more thorough eulogies and remembrances, but I will post a couple links, because I think everyone should read some of Matt's work today, and because I think his work will endure. Small consolation right now, perhaps, but here are a few of my favorites:

"Mississippi Drift: River Vagrants in the Age of Wal-Mart," Harper's, 2008.

"Confessions of a Drone Warrior," GQ, 2013.

"Excuse us While we Kiss the Sky," Urban Exploration, GQ, 2013.

"Blood in the Sand: The Killing of a Turtle Advocate," Outside, 2014.


Book Alert: Carl Hoffman searches for Michael Rockefeller in "Savage Harvest"

Villagers in Momogu, Asmat, raise their paddles. (Nathanial Havholm)In 2008, Outside Magazine and the Travel Channel sent me to Indonesian Papua to follow in the footsteps of vanished heir Michael Rockefeller to try to figure out whether the grisly rumors of his being killed and eaten by Asmat headhunters in 1961 were true. The resulting Travel Channel pilot, "Gone Missing: Vanished in Papua," disappeared even more quickly and mysteriously than Michael did, but Amsat is a place I think of often, and I'll always count my experiences there as among the most important and formative of my early reporting adventures. My feature for Outside about my Asmat adventure can be found here; further links to the trailer and the full cut of our pilot can be found on my Gone Missing page.

Over the years, the Rockefeller story has attracted journalists and storytellers of widely varying levels of competence (I put myself somewhere in the middle of the competence spectrum), but few have dug as deep as journalist Carl Hoffman, who's investigation into the Rockefeller disappearance is chronicled in his new book Savage Harvest, set to be released March 18th. Hoffman unearths a heap of evidence pointing to the conclusion that Michael was killed and eaten, but I'll hold off on further analysis for a review essay I'm planning to write. For now you can learn more about it at Harper Collins (be sure to watch Hoffman's book trailer) and Amazon.


EPA Announces Move to Block Pebble Mine

Anti-Pebble flag at Peter Pan cannery, Dillingham, AK, 2009Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced Friday that the Agency is taking the first step towards exercising its powers under the Clean Water Act to block development of the controversial Pebble Mine, a massive copper and gold deposit located in Alaska’s renowned Bristol Bay region. The move culminates more than three years of study by the Agency and potentially cuts off development of the mine before the Pebble Limited Partnership, the consortium of mining companies behind the project, has even applied for permits.

And while McCarthy stressed that the announcement merely blocked permitting temporarily and initiated a four-step process that might lead to permanent protection of Bristol Bay, the news looked like a substantial victory for the coalition of fishermen, environmentalists, and local Native groups who have been arguing for years that the location of the deposit near the headwaters of major river systems meant that it could not be mined without unacceptably endangering the legendary Bristol Bay salmon run. It’s become the most politically-charged resource debate in Alaska, pitting a mine worth potentially hundreds of billions of dollars against a salmon run that forms the backbone of a the region’s pristine ecosystem and supports its robust commercial and sport fishing economy, as well as the salmon-based culture of the tribes who have lived in the area for millennia.

“Today, EPA is taking a significant step forward in our efforts to insure that he world’s most productive salmon fishery is safe from the risks that it faces from what could be one of the largest mines on earth,” McCarthy told reporters in a conference call Friday, explaining that Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act gives the agency the ability to act pre-emptively by exercising its “veto authority” over permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. “This 404(c) process is not something—and I want to stress this—that the agency does very often,” McCarthy said, “but the Bristol Bay fishery is an extraordinary resource, and it’s worthy of out-of-the-ordinary agency actions to protect it.”

It is, indeed, a rare invocation of then EPA’s authority to restrict or outright prohibit any discharge of dredge or fill that might have “unacceptable adverse effects” on water supplies, wildlife, fisheries, or recreational areas. Such a process has been initiated just 29 times previously, and it has run to completion and resulted in restrictions just 13 times. Only once has the Agency interceded before permits have been filed, as it is contemplating with Pebble.

But in this case, the EPA feels it has done its homework, having spent more than three years acquainting itself with Bristol Bay. The agency’s involvement in the Pebble issue started in 2010 when, at the request of local tribes and stakeholder groups, it initiated a comprehensive study of the potential effects of large-scale mining on the Bristol Bay watershed. That process took more than three years of gathering data, and after numerous public meetings, more than a million online comments, and two rounds of scientific peer review, the final draft of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment was released in January.

And though controversial with pro-development Alaskans and conservative politicians who saw it as an egregious federal intrusion on Alaskan sovereignty, its conclusions were clear. “EPA has concluded that large scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses significant near and long-term risks to salmon, wildlife, and Native Alaskan cultures,” Dennis McClerran, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Region 10, which covers Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, said at the time. And though the agency insisted that no determination had been made on whether to block Pebble’s permitting, most of those involved in the Pebble debate have been waiting expectantly since January for the other shoe to drop. On Friday, it did.

The Pebble Partnership and majority owner Northern Dynasty Minerals, of Canada, in response reiterated its earlier criticism of EPA intercession and called the initiation of this process “premature and unprecedented” in a release issued Friday afternoon. “We remain confident in our project and our position,” said Pebble CEO Tom Collier in the statement. “We will continue to state our case with the EPA as we work through their process. The EPA’s actions today are an unprecedented federal action and reflect a major overreach onto an asset of the State of Alaska.” (The market was less optimistic: by day’s end Friday, Northern Dynasty’s stock had fallen by nearly a third, from $1.47 at opening to just a dollar a share. It has spent this week trading in the 80 to 95 cent range. As a comparison, at this time last year it was trading at $3.40 per share.)

McCarthy anticipated the “overreach” criticism by noting in her announcement that this decision was within EPA’s legal authority to make and that it was unique and in no way meant to set a precedent. The Pebble folks weren’t the only ones to disagree with her. “Today’s egregious action by the EPA goes beyond federal overreach,” read a statement from Sharon Leighow, Press Secretary for Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell. “The EPA has not only cut off public input and process, but ahs also unilaterally decided that they, not Alaskans, now what’s best for our future.”

One thing she seems to be mistaken on: there definitely will be ample opportunity for more public input as the EPA works through the four-part 404(c) process, which will involve public comment periods, public hearings, and consultations with the affected parties. “On average,” McClerran told reporters on Friday’s call, “the 404c process from beginning to end has taken approximately a year.”

So while those who have been fighting Pebble will have to wait a little longer to see whether the EPA’s temporary freeze on mining in Bristol Bay becomes permanent, they were clearly of the opinion that this announcement was a nail—if not the final one—in Pebble’s coffin. “This puts EPA’s eyes on the prize,” said Joel Reynolds of the NRDC, which has been a vocal opponent of the mine. “The science is sound, EPA’s legal authority is clear, and the people of Bristol Bay have demanded protection.”

Indeed, it’s hard to see the EPA backing down at this point, especially with support from the Obama Administration. “The White House strongly supports that decision by the EPA,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday, according to the Washington Post. “The step is consistent with the president’s commitment to protect pristine American places for future generations.”

In response to the final question at the end of the conference call with reporters, McCarthy made a case for the Agency’s exceptional action. “In rare times, you see something that is an extraordinary confluence of issues and factors and the law tells us we should have cognizance of that,” she said. “Alaskans asked us to pay attention, and this is really the EPA paying attention to an extraordinary situation.”


EPA Moves to block Pebble Mine

(The EPA announced today that it was intitiating a process to determine whether to invoke its "veto" power under the Clean Water Act in blocking Alaska's controversial Pebble Mine. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy hosted a very interesting conference call for reporters earlier, and I'll be writing a summary of that, but for now, I wanted to post the EPA's release in full. This is a huge day for anyone who has an interest in the debate over the Pebble Mine and the future of Bristol Bay.)

EPA moves to protect Bristol Bay fishery from Pebble Mine

Release Date: 02/28/2014

Agency action begins process to prevent damage to world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery

(Washington, D.C.—Feb. 28, 2014) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is initiating a process under the Clean Water Act to identify appropriate options to protect the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska from the potentially destructive impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine. The Pebble Mine has the potential to be one of the largest open pit copper mines ever developed and could threaten a salmon resource rare in its quality and productivity. During this process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot approve a permit for the mine.

This action, requested by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, reflects the unique nature of the Bristol Bay watershed as one of the world’s last prolific wild salmon resources and the threat posed by the Pebble deposit, a mine unprecedented in scope and scale. It does not reflect an EPA policy change in mine permitting.

"Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "It’s why EPA is taking this step forward in our effort to ensure protection for the world’s most productive salmon fishery from the risks it faces from what could be one of the largest open pit mines on earth. This process is not something the Agency does very often, but Bristol Bay is an extraordinary and unique resource."

The EPA is basing its action on available information, including data collected as a part of the agency’s Bristol Bay ecological risk assessment and mine plans submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Today, Dennis McLerran, EPA Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10, sent letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Alaska, and the Pebble Partnership initiating action under EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authorities.

"Bristol Bay is an extraordinary natural resource, home to some of the most abundant salmon producing rivers in the world. The area provides millions of dollars in jobs and food resources for Alaska Native Villages and commercial fishermen," McLerran said. "The science EPA reviewed paints a clear picture: Large-scale copper mining of the Pebble deposit would likely result in significant and irreversible harm to the salmon and the people and industries that rely on them."

Today’s action follows the January 2014 release of EPA’s "Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska," a study that documents the significant ecological resources of the region and the potentially destructive impacts to salmon and other fish from potential large-scale copper mining of the Pebble Deposit. The assessment indicates that the proposed Pebble Mine would likely cause irreversible destruction of streams that support salmon and other important fish species, as well as extensive areas of wetlands, ponds and lakes.

In 2010, several Bristol Bay Alaska Native tribes requested that EPA take action under Clean Water Act Section 404(c) to protect the Bristol Bay watershed and salmon resources from development of the proposed Pebble Mine, a venture backed by Northern Dynasty Minerals. The Bristol Bay watershed is home to 31 Alaska Native Villages. Residents of the area depend on salmon as a major food resource and for their economic livelihood, with nearly all residents participating in subsistence fishing.

Bristol Bay produces nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon with runs averaging 37.5 million fish each year. The salmon runs are highly productive due in large part to the exceptional water quality in streams and wetlands, which provide valuable salmon habitat.

The Bristol Bay ecosystem generates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and provides employment for over 14,000 full and part-time workers. The region supports all five species of Pacific salmon found in North America: sockeye, coho, Chinook, chum, and pink. In addition, it is home to more than 20 other fish species, 190 bird species, and more than 40 terrestrial mammal species, including bears, moose, and caribou.

Based on information provided by The Pebble Partnership and Northern Dynasty Minerals, mining the Pebble deposit may involve excavation of a pit up to one mile deep and over 2.5 miles wide -- the largest open pit ever constructed in North America. Disposal of mining waste may require construction of three or more massive earthen tailings dams as high as 650 feet. The Pebble deposit is located at the headwaters of Nushagak and Kvichak rivers, which produce about half of the sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay.

The objective of the Clean Water Act is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. The Act emphasizes protecting uses of the nation’s waterways, including fishing.

The Clean Water Act generally requires a permit under Section 404 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before any person places dredge or fill material into wetlands, lakes and streams. Mining operations typically involve such activities and must obtain Clean Water Act Section 404 permits. Section 404 directs EPA to develop the environmental criteria the Army Corps uses to make permit decisions. It also authorizes EPA to prohibit or restrict fill activities if EPA determines such actions would have unacceptable adverse effects on fishery areas.

The steps in the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) review process are:

  • Step 1 – Consultation period with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and owners of the site, initiated today.
  • Step 2 – Publication of Proposed Determination, including proposed prohibitions or restrictions on mining the Pebble deposit, in Federal Register for public comment and one or more public hearings.
  • Step 3 – Review of public comments and development of Recommended Determination by EPA Regional Administrator to Assistant Administrator for Water at EPA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
  • Step 4 – Second consultation period with the Army Corps and site owners and development of Final Determination by Assistant Administrator for Water, including any final prohibitions or restrictions on mining the Pebble deposit.

Based on input EPA receives during any one of these steps, the agency could decide that further review under Section 404(c) is not necessary.

Now that the 404(c) process has been initiated, the Army Corps cannot issue a permit for fill in wetlands or streams associated with mining the Pebble deposit until EPA completes the 404(c) review process.

EPA has received over 850,000 requests from citizens, tribes, Alaska Native corporations, commercial and sport fisherman, jewelry companies, seafood processors, restaurant owners, chefs, conservation organizations, members of the faith community, sport recreation business owners, elected officials and others asking EPA to take action to protect Bristol Bay.

For information on the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) visit: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/cwa/dredgdis/upload/404c.pdf (PDF, 2 pp, 600K)

For information on the EPA Bristol Bay Assessment, visit: http://www2.epa.gov/bristolbay


Paperback Row: Jame's Salter's "All That Is"

For those who missed it when it first came out, All That Is, the latest novel from legendary writer and all around badass James Salter, just came out in paperback. For the curious, I reviewed it for GQ.com last year:

"There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real."

So reads the epigraph of James Salter's stunning new novel All That Is. For Salter, now 87, writing is a sacred act, and it is only fitting that he begins his latest novel, the capstone of his half-century-long career, by paying homage to it. "Life passes into pages," he's written elsewhere, "if it passes into anything."

And what a life, and what pages. Salter is the man many of us wish we could be—West Point grad, fighter pilot, skier, traveler, raconteur, and, from his 1957 debut novel, The Hunters, which was based on his Korean War experience flying combat missions over the Yalu, to his best books—Light Years, A Sport and a Pastime—one of the finest prose stylists and most enviable American writers of the last half century.

Read the rest of that review here.

And for those looking to go a little deeper into the man behind the myth, here's a Q&A I did for Outside after sitting down to a memorable lunch with the great man a couple years ago. The intro to my first (unpublished) draft of that piece ended this bit of hyperbole:

After lunch, I thought of a line of Salter’s. In his essay “The Skiing Life,” he describes a harrowing but invigorating run down the fabled Hahnenkamm downhill course at Kitzbuhel, following Austrian champion Toni Sailer, who swept the three Alpine events in the 1956 Olympics. Afterward, he is asked how it went. “It will be true one day even if it isn’t now. ‘The greatest run of my life,’ I say and go upstairs and back to bed.”  I didn’t go back to bed, but it was—or will be—the greatest lunch of my life.

But I've had many lunches since, and that sentiment still holds up.