A quick plug for friend, BASE-jumper extraordinaire, and former profilee Miles Daisher's Perrine Bridge Festival, coming up September 9-11 in Twin Falls, Idaho. It's a weekend of fun geared towards raising money for a local children's health foundation with events like kayak races, 5k and 10k runs, and even a kids carnival. But, as you'd expect for a festival held in the shadow of the only legal base-jumping bridge in the US, the jumping will be the highlight, as Miles (hucking the Perrine at left, the Snake River awaiting 500 feet below) and his buddies do their best to put on a good show. And for those of you who haven't read about how Miles threw me off of the Perrine Bridge shortly after the first incarnation of this festival, check out the story at Outside online here.
While I was in Alaska, a story I wrote about my experience testing a Makkar Pure Power Mouthguard (PPM) was published in Men's Journal. The PPM folks claim that by aligning and relaxing your jaw, they can bring the rest of the musculoskeletal system into line and thereby improve your athletic performance in everything from strength to endurance to vertical leap. It sounds too good to be true, of course, but it's already won some big-time converts: Bode Miller , a slew of PGA tour golfers, Shaquille Oneal, and more than half the New Orleans Saints, just to name a few. I went in a skeptic and, after a couple months of testing the device, came out a believer. The catch? The fancy fitting process (seen in this lovely photo of me) and high production costs mean a $2,000 price tag. Is it worth it? Well, i guess that depends how competitive you are. And how rich.
Unfortunately, the article's not online yet and I don't even have a copy of the magazine or a PDF. Hopefully it'll go online before too long. In the meantime, I'll try to track down a physical copy. If you really can't wait, the piece has been extensively quoted here.
Another Bristol Bay summer come and gone--another eventful, gray-skied, often grueling, and amazing two months. As my good friend, photographer, and fisherman-extraordinairre Corey Arnold put it, in describing our fishing season, "Fishing was out of control good. Little sleep was had. Many fish lives were lost." That about sums it up.
Above, a shot of the crew of the F/V Shela, Corey and myself, taken by fellow Graveyard Point fisherman Joe Echo-Hawk. Post-fishing, I traversed the region once again, reporting further on the Pebble Mine story. I have many photos, notes, and recordings to sort through, as well as two months worth of email to catch up on, but watch this space for more photos and updates in the coming weeks.
I will be back in Bristol Bay, Alaska, working the fishing season and doing further reporting on the Pebble Mine story, from now until early August, so this site will be mostly dormant. Keep an eye out for pieces of mine to be published in Men's Journal and New York Magazine in my absence. TS
I'm leaving tomorrow morning for another summer in Bristol Bay, working the fishing season and furthering my reporting on the salmon fishery there and the proposed Pebble Mine. Before I pack up and head off, though, I thought I would follow up on my earlier post about how the BP disaster is impacting the Pebble debate, as it's a theme that we'll be hearing a lot more about, I think.
A writer at JCK, one of the jewelry industry's leading trade publications, had this to say on their website:
Watching the scary and unsettling coverage of the BP oil spill on the news today, I can’t help but think that the proposed Pebble gold and copper mine project in Alaska is not going to happen.
One of the things that we learned from the BP episode is that, while a company may sincerely believe it can handle a catastrophe, you never know until it happens.
This is what I've heard from a number of people in Alaska I've spoken with, as well: that the real resonance of the BP disaster is in making people question the guarantees of safety and technologically advanced practices that large corporations routinely make. As the writer notes, "People will be far more skeptical when mining companies say 'trust me.'"
Of course, some in Alaska see things a bit differently. In a piece in the Anchorage Daily News by economist Tim Bradner rises to the defense of the oil industry as vital to Alaska's economy and points to other bright spots that the state can look to:
Development of a new pit that will extend the life of the Red Dog Mine north of Kotzebue, one of the world's largest lead-zinc mines, is set to begin. Also, the Usibelli mine at Healy is producing and exporting record amounts of coal this year. Add to this continuing work at the big Donlin Creek gold and Pebble copper-gold prospects, which could become large mines.
It looks like it will be a good commercial fishing year. Salmon prices are up.[Emphasis added]
And with that juxtaposition of mining and fishing--whether intentional or not, it's interesting--I'm off. Probably won't be updating this site much (not that I do normally) until August. TS
A new study from the University of Washington, published in the current issue of Nature, uses five decades' worth of data to analyze the population dynamics of Bristol Bay salmon. What they found is a that the massive sockeye salmon run--an average of 40 million fish return each summer--is made up of a few hundred discrete populations, a diversification of risk akin to an investment portfolio--hence, the "portfolio effect." That biological diversity helps stabilize an ecosystem has long been recognized, but this study goes further, pointing out the importance of diversity within one species. As the Seattle Times summed it up:
Though they're all the same species, Bristol Bay sockeye comprise hundreds of populations, each adapted to its own river, stream or tributary. Some of the populations return from the sea after one year. Others spend two years foraging in the ocean before heading back to spawn. Some sockeye flourish when it's cold and wet. Others do better in hot, dry years. That variety means the species as a whole survives and thrives, even when bad weather or a shortage of food in the ocean hammers individual populations.
Or, as the study's lead author, Professor Daniel Schindler, told the paper, "There are enough winners to make up for the losers every year."
I had the good fortune to interview Schindler last year for my Outside feature on the Bristol Bay fishery and the Pebble Mine controversy, and I remember him making the point then that the consistency of the salmon run is dependent on the diversity of its component populations. A more homogenous run would mean more variability and more lean years, and so, for the sake of the fish and the fishery, maintaining this variety of populations is crucial.
As with most news coming out of Bristol Bay, the subtext is Pebble, and the implicit argument Schindler and his colleagues are making is that messing with even the smallest salmon-bearing tributary could damage the Bristol Bay resource. "Our results demonstrate the critical importance of maintaining population diversity," they write in the synopsis, "for stabilizing ecosystem services and securing the economies and livelihoods that depend on them."
With the new season of "Whale Wars" premiering Friday on Animal Planet, I wanted to weigh in pre-emptively on the self-aggrandizing exploits of the anti-whaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its leader, Paul Watson. (Dislosure: I've never actually seen the show, but I've met and interviewed Watson.)
On January 5, a Sea Shepherd vessel known as the Ady Gil, a high-speed trimaran, was run through by a whaling ship somewhere in the vast Southern Ocean. Though both sides seemed equally at fault in the collision, the Ady Gil eventually sank, but not before the media-savvy activists, under the direction of Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, had sent out releases, photos, and videos.
On February 6, a second Sea Shepherd vessel, the Bob Barker, named for the former game show host and animal rights advocate who paid for it, was left with a 3-foot long and 4-inch deep gash above waterline after a collision with another whaler. Within hours, Sea Shepherd had posted an indignant account on its website and sent a video of the incident to the AP and CBS news, among other outlets. Watson issued a release:
“Because the whalers got away basically scot-free with the outrageous sinking of the Ady Gil, they now apparently think they can do whatever they want and they appear to have no qualms about endangering Sea Shepherd crew.”
But the question of who is endangering whom isn’t quite so clear-cut as Watson suggests, nor is Sea Shepherd’s claim to the moral high ground quite so unassailable. Watson is a better propagandist than seaman and also a born antagonist. (After helping found Canadian Greenpeace, he parted ways with the organization in 1977 when they opted for a less confrontational path. He now refers to them as “the Avon ladies of the environmental movement.”) He is fond of telling reporters that the camera is his most powerful weapon, and in the past few years, as the technology of self-broadcasting and a cultural appetite for high-risk “reality” programming have surged, Watson and Sea Shepherd have attained a previously unthinkable reach via their online presence and their own reality-television series.
Whale Wars draws about a million viewers per episode, and Animal Planet’s production crew of 16 was “embedded” with the Sea Shepherds, filming the show’s third season, when these incidents went down. One of their cameramen was aboard the Ady Gil when it was struck by the Japanese whaler, and Animal Planet didn’t miss a beat, issuing a statement that hyped the high stakes of this “critical” environmental battle while disavowing the dangerous dynamic they helped create:
“We’re very concerned that all of the players – on both sides of the ‘war’ – should come out of this conflict unharmed.”
But the combination of Watson’s damn-the-torpedoes tactics, his unwavering sense of self-righteousness, and the behavior-distorting effects of omnipresent cameras are putting his amateurish crew of well-meaning but naïve eco-warriors at ever greater risk. And while it may make for good television, it remains an open question as to whether direct intervention with the whalers is going to help change policy. Theatrics have long had a place in environmental activism, but increasingly, Watson’s antics have come to look like an end in themselves rather than a means to achieving some greater good.
As oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico and we continue to await the environmental disaster sure to unfold along the Gulf coast, people in Alaska have been thinking not just about the past--the Exxon Valdez spill--but about the future of the Pebble Mine. What the spill has laid bare is the potential for catastrophic accidents, no matter how much we are assured that the technology is "fail-safe" and the plan reasonable.
As articles like this one in the Tundra Telegraph are beginning to point out, it's a question of risk tolerance, and, in light of the BP debacle, the potential for any damage, even if it seems statistically unlikely, is too much. And then there's the cost issue:
Who pays in the event of a major catastrophe? The current bonding rate for performance and reclamation does not even touch the potential damages to such an eco-rich region. The state of Alaska by default will be underwriting this whole misadventure.
Others agree. Jack Caldwell, a retired mining geologist who blogs at ithinkmining.com, has posted about what incidents like the Gulf spill teach us about the blind spots of such corporations, particularly when dealing with the "perpetual" timeframe. He writes:
Does Alaska have the law, and does Anglo American have the money to close the Pebble Mine waste facilities to remain stable for 1,000 years, a long time, or in perpetuity? If the state has not the law, and Anglo has not the money, it is only a matter of time before the wastes spill down the rivers to the sea, like the oil spills from the ground to the oceans. It is but a matter of history repeating and elementary statistics. That is unless Anglo can hold back the forces of nature forever.... Extreme accidents do occur–even to big companies who have statisticians to calculate the odds, but not money enough to pay the costs.
Of course, some of the "costs" of such an accident go well beyond what any amount of money can repair.
In a compelling article on the Yale Environment 360 site, two professors from Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies seek to re-frame the debate surrounding large-scale extraction projects. Professors Oswald Schmitz and T.E. Graedel use the proposed Pebble Mine as an example of what they call the "consumption conundrum": we all use technology--more every day--that relies on minerals dug out of deposits like Pebble, yet most of us fail to come to terms with the ecological implications of those choices. If we spare places like Bristol Bay, they ask, are we merely exporting the ravaging effects of mining?
The potential for displaced environmental damages means that a policy favoring ecosystem protection at the expense of mining in Bristol Bay should be obligated to consider the global implications of that decision by answering the question: Where else in the world will the mining be done, and what environmental damages will be passed to other parts of the world?
Linking our own behavior and possessions to mining projects like Pebble takes a debate many see in black-and-white terms into a shades-of-gray realm, for, as they write, "if the ethical environmental position forces mining activity elsewhere, then the rationale for wilderness protection in Bristol Bay becomes murkier". In this narrative, it's not just the big, bad mining companies seeking to exploit a pristine wilderness who are culpable--it's also all of us sitting at the end of that supply chain demanding and consuming things that must be newer, faster, better, etc. Pebble is but one example of what they call the "global linkages that create ethical and social conundrums," but facing up to those linkages, they argue, is essential to "achieving sustainability in a resoruce-limited world." Read the piece.