ANCHORAGE - Just in time for Valentine's Day, five of the nation's leading jewelers have sworn off gold that someday could come from the Pebble Mine, a huge deposit being scoped out near the world's most productive wild sockeye salmon stream in southwest Alaska.
The jewelers, including Tiffany & Co., Ben Bridge Jeweler and Helzberg Diamonds, pledged Tuesday not to knowingly sell jewelry made from gold that might be extracted from the proposed mine near the famed Bristol Bay watershed.
"We are committed to sourcing our gold and other materials in ways that ensure the protection of natural resources such as the Bristol Bay watershed. We would not want the jewelry we sell to our customers to jeopardize this important natural resource," the pledge says.
The other two companies making the pledge to support permanent protection of the watershed from large-scale mining are Fortunoff and Leber Jewelers. The five retailers together sold about $2.2 billion in jewelry in 2006.
Northern Dynasty Mines Inc., an American subsidiary of Canadian company Northern Dynasty Minerals, is developing the prospect in partnership with Anglo American, a large mining company with global operations.
Northern Dynasty spokesman Sean Magee said he was surprised that none of the companies contacted Northern Dynasty before signing the pledge.
"Their goal as I understand it is to encourage higher standards of performance," Magee said. "That is a goal and objective we have agreed with and endorse."
He said Northern Dynasty would be contacting the retailers this week to describe Pebble and the approach to the project.
"We have made a commitment to employ the very highest standards at Pebble," Magee said.
Jon Bridge, co-CEO and general counsel of Seattle-based Ben Bridge Jeweler, said much more needs to be known about the mine's possible impacts on fish, the environment and tourism.
"We don't know what this is going to affect," Bridge said. "All of those things need to be evaluated before something as massive as this takes place."
The pledge was made in conjunction with a report by the No Dirty Gold campaign led by Oxfam America and Earthworks, an advocacy group. The report describes human rights violations and environmental concerns at 17 mines around the world, including mines in Indonesia, Australia, Canada, Romania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, New Guinea, Ecuador and Ghana. The U.S. mines are in Alaska, Montana, Colorado and Nevada.
"The watershed is at risk of destruction because of the proposed development of a massive copper-gold mine and associated mining district," the report says about Pebble.
So far, 28 jewelry retailers have joined the No Dirty Gold campaign aimed at irresponsible mining practices, representing $14.5 billion in U.S. jewelry sales - or 23 percent of the U.S. jewelry market. Five of those retailers signed the pledge against Pebble.
It is the first time that a group of retailers has voiced their support for protecting an area from mining, said Payal Sampat, with Earthworks' No Dirty Gold campaign.
According to the report, more than 80 percent of gold used in the U.S. is for jewelry.
Pebble Mine is estimated to be the second largest ore deposit of its type in the world. The mine is divided into two deposits: Pebble East and Pebble West. Northern Dynasty was interested in an open pit mine at Pebble West until exploratory drilling found a deposit of higher quality gold and copper at Pebble East.
Now, the company along with partner Anglo American is focusing on Pebble East, which it estimates contains 42.6 billion pounds of copper, 39.6 million ounces of gold, and 2.7 billion pounds of molybdenum, a mineral used to strengthen metal.
Pebble West contains an estimated 24.6 billion pounds of copper, 42.1 million ounces of gold and 1.4 billion pounds of molybdenum.
The minerals are worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Production could begin in 2015.
Bobby Andrew, a retired commercial fisherman from Dillingham, said it's important to think about how the salmon return each year for the commercial fisherman, the subsistence user, the sport angler and the lodge owner.
"I think the mine ... as large as it is going to be, I don't think it can coexist with salmon streams and the salmon themselves," he said, as he sat down to a salmon lunch.
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