Zale among jewelers opposed to Alaska mine

Posted: Wednesday, April 14, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The nation's second-largest jewelry retailer on Tuesday joined the opposition to a gold and copper mine being developed in southwest Alaska near the world's largest remaining wild sockeye salmon streams.

Zale Corp. announced that it not only is boycotting precious metals from the Pebble Mine, but supports permanently protecting the Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale metals mining. The mine is situated near the headwaters of Bristol Bay on state land designated for mining.

"We believe gold should be mined and refined in a manner that protects both the environment and its inhabitants," Gil Hollander, Zale's executive vice president, said in a statement.

The Irving, Texas-based jewelry giant has 1,930 stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. It had $1.8 billion in revenues in 2009.

Zale Corp. was accompanied by 12 other entities in a new wave of jewelry retailers and designers that have joined the No Dirty Gold campaign being promoted by conservation group Earthworks and partners. Twenty companies previously pledged to boycott Pebble, including Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds and Ben Bridge.

The more than 30 jewelers now opposing the mine represent more than $6 billion in annual sales.

Getting jewelry retailers and designers on board is important because jewelry represents more than 80 percent of the global demand for gold, said Earthworks' Bonnie Gestring.

John Shively, chief executive of Pebble Limited Partnership, which is promoting the mine, said Zale coming out against Pebble is nothing more than a meaningless publicity stunt.

"It is pretty easy for a company to come out against buying gold that doesn't exist at this point," he said. "We are years away from construction. The people managing that company now will probably be gone. Big deal."

Canada's Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and London-based Anglo American are developing the mine. They have approved spending more than $73 million this year to finish a prefeasibility study and prepare the project for permitting in 2011.

Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ron Thiessen has described the deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum at Pebble as "among the most significant accumulations of metal ever discovered."

But Bob Waldrop with the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association said the area's salmon, which come back year after year, are worth much more. All the other river systems that supported huge salmon runs - the Columbia, the Sacramento, the Fraser - have collapsed, he said.

"This one stands alone," Waldrop said of Bristol Bay.

In 2008, commercial fishermen were paid between $160 million and $180 million for Bristol Bay salmon, he said.

"Pebble is bad business," Waldrop said. "Why risk fish for fashion?"



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