Forest Service shirking its duty

Letter to the editor

Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I'd like to add my voice to the chorus of those who oppose Coeur Alaska's plan for industrial development of Berners Bay. Coeur should be satisfied with operating its mine from Lynn Canal under the conditions of its original 1997 permit.

Berners Bay is a living portrait of interdependence. Its glaciers feed rivers that give young salmon a place to grow up before being herded by instinct toward the sea. The same rivers welcome schools of spawning eulachon each spring; spent and silvery eulachon provide rich food for the crowds of gulls, eagles, sea lions, and seals that gather in expectation of the annual feast. By autumn, salmon carcasses littering the headlands of the bay are decomposing and returning nutrients to the land - nutrients that will be used by plants for next spring's new growth. Each species depends on and is depended upon by others. Like all ecosystems, Berners Bay cannot be easily or intelligently reduced to a sum of its parts.

It's ironic, then, that Berners Bay is being regarded in such a piecemeal way during the ongoing permitting process for the Kensington Mine. The U.S. Forest Service, charged with managing its lands for sustainable multiple uses, has insisted that its release of the final Kensington Mine Environmental Impact Statement is neither premature nor illegal because what happens in the waters of Berners Bay is simply not under its jurisdiction. "Not my jurisdiction" not only lacks integrity; it also shows us that the people who are supposed to make decent decisions about what's good for our land and our community are under the impression that what happens on land is unrelated to what happens in the water. It's a frighteningly narrow view of ecosystems and the Forest Service's role in protecting them.

Many thanks to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Marine Fisheries Service and others who are willing to critically address possible impacts of a Kensington Mine that would sprawl into Berners Bay.

Emma Brown


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