Pedro Bay Corp. is seeking conservation easements on land it owns around Illiamna Lake, an arrangement that would be a significant hurdle to any future plans to remove ore from the giant Pebble deposit.
More than 90% of shareholders have agreed to the plan. It calls for The Conservation Fund to buy easements on 44,000 acres. In return for the restrictions on its property rights, the Alaska Native village corporation would receive $18.3 million, plus $500,000 to its cultural and education fund.
The land that would be covered by the easement includes part of the “northern corridor” that Pebble Limited Partnership proposed to bring ore from the mine to a port on Cook Inlet. It’s not the only way to bring the ore out, but it’s the one federal regulators said would be the least harmful.
In November, the Army Corps rejected Pebble’s mine application, saying the plan for the open-pit gold and copper mine wasn’t compatible with the Clean Water Act. Pebble Partnership is working on its administrative appeal of that decision and a Pebble spokesman said Tuesday the announcement of the easement doesn’t change the company’s focus.
Pedro Bay Corporation has fewer than 200 shareholders. CEO Matt McDaniel said they made an “informed decision” on the conservation easement.
“The general feedback was that this land is their home. Their subsistence, their culture, and their history is tied to this land,” he said in an email. “And they want to protect this land for generations to come.”
Protecting important salmon habitat, not thwarting Pebble, is the main purpose of the easements, organizers say. Only a small portion of the 44,000 acres covered would have been used in the northern corridor.
The easements would restrict industrial-scale developments, but not all economic activity.
The Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust would manage the easement. Its director, Tim Troll, says subsistence, cultural activities and tourism would still be allowed.
“There are some limitations on what they can construct. We’re not looking at huge buildings,” he said. “But as long as it’s consistent with the overall purposes of the easement, then it’s OK.”
Now it’s up to The Conservation Fund, based in Virginia, to raise the money. CEO Larry Selzer said the organization prioritized these lands in part because of the proposed Pebble mine.
“Obviously, the Illiamna Lake region – the salmon values, the ecological values are of extremely high importance,” he said. “But also the threat was real.”
Selzer says the campaign to stop the mine — which featured lush images of streams and focused national attention on the importance of salmon to the people of the region — may make the next challenge easier.
“The fact that this has been in the public eye for decades,” he said, “and the threat from the Pebble Mine has been a proximate issue for decades, drives the visibility that we hope will translate into significant fundraising.”