US to OK mining, drilling near Alaska salmon runs

Despite vigorous opposition, federal officials plan to open roughly 1 million acres near some of Alaska's richest salmon streams to mineral exploration and oil and gas leasing.

Large blocks of land in Southwest Alaska would be opened to development -- for the first time in more than 35 years -- in the same two river drainages as Pebble, the giant copper and gold prospect.

One of the drainages is the Kvichak River, which has the largest sockeye salmon run in the world. The other is the Nushagak River, the state's second-largest king salmon producer.

Pebble is located many miles farther upstream on state land in the headwaters of those Bristol Bay rivers. It is not subject to Friday's decision by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The decision outraged environmentalists and Bristol Bay fishermen.

"This is a part of my life that can't go disregarded, and it seems like it is," Everett Thompson, a fisherman from Naknek, said Monday.

But BLM officials said merely opening the land to mineral entry doesn't mean a mining company will move a clod of earth or an oil company will drill a well near any Bristol Bay salmon streams.

That's because they know of no major mineral deposits or oil and gas reserves on the acreage, they say.

So why open it? BLM's opponents ask.

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