Resource Development Council

RDC Comments:
Bristol Bay Area Plan

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May 6, 2013

Mr. Ray Burger
Resource Assessment and Development Section
Alaska Department of Natural Resources
550 West 7th Avenue, Suite 1050
Anchorage, Alaska 99501-3579

Via email:

Dear Mr. Burger:

The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. is writing to comment on the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Draft Bristol Bay Area Plan (BBAP).

RDC is a statewide, non-profit, membership-funded organization founded in 1975. The RDC membership is comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, timber, tourism, and fisheries industries, as well as Alaska Native corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to link these diverse interests together to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

RDC believes the state's proposed revisions to the 2005 BBAP adequately protect wild game, salmon, subsistence, recreation, sport fishing, or other public uses of land, fish, and game.

DNR has a constitutional obligation to manage state-owned lands for the “maximum public benefit” based on the directive in Article VIII Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution: “to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.” Sole designation of large sections of the state for wildlife or recreation is contrary to constitutional mandates.

The BBAP will manage approximately 19 million acres of State land. Much of the lands in the BBAP are resource rich and designated for mining.

Alaska contains known deposits of Rare Earth Elements (REEs). Many of these REEs are imported to the United States, often from countries with lesser environmental regulations. According to the Mineral Commodities Summaries 2012 report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. depended on imports of 50-100% of its needs for 43 minerals in 2011, some of which are found in Alaska. Keeping areas open to mineral extraction in Alaska not only provides the opportunity for future responsible resource development, it may also improve national security.

The area included in the BBAP should be further evaluated for mineral potential before restrictive land designations are implemented. Sufficient mapping and geological information should be acquired, and until then, the area should be left open to all uses. Additionally, resource development in the area would provide economic benefits and bring new jobs to the region, as well as improved or added infrastructure and access to areas for multiple use.

Multiple uses should include mining (exploration, leasing, development), as well as recreational and other potential uses. With less than one percent of Alaska in conventional private ownership, access should be available on other lands.

Alaska already contains more than 150 million acres of conservation system units where most development activities are banned. Specifically, in Southwest Alaska there is already millions of acres of land closed to development activity, including national wildlife refuges, state parks, and other designations.

RDC discourages the DNR from creating a new classification specifically for subsistence, as subsistence activities are managed by the Department of Fish and Game. Subsistence activities are included in the regulatory definition of “Wildlife Habitat Land,” so there is no need to add a separate category for “subsistence.” Subsistence is a generally allowed use on state land, and area plans do not affect “generally allowed uses.”

Furthermore, a new classification such as subsistence will likely prohibit metallic sulfide mines in the Nushagak and Kvichak drainages, and implement a new Mineral Closing Order that would ban new mining claims on or along salmon spawning streams, closing much of the area to resource development.

In its settlement (Nondalton Tribal Council et al. v. State of Alaska, 3DI-09-46CI) DNR agreed to make six changes to the Bristol Bay Area Plan. The original plan went through the normal process of public hearings and review, the changes should be limited to those agreed to in the case.

Many of the issues raised by the plaintiffs in that case concern the management approach and classification changes in the 2005 BBAP from the 1984 BBAP. Plaintiffs and other groups that oppose resource development, particularly mining exploration and development, claim the 2005 BBAP favors mining above all other uses and fails to adequately protect wildlife habitat and subsistence. RDC believes the 2005 BBAP adequately protects these activities. Furthermore, the differences between the 2005 BBAP and the 1984 BBAP isn’t just in habitat designation, nearly all mineral designations in the region were changed as well. The refined detail of the 2005 area plan necessitated revised designations and is not evidence of any bias – just more detailed management.

Should further changes be made beyond those agreed to, RDC is concerned it will set a dangerous precedent. Using litigation to force further changes in an area plan sets a dangerous precedent to let groups opposing specific projects hold sway, especially over an area plan that impacts 19 million acres.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments.

Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.

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