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Written comments from Jim Rearden on proposed Chuitna coal strip mine

Jim Rearden organized the wildlife department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1950 and taught as head of that department for four years. For 10 years he was the Area Biologist for the ADF&G commercial fisheries division for Cook Inlet. He served 12 years as a member of the old Board of Fish and Game, and Board of Game. President Gerald Ford appointed him to the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere where he served for 18 months. He was the Outdoors Editor for Alaska Magazine for 20 years, and simultaneously a field editor for Outdoor Life magazine. He was the originator of the Alaska sonar salmon counter. He was awarded an honorary doctor’s degree in science by the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2005 for his teaching, contributions to wildlife conservation, and writing. He has written more than 500 magazine features for about 40 magazines around the world as well as 27 books on Alaskan subjects.

Jim Rearden (Note: Jim Rearden submitted the following written comments for a January 19, 2011 public hearing on the proposed Chuitna River coal mine.)

Mr. Chairman:

Why would the Alaska Department of Natural Resources even consider a mining proposal that would completely destroy eleven miles of one of Alaska's beautiful, pristine rivers? That they are even considering it is an insult to every Alaskan, and to the land itself. In my sixty-one years involved with Alaska's renewable resources, the only other comparable seriously proposed rape of the land I can remember was when Governor Gruening wanted to dam the Yukon River. The dam was to be called the Gruening dam.

What a beautiful land! is the most heard comment of visitors to our state. One wonders what visitors would say of a ditch that has replaced a lovely natural stream.

Alaska's salmon management is the envy of fishery management agencies around the world. From territorial days to the present we Alaskans have been protective of our salmon streams. The well-being and future of our salmon depends on the health of these rivers. We have prohibited dams that could keep salmon from spawning grounds. To protect spawning grounds and prevent silting, one cannot legally drive a tractor across a salmon stream. The federal government almost destroyed Alaska's salmon runs. State management brought them back. Are we now going to reverse half a century of careful scientific management?

When statehood arrived Alaska's salmon managers (I was one of these) had mostly pristine rivers to work with. To my knowledge no agency or private company has ever destroyed a beautiful salmon river, claiming it will remediate, or replace it, in its former shape.

How many thousands of years have the five species of Pacific salmon evolved in river 2003? (That is what the miners call it; we call it Middle Creek) Every atom in their bodies has in one way or another been modified over the centuries by the water in the river, by contact with the other river inhabitants, timing of the annual freeze up, temperature variances, and other environmental factors. That must include aquatic and shoreline plants, birds, mammals, and insects, all important in the life cycle of salmon. To consider destroying the present runs of salmon and replacing them with comparable stocks would be impossible.

Only God would be capable of reproducing a viable 11 miles of salmon stream and all its fixings, and it might even take Him some time. It is impossible to set a dollar value on the salmon from any stream for the simple reason we don't know how long we will be here. Salmon is an eternally renewable resource. What would be the dollar value of salmon from river 2003 over the next 10,000 years? Compare that with 25 years of income from coal shipped to China, most of which would go to Outside investors, if the dreams of those proposing this coal mining monstrosity come true.

There are many food starved nations in our world today. What will the world look like in 10,000 years? One wonders what choice Alaska would make 10,000 years from now. Would it be salmon or coal? I'm betting on salmon. The proposed Chuitna coal mine should not be allowed.

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