November 28, 2022|By Chris Little| Land

The Time to Act Is Now: Pedro Bay Rivers Project

Working and living in Alaska for the last 10 years, I have fully adopted the “work hard, play hard” Alaskan mentality. With its vast wilderness, magical coastline and incredible seasonal abundance, Alaska offers endless possibilities for adventure and natural beauty. My wife and two young daughters spend as much time as possible outside, from following animal tracks though the snow in our backyard to foraging for wild mushrooms amongst old-growth Sitka spruce trees. And of course, we love to fish and harvest fresh salmon, which is the great unifier in Alaska. Regardless of your background and politics, everyone likes salmon, and everyone in Alaska can agree that protecting salmon for present and future generations is the right thing to do. We appreciate these values for salmon embedded in the Alaska Native culture, and we carry these values forward in our actions today to protect this incredible resource into the future.

So when I am not goofing off with my family and chasing delicious salmon, I am working hard with The Conservation Fund to protect the most important habitats for salmon in the state, particularly in Bristol Bay. Five years ago, Tim Troll, the executive director for the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, and I met with the Pedro Bay Corporation to map out the beginnings of one of the most significant salmon habitat conservation projects of our time. Now, five years later, we are on the cusp of completing this incredible project, now known as the Pedro Bay Rivers project.

11 16 22 BPedro Bay AK 2022 c 019 Bri DwyerWetland complex by the village of Pedro Bay. Photo by Bri Dwyer. 

The Pedro Bay Rivers project is a big deal, pun intended. The Conservation Fund, in partnership with the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, is under contract to purchase three conservation easements on over 44,000 acres of essential salmon and wildlife habitat from the Pedro Bay Corporation, an Alaska Native Corporation. Not only will the easements protect habitat for over 4 million sockeye salmon, they will also block Pebble Mine’s plans to build a transportation road needed from the proposed mine site to Cooke Inlet across these lands. This is an unparalleled opportunity to protect irreplaceable salmon habitat, block industrial-scale mining, and support subsistence and cultural activities important to Bristol Bay and the Pedro Bay Corporation, an Alaska Native village corporation.

11 16 22 BPedro Bay AK 2022 c 002 Bri DwyerAerial view from the Iliamna River. Photo by Bri Dwyer.

We have raised over 75 percent of the $20 million needed to complete this project. We need your help to reach our $20 million goal by the end of 2022 or this opportunity could be lost forever.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s at stake:

Bristol Bay is home to the largest WILD sockeye salmon fishery in the world

While wild fish populations are collapsing around the world, Bristol Bay remains strong. 2022’s salmon run was record breaking, with over 75 million sockeye salmon returning to the waters of the Bristol Bay region. The Pedro Bay Rivers projects would place three conservation easements on three watersheds on the northeast end of Iliamna Lake – Knutson Creek, Iliamna River, and Pile River. These watersheds are major producers for Bristol Bay, generating over 4 million sockeye salmon each year. Protecting the watersheds of the Pile River, Iliamna River and Knutson Creek with conservation easements will ensure these waters will be able support the extraordinary number of sockeye salmon who return to spawn year after year.

11 16 22 BTCF22 Jason Ching BRoll Clip 110922Video footage by Jason Ching.

11 16 22 BPedro Bay AK 2022 c 005 Bri Dwyer

11 16 22 BPedro Bay AK 2022 c 033 Bri Dwyer

With the exception of a few species like salmon, the fishing in Bristol Bay is all catch and release to preserve the delicate ecosystem and keep fish populations healthy. Sockeye salmon (right) turn bright red at the end of their life, just before spawning. Photos by Bri Dwyer.

People depend on the Bristol Bay region

Salmon is the lifeblood of this region for commercial fishing, recreational fishing, indigenous people and rural residents. An estimated 15,000 jobs are supported by the salmon fishery, not to mention the countless individuals who subsist and harvest salmon for their families and traditional way of life.

“Salmon have been essential to this region for as long as humans have lived here. Life for the people, particularly the indigenous Yup’ik, Aleutiq and Dena’ina, has revolved around salmon — harvesting, processing, drying, smoking, canning and freezing the fish, and putting them away for winter. Many people have summer fish camps where they have built salmon drying racks and smokehouses. It is an important part of the culture of Bristol Bay.”

- Tim Troll, Executive Director of Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust

11 16 22 BPedro Bay AK 2022 c 007 Bri DwyerGuide and owner of The Lodge at 58 North, Kate Crump, with a guest fly fishing on the American River in Katmai National Park.
Photo by Bri Dwyer.

11 16 22 BPedro Bay AK 2022 c 031 Bri DwyerSalmon are first hung to dry on the fish ladder outside the smokehouse. After they have a chance to dry, they are cut into strips and placed in the smokehouse. Photo by Bri Dwyer.

11 16 22 BPedro Bay AK 2022 c 013 Bri DwyerNels and Gabby Ure with their daughter Tuuli picking fish from their setnet in Naknek, Alaksa. Photo by Bri Dwyer. 


Diverse wildlife and pristine habitat abound in Bristol Bay region

The enormous runs of sockeye salmon provide food for many species in this region, including brown bear, river otters, lynx, wolf, bald eagles and a rare population of freshwater harbor seals that reside in Iliamna Lake year-round. For good reason, brown bears rule the Iliamna Lake landscape and are abundant wherever salmon can be found. For the local people of this region, being “bear aware” and respectful of their constant presence is ingrained in every part of life. This project will also protect habitat for numerous other species, including moose, brown bear, wolverine, beaver, mink, weasel, marten and wolf.  

11 16 22 BPedro Bay AK 2022 c 008 Bri DwyerA sow and her cubs crossing the American River in Katmai National Park. Photo by Bri Dwyer.

11 16 22 BD BRISTOL BAY BROOKS LODGE 4479Photo by Bri Dwyer.


Dealing a blow to the proposed Pebble Mine

The proposed gold and copper mine threatens the ecological, subsistence and cultural integrity of Iliamna Lake and the greater Bristol Bay region. The conservation easements would prevent construction of a critical access road needed by Pebble Mine and impede other future mining projects. Securing the conservation easements is an important first step in a collaborative effort that includes both private land conservation and political action to provide lasting, durable protections for the Bristol Bay region.

Taken separately, political efforts like EPA protections and legislative solutions and land protection efforts like the Pedro Bay Rivers project each make the possibility of Pebble Mine less likely, but taken together, all these actions can make for comprehensive and permanent protections.

11 16 22 BPedro Bay Conservation Easement Video

11 16 22 BPedro Bay AK 2022 c 018 Bri DwyerAerial view of a resident's home in Pedro Bay, Alaska. The community in Pedro Bay is vocal about their opposition to Pebble Mine.
Photo by Bri Dwyer.

The first step towards lasting conservation in Bristol Bay is within reach! The lifeblood of these communities and our wildlife are depending on it. We must stand up and fight for the salmon who cannot fight for themselves. The future generations — fish, wildlife and people alike — will thank us. Help us reach our goal. Donate today!


Find out more

Capturing the Essence of Bristol Bay, Alaska: One Photographer’s Journey
by Bri Dwyer

Safeguarding the World’s Most Productive Salmon Fishery
by Tim Troll

Securing Long-Term Protection for Alaska’s Bristol Bay Region Requires Comprehensive Action by Larry Selzer

learn more about Pedro Bay Rivers

Written By

Chris Little

Chris Little is The Conservation Fund’s Alaska Associate for Conservation Acquisition. Chris has led successful collaborative conservation projects with Alaska Native corporations, private individuals, public agencies, and non-profit partners throughout Alaska.