Five of the nation's leading jewelry retailers are pledging to support permanent protection for Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale metal mining.
A press release Monday said retailers representing $2.2 billion in sales during 2006, including Tiffany & Co., Ben Bridge Jewelers, Helzberg Diamonds, Leber Jewelers and Fortunoff, took the step at the invitation of Alaskans seeking to protect wild salmon, clean water and traditional lifestyles.
The Bristol Bay watershed is where the Pebble mine project would be built. The size of the deposits northwest of Iliamna show it has the potential for becoming one of the largest mines of its type in the world. Deposits include massive amounts of gold, copper and molybdenum.
Jon Bridge, co-CEO and general counsel of Ben Bridge Jeweler, said he was pleased to stand with other jewelers against mining in the watershed.
"As retail jewelers, we want to be able to tell our customers that the precious metals we use are mined responsibly that the materials used in the jewelry they purchase have been mined in environmentally friendly ways, respectful of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and the communities that depend on it," Bridge said.
One local retailer, Alaska jeweler Robb Blake, who owns Blake's Fine Jewelry in Eagle River, joined the five national chains, saying that as a registered hunting and fishing guide, he had witnessed first-hand the kind of destruction mining can cause.
"Having the Pebble mine project proceed in Alaska would be a lifelong travesty," he said, "not only to the land and its fish and game, but to generations of our Native heritage and the subsistence way of life."
The jewelers were invited to express their support last year by a diverse group of organizations representing Alaska Native communities, commercial fishers, businesses and conservation groups, the press release said.
That invitation ran as a full-page ad in National Jeweler magazine.
Bobby Andrew, a spokesperson for an association of eight Alaska Native corporations called Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of the Land), thanked the retailers and warned that the Pebble mine "threatens the wild salmon fishery that has sustained the region's economy and our people for generations."
In an interview Tuesday, Dave Atcheson, regional outreach director for the Renewable Resources Coalition, a group fighting the Pebble project, said he was pleased by the jewelers' announcement.
"I think it's great," he said. "It's good that people see the importance of protecting a place as unique as Bristol Bay. It's all about location, location, location. This is a unique and delicate ecosystem, and people everywhere want to see it protected."
Bristol Bay is home to the largest salmon run in the world, he said.
Hal Spence can be reached at email@example.com.
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