Pebble Review Panel Finds Flaws With Baseline Studies

With two big studies out on the proposed Pebble Mine, there’s been a fight over whether work by the Pebble Partnership or the Environmental Protection Agency is more credible. Now, members of a science panel sponsored by the Pebble Partnership are criticizing the Partnership’s own research.

The Keystone Center’s science panel met in Anchorage this week to review the Pebble Partnership’s baseline environmental studies for the mine it hopes to build in Southwest Alaska. The studies are meant to serve as a reference for what the region looks like now, without any major development.

On Tuesday, panelist Falk Huettman, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, expressed concern that the baseline reports hadn’t fully considered the issue of biodiversity in the region. He also suggested that the work done on habitat use in the area was “insufficient.”

Ecologist Robert McFarlane had the harshest words, and he focused his criticisms primarily on the study of birds.

“I can say the documents is adequate as a list of species that are present,” said McFarlane. “It is not adequate for any type of study that you might want to come back to from some years in the future to ask, ‘Have there been any changes?”

McFarlane acknowledged that when it comes to building a mine, it will be more important to look at the impact on fish than on birds. But he still slammed the methodology used to study the birds, calling the research presented “backwards,” “frustrating,” and “disturbing.”

Terry Schick is the environmental consultant who handled the bird studies for the Pebble Partnership. He said they were limited in the field in how much data they were able to collect. And, he added, their team wasn’t given enough money to use a more current methods.

“We were not given the budget to produce those for this report,” said Schick.

Pebble Partnership’s study isn’t the only big piece of research on the mine out there. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency released its revised assessment of the project, which concluded that a mine in the Bristol Bay region could affect major salmon streams. The Pebble Partnership has called that work “deeply flawed,” because the EPA based its studies on a hypothetical mine plan instead of waiting for the partnership to file the plan they intend to use.


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