Last year, many of you lent your voices to help stop a mining project that would have devastated Alaska’s Bristol Bay and its wildlife and other inhabitants—particularly the area’s beloved brown bears. And it worked!

Now, we need your help to stop another threat to Alaska’s pristine wilderness and wildlife: two proposed easements through Lake Clark National Park that would likely spur mining within the park.

Learn more about last year’s victory to halt the proposed Pebble Mine and find out how you can help protect Alaska’s brown bears and other wildlife again by submitting a public comment online to the National Park Service asking them not to approve the proposed easements through Lake Clark National Park.

Mining Interests Eye Lake Clark National Park

The Johnson Tract is an approximately 21,000-acre private in-holding owned by the corporation Cook Inlet Regional, Inc. The site—which contains gold, silver, copper and other minerals—lies within the boundaries of Lake Clark National Park, just south of Tuxedni Bay on the western edge of Cook Inlet. It’s also just a few miles northeast of Nat Hab’s Alaska Bear Camp!

map of Johnson Tract Mine Alaska Bear Camp

Map of Lake Clark National Park showing Nat Hab’s Alaska Bear Camp in relation to the proposed Johnson Tract Mine and easements.

In 2019, CIRI signed a 10-year lease with Vancouver-based HighGold Mining Inc. (now Contango ORE Inc.) to explore the Johnson Tract. According to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Geological and Geographical Surveys, HighGold “explored the property aggressively in 2020, drilling 53,875 feet in 37 holes” and announced “an initial indicated mineral resource of 2.4 million tons,”  including approximately 417,000 ounces of gold, plus significant amounts of silver, copper, zinc and lead.

Following that exploration, CIRI recently submitted proposals for two potential easements within Lake Clark National Park: one for a transportation corridor to the Johnson Tract and another for a port at Tuxedni Channel off Cook Inlet. The National Park Service is responsible for evaluating the proposed easements, including conducting a resource analysis to consider the activities that the corporation would need for planning, designing and permitting.

Tell the NPS: Keep Mining Companies Off Public Land!

Although the NPS resource analysis isn’t expected to be released and available for public review until this fall, public comments on the proposed easement are already open and will only be accepted through June 24, 2024. Which gives concerned parties precious little time to make their voices heard.

That’s why we’re asking you to submit a public comment online to the National Park Service as soon as possible opposing the proposed easements over public park land.

Wondering what to write? Your comment can be as simple as requesting that the NPS reject the proposed easements for the Johnson Tract, but if you’d like to say more, here are some points to consider including:

1. Ask that in-depth environmental and wildlife impact assessments be conducted prior to any continued permitting.

2. Insist that the resource analyses evaluate and address how the proposed easements will impact:

  • Critical bear denning habitat (based on recent collared-bear research in the area—see the map below that illustrates the movement of collared bears in the area in and around the Johnson Tract and proposed easements)
  • Vital bear feeding and mating habitat on and near the coast
  • Essential travel corridors for bears and other wildlife

3. Request that any eastern easements proposed for the Johnson River Valley be prevented due to irreversible impacts to pristine wetlands.

Red fox at Lake Clark National Park in Alaska

A red fox slips out from behind a tree at Lake Clark National Park in Alaska © Court Whelan

Past Victory: You Helped Put a Stop to Pebble Mine

Why is leaving a public comment opposing these easements so important? Because it can lead to real change—just as it did last year when wildlife lovers like you helped put a stop to the proposed Pebble Mine southwest of Lake Clark National Park in Bristol Bay!

In January 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency handed down a historic ruling that halted the controversial Pebble Mine. This mining project would have wreaked havoc on the lands and waters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay and the wildlife and people they sustain.

The mining operation would have been particularly devastating to the region’s wild salmon habitat, which has supported Alaska Native cultures for thousands of years and which is vital for sustaining the region’s beloved brown bear population.

A brown bear fishes for salmon in Alaska

An Alaska brown bear fishes for salmon

The landmark decision was only the third time in 30 years that the EPA has exercised its Clean Water Act 404(c) authority. And it was thanks largely to the efforts of Bristol Bay’s Native tribes and municipalities, recreational and commercial fishers, NGOs, nonprofits and other conservation-minded companies and organizations. Over a period of more than 13 years, these groups—along with individuals across the globe—applied immense pressure to the EPA to protect the pristine watershed.

In May 2022, the EPA issued a Proposed Determination to restrict mining in the area, opening a public comment window. More than half a million comments were submitted in support of the finalization of 404(c) protections for the Bristol Bay watershed, along with numerous petitions. Nat Hab readers and travelers were among the thousands of people who signed petitions and left comments!

The EPA’s Final Determination, issued on January 30, 2023, stated that “developing the Pebble deposit will have unacceptable adverse effects on certain salmon fishery areas in the Bristol Bay watershed.”

What’s at Stake in Lake Clark: Water, Wildlife & More

Currently, the proposed mining area on the Johnson Tract is largely undeveloped. It’s part of the 47,000-square-mile Cook Inlet watershed, which supplies clean water to approximately two-thirds of Alaska’s population, including numerous Alaska Native villages that pursue centuries-old traditional subsistence lifestyles and that procure 90% of their diet from Cook Inlet and its surrounding lands.

The map below tracks the movement of bears that were collared this spring. “The map shows exactly where the bears’ movements are in reference to the proposed easement area along the Lake Clark Coast,” explains Caprice Stoner, manager of Nat Hab’s Alaska Bear Camp.

map of bear movements tracked conservation alaska bear camp alaska lake clark national park wildlife

Map tracking the movements of collared bears in Lake Clark National Park, including the area in and around the Johnson Tract and proposed easements.

Cook Inlet boasts some of the most productive fisheries in Alaska, including five species of wild Pacific salmon, herring, scallops, halibut and other fish. Lake Clark National Park, the site of the Johnson Tract and the potential mining operation, hosts large populations of brown and black bears, gray wolves, moose, caribou, wolverines, marmot, red fox, bald and golden eagles, and other iconic Alaskan animals.

Lake Clark is also home to Nat Hab’s Alaska Bear Camp. In contrast to the proposed mine on CIRI’s Johnson Tract, our private in-holding within the park is a haven for both wildlife and conservation-minded travelers who come to marvel at this pristine slice of Alaskan wilderness, which is home to some of the planet’s best bear viewing.

Like the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, mining on the Johnson Tract in Lake Clark would have an immense and negative impact on the area’s people, wildlife, water and more. And the proposed easements are the first steps toward beginning mining operations in this pristine brown bear habitat.

Join Conservationists in Urging Protection for Lake Clark National Park

According to Cook Inletkeeper, a non-profit organization that advocates for the protection of the Cook Inlet watershed, “While massive projects like Pebble [Mine] capture most of the attention, smaller prospects such as … the Johnson Tract promise similar disruptions to the abundant and sustainable resources that support countless local people, families and businesses.”

Help protect Alaska’s wilderness and wildlife by submitting your public comment online to the National Park Service. Let them know that you and other wildlife lovers strongly oppose the proposed easements for the Johnson Tract. But please do so as soon as possible, as the window for public comments closes on June 24, 2024!

Nat Hab travelers watch brown bears at Nat Hab's Alaska Bear Camp

Nat Hab travelers watch brown bears at Nat Hab’s Alaska Bear Camp © Court Whelan