Alaska's Bristol Bay region, adjacent to the Bering Sea in the state's southwest corner, is rich with large and productive reserves of natural resources. One of those resources, the world's largest sockeye-salmon fishery, generates an estimated $1.5 billion annually. The thousands of pristine acres of surrounding wetlands, ponds, and lakes are treasured because there isn't much untouched land left in America. Bristol Bay is also home to a large population of Alaska Natives, whose cultures and lifestyles revolve around the region's "wildness" and especially its salmon. Those are the living, breathing resources of Bristol Bay. And then there are the inorganic resources—oil and gas and mineral deposits, not yet fully explored or exploited but representing a whole lot more wealth than Alaska's accessing now.
A particularly significant deposit of gold, molybdenum, and copper—the largest known untapped copper deposit in the world, in fact—has been identified in Bristol Bay. It's known as the Pebble prospect. A Canadian company called Northern Dynasty Minerals started exploring the area in 2000. In 2007, Northern Dynasty partnered with U.K.-based Anglo American to form the Pebble Partnership and buy the rights to all the minerals in the deposit. The corporation's plans to build the "Pebble Mine" have yet to progress much beyond the idea stage, as the Pebble Partnership website says itself:
What is the Pebble Mine?
Right now, it’s an idea. An idea that could help power our nation’s green energy initiatives. An idea that could bring jobs and infrastructure to Southwest Alaska, helping families remain in their villages and thrive. An idea that all of this is possible in harmony with the environment.
The Pebble Mine has yet to be built because the process of getting state and federal permits for a project of this size is long, but also because it's highly controversial. The mine pits two of Alaska's biggest industries—fishing and mining, both of which are extractive, but only one of which is "sustainable"—against each other in a classic resource war: Weighing gold against salmon is weighing money against nature.