Jewel worth saving.

Below is a write up of March 23rd’s Red Gold screening in Bozeman, Montana.

It’s no question that most of us have a lust and need for things that are propelled by adventure and built by two inspiring words, ‘what if’. We seek out places that have been lost to history, pursue the unknown, and even fantasize about embarking on adventures that closely resemble Narnia or Harry Potter. If you’re one of the lucky people that get to search for Atlantis or catch Bigfoot, kudos to you, that’s awesome, but if you’re anything like me then you’re dreaming of remote and wild places free of a plague I call civilization.

Alaska is the harbinger of remote places. Rivers rich in life snake through the tundra the same today as they did when humans chased saber-tooth tigers with sticks. In today’s world of politics, machines, cities, news, and straight up noise, it’s difficult to find a place where nothing but the faint ringing in your ear is all you hear when all else is silent. I’ve experienced that ringing while sitting atop a hill overlooking a vast expanse of wilderness void of human influence and thought how shameful it would be to allow such a rarity to be degraded simply for copper and gold.

I’ve always said that I would stand up for what I love and believe in. That I would do my best to protect what I hold dear to my heart; whether it is family, friends and even a place. In this case, I’m working to protect a place. Bristol Bay, Alaska is currently the ant in which a kid with a magnifying glass is studying. Two foreign mining companies are looking to build the world’s largest open pit copper and gold mine at the headwaters of the richest salmon harboring rivers on the planet. This mine could potentially ruin a resource that has given Alaskan’s their identity and way of life for centuries, a resource that gives life to an ecosystem in which millions of people journey to experience every year. Alaska’s salmon are its footprint, its blood, and without salmon Alaska will forever be changed and human beings will forever be to blame.

When I’m not playing the role of “student” at Montana State University in Bozeman, I’m busy fishing, working with MSU’s fly fishing club Gallatin FlyCasters and finding ways to educate folks on the proposed pebble mine in Alaska. Recently, I and Gallatin FlyCasters teamed up with the Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited on doing a showing of Red Gold (an award winning documentary by Ben Knight and Travis Rummel of Felt Soul Media) which focuses on Bristol Bay, its salmon and the issues surrounding the development. After several weeks of planning and advertising, the 23rd of March was suddenly upon us and I was beginning to feel the sting of anticipation and worry in hopes of having a good turnout.

The show was to start at 7pm. I, along with a friend, showed up at 6 to help set up and get things ready. I was in charge of the anti-pebble table and asking for signatures on a petition going to the EPA while Mark Peterson and Travis Morris (guys from TU) sold tickets. I was surprised to see several people already filing through the door. “Wow,” I thought to myself. “People are actually coming!” As 7 rolled around Curt “Ole” Olson (commercial fisherman from film) and my folks (Dave and Kim Egdorf) came through the door. Without hesitation, Ole grabs the microphone and starts talking about Bristol Bay and how important it is that we stop this mine. I watched the crowd of nearly 200 as he spoke and I saw nothing but intent and awe stricken gazes. Ole has a knack for captivating his audience. As the film was about to start I stood up and made my short speech. First off, I’m not the best public speaker, I do the classic stutter, forget what I was going to say and fidget like I have a colony of termites in my pants. I was surprised to find that this was not going to be one of those embarrassing moments for me. Words just flowed easily from my mouth (almost like word diarrhea). I guess when you speak from the heart everything just falls into place.

After the film Ole stood up once again and provided an informative and moving speech. He talked about his life on Nushagak Point, his family, and his fellow fisherman. If his stories about Bristol Bay couldn’t convince you that it’s a place worth saving then I don’t know what could because there was nothing but truth in his words. The same goes for my dad, Dave Egdorf. He’s been a pilot in Alaska for over 30 years and has experienced things that most of us will only read about. He also stood up and enveloped the crowd in stories that spawned (no pun intended) goose bumps. Once the speeches came to an end, it was time for our raffle drawing. I pulled several tickets from the hat and gave away prizes ranging from fly boxes to a rod, line and reel kit from The Fly Shop in Redding, California. As I walked out of the theater headed to my table to start asking for signatures, I was shocked to see the table flooded with folks signing the petition. Pages were being grabbed at like kids scrambling for candy after a piñata had been beaten with a bat. People were endlessly coming to me with questions, thank yous and inquiring about ways they could help. I was beaming with happiness just because I didn’t have to ask people for anything, they just willingly signed, grabbed stickers and asked questions. It was the most refreshing and rewarding feeling ever!

Once everyone had emptied the old theater, a few of us stayed behind, drank a beer and reflected on the night. After some number crunching we estimated that we would be able to donate over $1000 to an organization heavily involved in the fight against pebble and had exposed the issue to the entire city of Bozeman through radio broadcasts and an article in the Bozeman Chronicle. I truly feel that it was a successful event and it couldn’t have been pulled off without the support of our sponsors and Trout Unlimited. I’d like to thank Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska, Felt Soul Media, The Fly Shop, Gallatin River Lodge, Simms, and many others for their support and generous donations. Without these folks, events such as this would not be possible and protecting resources like Bristol Bay would be nearly impossible.

A few days later I was driving to class dreading an exam that had consumed my life for the past week, when I pulled up behind a rusted out truck with a single sticker on its bumper. A smile spread across my face as I stared at the No Pebble mine sticker. In that single moment I had this over-whelming feeling that we were going to beat this mine. Bristol Bay is a rare, invigorating, and beautiful place that is the last stronghold for wild Sockeye salmon. It’s one of the few places where someone can truly live an adventure free of human technology and experience the world through nature’s eyes and see pulses of salmon bring the region to life. It’s without question, a jewel worth fighting for.

-Camille

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2 thoughts on “Jewel worth saving.

  1. I live in Seattle and have worked in Bristol Bay and all over Alaska, I’m passionate about the issue. I’ve seen how many jobs are reliant on the faithful return of the sockeye. Tens of thousand of jobs exist from the net, to the cannery, to the Seattle seafood restaurants, because of this miracle of nature. This is the lively hood of countless people who will continue to prosper if the resource is respected for its delicacy and we fish sustainably.

    If American jobs and economic growth of the region is the argument. Then how can any economist trade an endless occupation for Alaskans, and many other Americans, for a Canadian mining company to make an exorbitant profit on the near certain destruction of our fishery. This will provide very few American jobs and the bulk of the money will go out of the Country.

    Sorry for the long comment, i could go on and on….It is indeed a jewel worth saving. Keep it up. Over our dead Salmon!

    Camille, My buddy and I saw your “Rip Lps” license plate at Fins and Feathers in Bozeman (i used to go to MSU) a while back and were going to invite whoever’s truck that was to go drift the upper Maddie but we just kept driving for some reason. And then I saw the picture on Ryan’s blog and remembered the truck. So if you ever want to go swing for cromers with us on the Olympic Peninsula send me an email. zacharymerritt@gmail.com

    Zach

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