Supporting Our Regional Ecosystems

Biodiversity in and around the Pacific Northwest continues to be at risk due to human-related activities. The foundation supports solutions that balance human needs with a vibrant and healthy ecosystem. However, despite some encouraging progress, salmon and the Southern Resident killer whale population still face existential threats.

Protecting Pristine Bristol Bay

Bristol Bay, Alaska is home to one of the last great salmon runs, with 40 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon population. For the last 15 years, the Pebble Limited Partnership has been advancing a proposal to construct a gold and copper mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay. If built, the operation would produce and hold billions of tons of toxic mine waste and threaten the well-being of this pristine salmon stronghold.

The Obama administration began moving forward on protections for Bristol Bay under the Clean Water Act, which would have prevented the mine proposal from moving forward. However, the Trump administration rolled back the near-final rule and allowed permitting to move forward on the mine.

A strong coalition of business, tribal, nonprofit, and community organizations working to achieve permanent protection for Bristol Bay pivoted to address this renewed threat. In 2020, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation awarded a grant to the Bristol Bay Defense Fund and the United Tribes of Bristol Bay to support their contest of the federal permits and amplify the need for permanent protection.

We are the Indigenous people of Bristol Bay. We have inherited the responsibility to be strong stewards of our land and we will not stop fighting until our homeland is protected from Pebble Mine.

— Alannah Hurley, United Tribes of Bristol Bay

As part of an effort to increase direct funding to Indigenous communities doing conservation work, the foundation provided support to the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. Understanding this is a long-term effort, the foundation also convened other funders and helped foster collaborations to bring additional support to project partners. Building upon these partnerships, we led the development effort of a support letter to the new EPA administrator, signed by 18 funder partners, highlighting the need for permanent Bristol Bay protections.

The Bristol Bay Defense Fund and United Tribes of Bristol Bay used various advocacy strategies, including communications, potential litigation, community outreach and mobilization to elevate the issue. They successfully deterred new investors, made Pebble Mine a central issue in Alaska, and activated non-traditional conservationists to oppose the mine.

In 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers, in a surprising move, denied the mine permit. And, in 2021, the Biden administration re-opened the process to protect Bristol Bay under the Clean Water Act. While permanent protections are not yet in place, the coalition has made incredible progress to date and has opened a dialogue with the Alaskan public and decisionmakers on the future of this globally important region.

Partners: Bristol Bay Defense Fund, United Tribes of Bristol Bay

All Chinook salmon populations are listed as threatened or endangered federally. They are a keystone species in the Pacific Northwest, their health is connected to a multitude of other species.

Removing Dams to Improve Salmon Habitat

Across the Pacific Northwest, salmon stocks are decreasing, with some populations declining to just 10 percent of historic levels. This presents a host of problems, including the uncertain food supply and future of the critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Dam removal has been shown to increase dwindling numbers of salmon and improve ecosystem functionality. Beginning with the Middle Fork Nooksack in 2016, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation has supported the removal of obsolete and unnecessary dams in Washington and Oregon to unblock river passages and re-establish connections to spawning and rearing habitats.

“Healthy rivers are vital to life, and when we remove a dam and let a river flow freely, people, fish and wildlife, and the economy call all benefit,” said April McEwen, associate director of American Rivers’ River Restoration Program.

This work has continued over recent years with the removal of the Pilchuck, Kelley Creek, North Fork Klaskanine, and Lower Bridgepoint dams. In 2021, the Eagle Fern dam in Clackamas County, Oregon was successfully removed. Each dam removal is unique and requires transparent engagement of stakeholders at every stage of the process. Thanks to the work of our grantees at American Rivers and The Tulalip Tribes of Washington, the foundation supported successful removal of six dams, restoring access to 89 miles of critical salmon habitat and more than 100 miles of habitat to other species.

Partners: American Rivers, The Tulalip Tribes of Washington

Data, Science, and Technology
Photo courtesy Global FinPrint.