Mining of a newly discovered rare earth element near the remote Alaskan town of Hydaburg jeopardizes the fishery which is its economic mainstay.
"HYDABURG, Alaska -- James Bell, 50, sits carving the intricate details of an arm into a totem pole in his shop in this sleepy, coastal southeastern Alaska town. He wears glasses with a snap-on set of bifocals to better guide his carving knife, and the occasional hearty chuckle reveals deep wrinkles around his eyes. A lifelong fisherman and longshoreman, Bell’s hands are worn from years of hauling nets laden with salmon and loading old growth trees onto barges bound for the pulp mill in nearby Ketchikan.
Bell was born in Hydaburg and is a member of the Haida Tribe that is indigenous to this region. He speaks of his small, isolated town – Hydaburg’s population hovers at around 380 -- with an air of resignation and sadness. There are few jobs to be had these days, he says. The logging boom is over and the price of salmon is lackluster at best. More and more, laments Bell, Hydaburg’s young people are choosing to leave town in search of opportunities in bigger cities, like Ketchikan, about a half-day’s journey by ferry.
During the commercial fishing season, unemployment in Hydaburg hovers at around 12 percent, but shoots up to about 19 percent in the winter offseason. In previous decades, the Tongass National Forest was a boon for logging companies and a source of local jobs in Hydaburg, until recent legislation put a stop to mass logging."