By Steven Maier
The Knight Center has again hosted Margie Bauman, the Alaska bureau chief for the Fishermen’s News, environmental and fisheries reporter for the Cordova Times on Prince William Sound, Alaska, and an alum of Michigan States School of Journalism.
Bauman joined Knight Center staff and students of the Journalism School for lunch, talked about covering Alaska-British Columbia environmental issues to a class on international journalism taught by Knight Center director Eric Freedman and spoke at an evening session hosted by MSU’s Canadian Studies Center.
She spoke about the place she’s called home for decades and the environmental problems it faces.
She once worked with a photographer who enjoyed bragging about his home state of Texas, she said. She often reminded him that Alaska was much larger.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘Wait ‘til it melts,’” Bauman said. “I had no idea how right he was. Alaska is kind of ground zero for climate change right now. It is melting and it is eroding.”
As the Alaskan permafrost melts, so too does the binding force that protects thousands of miles of coastline from erosion. Greenhouses gases stored in the permafrost are escaping. The changing landscape is straining plant and animal life.
Coastal erosion threatens villages that may soon be forced to relocate and to pay the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to do so.
Ocean acidification, caused by increasing amounts of carbon dioxide dissolving in the waters, threatens the state’s lucrative crab industry. Acidification makes it difficult for crabs to develop dense, hard shells and can affect feeding if their claws are unable to crack open the shells of their prey.
As the environment changes in Alaska, Bauman said, an old battle rages between the state’s biggest industries as environmental activists and advocates of the fishing industry argue against the advances of powerful mining and drilling companies. The debate has centered on a proposal, put forth 15 years ago, for a copper and gold mine in Bristol Bay.
The company behind the proposed Pebble Mine said it would be designed to avoid disruption to the ecosystem. Opponents say it’s not worth the risk to the bay’s salmon run, the most lucrative in the world.
Taxation on the drilling and mining industries has been a major source of income for the Alaskan government for years, Bauman said. Some state legislators also hold jobs in the industries.
A student in Freedman’s class asked Bauman if she found herself playing an advocacy role for the fishing industry.
“I eat fish, and I drive a car,” she said. “We all use these things, so we have to figure out how they can work together.”