Open Data Power: Saving the Planet

September 16, 2015 12:00 pm PST | Data as a Service
The wetlands in Alastka's Bristol Bay Watershed

In this four-part series, we explore the ways that open data transforms the world. Sound extreme? Putting data behind seemingly intractable problems is the best way to tackle them, whether it’s providing access to nutritious food or managing the planet’s natural resource.

The Bristol Bay watershed overflows with complex data points. The pristine region covers approximately 40,000 square miles of tundra and wetlands in southwest Alaska, according to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). “Up to 40 million sockeye salmon return to this watershed each year,” states the NWF, “making it the world’s largest run.” From wildlife counts, geochemical phenomena, and seismic activity, to sports fishing catches, commercial fishery hauls, and the demographics of a more than 4,000-year-old Native subsistence lifestyle, the area is home to many interdependent and at times conflicting interests.

But Northern Dynasty Minerals, through its Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), wants to carve an enormous open-pit mine smack in the watershed. Known as Pebble Mine, opposition includes commercial fisheries, recreational groups, and Native organizations, fueled in part by intense skepticism over PLP’s locked environmental dataset.

Following requests from citizens, the EPA released its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA). In addition to shining a spotlight on the environmental facts of the proposal, the meticulous BBWA lays out particulars of the EPA’s public engagement efforts, as well as the development process of the assessment itself — what Trout Unlimited’s Sam Snyder describes as fantastically transparent work to “create the greatest book report and science report ever made.”

For more on how open data can help protect the environment, check out this video featuring Jessica Robbins, Communications Manager from GLISPA.


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