Fighting to save the salmon

Originally posted: March 29, 2012

Since 2006 Scott Hed ’90 has flown hundreds of thousands of miles, spent months in hotel rooms, traveled throughout the lower 48 states, and spoken to thousands of people. He is on a mission to alert the fishing and hunting communities that the largest salmon run in the world — located in Bristol Bay, Alaska — and the people who depend on it are under serious threat. The Bristol Bay region is the proposed site of Pebble Mine, a two-mile long by one and a half-mile wide copper and gold mine that would be the largest open-pit mine in North America.

Over the past six years Scott Hed ’90 has flown hundreds of thousands of miles to speak to thousands of people across the country about the importance of protecting the largest salmon run in the world. 

Now in his sixth year with the campaign, Hed continues to work tirelessly to inform people that a “globally significant sport fishery” is at stake, not to mention a commercial fishing industry that employs roughly 10–12,000 people. Now he will bring his message to St. Olaf when he screens the documentary Red Gold on campus April 1. The movie, which Hed had a role in inspiring, explores the Pebble Mine issue from the perspective of the people of Bristol Bay.

Hed’s path to being, as he puts it, “the vanguard for the ‘Save Bristol Bay’ campaign in the lower 48,” has been somewhat unconventional. After he graduated from St. Olaf with an economics major and a concentration in accounting, he got a job in the commercial finance industry. His goal was to work his way up to being a stockbroker on Wall Street. But a few years into his job, Hed started feeling dissatisfied.

“I began to wonder if there wasn’t something more fulfilling out there,” he says.

That “something” was Alaska. In the late 1990s he vacationed there several times and developed a deep appreciation for the natural beauty of the state. In 2001, 10 years into his finance career, his employer closed the office where he worked. When he was offered a new position in a different city, he wondered: “Is it reason enough to go to work today simply because that’s what I trained for, I’m good at it, it pays me well, and it’s what I did yesterday, last week, last month, and last year?” He decided it wasn’t, took a 10-month severance package, and flew to Alaska. In a few months he had a job with Alaska Conservation Foundation.

The passionate advocate
At first, his job was educating people about Alaska’s public lands, but when Pebble Mine surfaced, his employer asked if he would like to switch gears to raising awareness about the mine among anglers and hunters. He found the proposition so enticing that he thought there had to be a caveat. “My first question was, ‘Are you still going to pay me?'” he says. With free rein granted by his employer, Hed founded and became director of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska (SAA) — a branch of the ACF that works to engage hunters and anglers in advocating for the preservation of Alaska’s public lands for future generations.

Having the privilege to get paid to speak with hunters and anglers around the country is something for which Hed feels very fortunate. In addition to the hundreds of speeches he has given, he works with national nonprofits such as Trout Unlimited, and he communicates with outdoor products companies to oppose the mine. So far he has enlisted the support of more than 500 hunting and angling groups and businesses. He also does interviews for newspapers, magazines, and radio stations. Hed readily points out that he is just one member of a talented team working on the campaign, and the diverse coalition they have formed has started to pressure government agencies. In February 2011 the EPA announced that it was undertaking a watershed assessment to determine if the mine would violate a provision of the Clean Water Act. With the final report expected for this November, he says the coalition’s goal is to demonstrate to the EPA that if it rejects the mine, it will be doing something that will protect American jobs and has been requested by huge numbers of sports enthusiasts.

Hed doesn’t regret his career in the finance industry, but he thinks his career change testifies to the importance of being true to oneself. “When I wake up in the morning, I believe I’m one of the truly fortunate few who can honestly look in the mirror and say that I really love my job. I think if people were honest with themselves, that is a hard statement to make. Life is too short, and we spend too much of it working to pay the bills to begin with.”

His message to students is to keep an open mind. “Don’t let your degree dictate what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I never would have imagined while I was at St. Olaf that I would have been doing something as cool as what I am doing now.”

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