President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he is taking Bristol Bay "off the bidders block" to protect the pristine southwestern area of Alaska from oil and gas interests.
"It is a beautiful national wonder," Obama said in a video address from the White House. "It's something that's too precious for us to just be putting out to the highest bidder."
The presidential moratorium to protect Bristol Bay from oil and gas development follows actions taken earlier this year by the government to protect the area from other business interests.
In February the Environmental Protection Agency invoked the Clean Water Act to initiate a temporary halt on a proposed copper and gold mine, citing "the potentially destructive impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine" to the bay's salmon resources.
But the bay's watershed needs permanent federal protection from gold and copper mining, says photographer Michael Melford, who shot Bristol Bay in 2010 for a National Geographic feature about the conflict between protecting sockeye salmon and gold interests in the resource-rich region.
Nushagak Bay (pictured above), an estuary that opens onto Bristol Bay, is just one part of a vast watershed system vital to salmon.
"The obvious next step is to protect where the salmon are born and spend the first year of their lives, and where they return to to spawn," Melford says, "to make sure that those waters remain pristine and not polluted."
Pictures: Alaska's Wondrous Bristol Bay, Now Off-Limits to Gas and Oil Drilling
Photographer Michael Melford is celebrating the announcement that the U.S. government will protect the area's waters from oil and gas development.