The people making a living off of salmon found themselves in a fight with a huge corporation that had both political support and deep pockets. The free market wanted to mine that copper for the profits now, and never mind the harm to the salmon industry, since the free market had priced the copper at more than fish. And never mind that the salmon industry is sustainable - it can go on indefinitely - but by definition the copper mine will run out (or more likely be abandoned during some fluctuation of commodity prices).
Sounds pretty familiar to us liberals. But of course this is Alaska, so everyone involved is a die-hard Republican. And like die-hard Republicans everywhere, they suddenly discovered the value of government when they personally needed the help of government:
Greg Harris, a fisherman who has lived in Bristol Bay for 33 years and who describes himself as being “as conservative as they come,” struggled with the contradiction. “Last year the EPA came out here,” he recalled, “and I told them point blank: ‘I think the EPA is an overstretched, over-budgeted blown bureaucracy.’”
He needed to make that clear in order to justify what he said next: “I think you guys are like a big octopus – you have your tentacles into everything. But if one of your tentacles can help with this, I’m all for it.’”
Don't worry - they'll still all vote Republican:
Make no mistake: Halford will die a registered Republican, and he still believes in the things he thinks Republicans are supposed to stand for, development included. “I have become more and more conservation-oriented as I’ve realized the pressure on renewable natural resources,” he allowed. “But I would not call myself an environmentalist, and in the past I probably would have strongly resented being called an environmentalist.”
Just because in this instance they needed the help of government to prevent a corporation from destroying their livelihood and the the livelihood of their children's children's children doesn't mean they recognize that anyone else ever legitimately needs the help of the government against a corporation.