I first came to Alaska for a visit with my family in 2011. During that fateful trip I caught my first wild Alaskan salmon on a stream outside of Cordova. and at that moment, I knew Alaska and it’s wild salmon had me hooked.
I grew up swimming, snorkeling, fishing and exploring the thousands of freshwater lakes in Northern Minnesota, sparking my love of fish and water at an early age. I moved to Juneau in 2015 to work as a naturalist and quickly decided to stay, transferring to the University of Alaska Southeast, where I studied fisheries, environmental science, and social sciences.
I first learned about the transboundary issue in a class at UAS, I've been a supporter ever since. It is an honor to have the opportunity to work to defend and sustain the shared salmon rivers of Alaska and British Columbia and the jobs and ways of life they support.
When I’m not at work I can be found hiking, fishing, or skiing, or in the garden with my dog Scordato.
Feel free to reach out to me anytime with questions, concerns, or if you are looking to be more involved with SBB at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bev Sellars, former councillor and chief of the Xat'sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake and the former chair of First Nations Women Advocating for Responsible Mining, wrote a powerful piece about the truth of mining in B.C.
“After so many broken promises and ignored pleas we can hope that positive statements coming from the current B.C. government - and even from some quarters of the mining sector - mean that this time it will be different. But words minus action equals zero…B.C. needs to ensure that no mining activities are approved without the free, prior, and informed consent of affected Indigenous communities. If the industry and province want to build trust and start reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, they should agree to a reform of these mineral tenure laws to bring them into the 21st century.”
The mining industry puts lives at risk with shoddy maintenance of dams built to contain mining waste.
By The Editorial Board
The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.
After the catastrophic rupture of a mine-tailings dam in Brazil last week, leaving behind at least 110 dead, 238 missing and an environmental disaster of epic proportions, the police were quick to arrest five people who had been responsible for inspecting the dam and who most recently proclaimed it “stable.” Certainly they had erred, and courts will decide whether they did so criminally. But rounding up the usual suspects does not begin to address responsibility for a disaster of this scale and a danger many mining communities face around the world.
Tailings are the wet waste from mining operations, often laced with toxic chemicals. At thousands of mines around the world, millions of tons of the muck accumulate behind dams. The most common type of dam — and the cheapest to build — is known as “upstream,” made by piling up thick sludge and raising the height of the dam as the pond grows. At the mine where the accident occurred in southeastern Brazil, owned by the giant mining company Vale, the dam was 28 stories high.
The danger posed by tailings dams is well known. Three years ago another upstream dam in the same Brazilian state, Minas Gerais, and co-owned by Vale and Australia’s BHP Group, collapsed, killing 19 people. The muck from that mine flowed 400 miles to the Atlantic Ocean. Other dams have collapsed in many countries around the world, and while the overall number of failures each year has been declining, the occurrence of major collapses has increased. According to the database World Mine Tailings Failures, there were 46 “serious” or “very serious” collapses — such as those in Brazil — between 1998 and 2017.
One reason is increased rainfall because of climate change, which can erode a dam wall years after the tailings pool is no longer in use. One study found that heavy rain was cited as a contributor to a quarter of global dam failures. Given that there are thousands of tailings dams around the world, and that mining companies generate ever more waste — they produced 8.5 billion metric tons in 2017, more than double the amount in 2000, according to an Australian researcher — the dams pose a danger that arresting a few workers won’t address.
The cost of failures is high, as Vale is learning. Shares in the company plunged 24 percent on the Monday after the Friday accident, and Vale is likely to face billions of dollars in penalties. That cost alone should propel Vale and the rest of the mining industry to take an immediate look at the way that they dispose of mining sludge and to inspect their dams. A joint report in November 2017 by the United Nations Environment Program and the Norwegian foundation GRID-Arendal found that in most failures, there had been ample advance warning signs. “The tragedy is that the warning signs were either ignored or not recognized by under-resourced management,” the report said.
After the 2015 accident in the state of Minas Gerais, state and federal investigators urged hiring more dam inspectors. But the federal government slashed budgets, in effect leaving Vale and other companies to do their own monitoring. It’s far from certain that the government will do better this time: Brazil’s new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has already hobbled environmental regulators, and his infrastructure minister has warned against the “demonization” of Vale.
Vale, by contrast, has been quick to pledge changes. Fabio Schvartsman, its chief executive, said Tuesday that the company had decided to stop operations at mines where another 10 upstream dams were still in use until all were fully decommissioned, a process likely to take one to three years. The dam that burst last week had been out of use for two and a half years, he said, and was in the process of being decommissioned.
The global mining industry should take heed. It is clear that the industry needs to take a close look at upstream dams, to establish strict international standards for the way they are built and inspected and to study alternative ways to dispose of their wastes.
by Arielle Houghton
Is it just me or is growing up, in and older about selective memory? It seems all too easy to forget; names, dates, even entire school semesters seem to disappear into the abyss of grey matter in my head. This is especially true when I'm busy. Life seems like it’s accelerating and most moments seem like one stepping stone to the next. Transitioning from university to my career is likely the culprit of all this rushing. Juggling school, work, volunteering and attempting to sustain social networks keeps me constantly on the go. Of course, only the most pertinent information makes it to the top of mind.
That’s just one of the reasons I’m taking a 7 week road trip around B.C.; so I can take some time to reflect on my life up until this point in time. It never ceases to amaze me when entire memories fade from consciousness. When I was asked to write my salmon story I was left a bit dumbfounded. “My salmon story?” I thought, “What relationship do I have to salmon?” Despite the immediate disbelief, my history is, in fact, coloured with memories of these unique red and green fish.
As I reflected, those childhood memories rushed back. However no memories are quite as vivid as those that revolve around food.
Every year, we would go on a family trip to Cowichan River. It was one of the best trips of the year. We would fill up out inner tubes and float down the river, swim in the icy cold waters and search for sunken treasures under the big grey river rocks. We would wade down the creeks and streams searching for crayfish - kitchen tongs and buckets in hand - and every year we would eat my stepmother's famous cedar plank salmon. This was the Cowichan river cabin family tradition.
I remember my step mom would take the bright pink salmon cutlets and lay them on freshly cut cedar planks. She would splash the salmon with herbs and maple syrup producing a candied flavour that would blend with the cedar as the flames of the grill baked them together. This process offered a pungent sweet and smoky scent that would permeate the summer air every time the iron lid would open. And then, we would wait for what would seem like an eternity.
We would do anything to distract ourselves from the sensory euphoria that was wafting through the fresh air. We played tag, hide and seek, took a few swings at the bocce ball, we’d even humour my step brother’s brags of being able to do one hundred pushups. Of course, none of this compared to when the salmon would finally arrive on our dinner plates.
And yet, I wouldn’t pause to savour a bite. The entire meal would disappear in a matter of moments as my siblings and I gorged on the meat we anticipated for so long. I remember how my step mother would roll her eyes, “why do I even make the meal if you’re not going to enjoy it.” Oh but we would enjoy it. For those few moments, when the food filled our mouths and our faces would balloon like blowfish. In that moment we would be satisfied.
It’s remarkable, isn't it? How could this entire family tradition have disappeared from my recollection? Was it because the salmon arrived on my plate, as easily as it disappeared? Was it because I wouldn’t savour the moment when my longing for the salmon dinner was finally satiated? Or is it simply because I’ve just been too busy for memories like this to remain relevant?
Whatever the reason, those memories have shaped me. In fact, they are part of the reason why I choose to work and live in Victoria and why every time I leave Victoria, I always feel at home when I come back.They’ve influenced my decision to work at an environmental non-profit that is fighting to defend the places that bring salmon to that Cowichan River picnic table and others just like it.
While I’ve been finishing my degree in entrepreneurship, volunteering and working on the weekends, those memories have remained, silently guiding my decisions and leading me to a new story. It’s part of what has shaped the decision to travel all around B.C. to help others bring these memories to the surface, and ask more simple questions like “what is your salmon story?”
I’m taking this trip because, now, as the salmon and their homes are at risk of being forgotten and disappearing, I wonder what memories lay hidden but active in influencing others in making important decisions in other parts of B.C. I wonder how the places where British Columbians have grown up, the food they’ve eaten and their stories have shaped their lives.
To do this, I’m going to drive 7,000 km around B.C. to ask locals their stories and experience other parts of our home in this province. You can follow my story as it forms at peopleofplace.ca.
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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