Our Rivers at Risk - Summer 2015
As Southeast Alaska rivers begin to pulse with salmon, and most of us sort through our nets and gear, tie our flies, smoke fish, harvest berries, climb mountains, paddle our kayaks, and rise and fall with the daylight (just to do it all again), I want to update you regarding the status of the B.C. mining projects that have progressed in 2015 and continue to threaten the health of our Southeast Alaska rivers and our multi-billion dollar fisheries and tourism industries.
Last year, Americans and Canadians, including thousands of Alaskans, Alaska’s congressional delegation, and hundreds of experts requested a thorough review of the threats posed by the proposed KSM mine, located in the headwaters of the transboundary Unuk River. Despite the strength and diversity of the group asking to participate in the review, the Canadian federal government rejected the request, essentially telling Alaskans “all is well.” A few weeks later those reassurances from the B.C. government collapsed along with one of the giant tailings dams at B.C.’s Mount Polley mine. The massive breach sent an estimated 6.6 billion tons of toxic wastewater into lakes and tributaries leading to the Fraser River. Canadian media described the tailings dam collapse as the “worst environmental disaster in British Columbia’s history.”
That disaster and the permitting of at least one other huge mine in the Stikine watershed has led to a tremendous sense of urgency for Salmon Beyond Borders and others over the last six months. The year started with community meetings throughout Southeast Alaska. During these meetings, the list of tribal governments and communities calling on the U.S. State Department to take this issue to the International Joint Commission (IJC) for formal review grew to over 25. In the fall, Salmon Beyond Borders representatives met with our congressional delegation and federal agencies in D.C. During the visit, lawmakers received an in-person update from Alaskans and confirmed their continued concern over this issue.
At the end of January, an independent geotechnical report (click here to read the report) was released that identified the causes of the dam failure at Mount Polley mine. Following the report’s release, B.C. Minister of Mines and Energy, Bill Bennett, pledged that business would not go on as usual, and that recommendations from this report would be implemented for future projects in the Province. Yet, two business days later and with no ribbon-cutting ceremony, British Columbia issued a permit to the very same company that owns Mount Polley, Imperial Metals, for a new mine called Red Chris in the headwaters of the Stikine River. The Red Chris mine is a much larger than Mt. Polley and, due to its geochemistry and location, has even greater potential to pollute Alaska’s waters downstream.
It hasn't all been bad news, though. In February, Ryan Peterson’s short film, Xboundary. launched and quickly became a national success, screening at the Yale Environmental Film Festival, and the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival. Xboundary has been selected for a plethora of summer and fall 2015 festivals that will take it all the way from Alaska to Buenos Aires, Vancouver and Washington, D.C.!
Because of the threats posed by B.C.’s rash of mine development in sensitive salmon habitat, communication has grown between British Columbians including B.C. First Nations and Alaska Native tribes. Clearly, Alaskans and Canadians are taking to heart the inherent value that salmon connect us beyond borders.
The relationships that have been established on the Canadian side of the border are inspiring. Our cause is gaining momentum – and the awareness of this issue is growing. There is much work to do to continue applying pressure to our state and federal governments to defend the world’s most productive salmon region, but the progress made thus far is energizing.
Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter. We hope that you will continue to spread the word about B.C.’s fast-paced developments and get involved in upcoming events and actions.
Enjoy this spectacular season and stay in touch,
Salmon Beyond Borders
P.S. want to get involved? Click here!
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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