By KIMBERLY CAUVEL @Kimberly_SVH
A Canadian company has proposed exploratory mining for gold and copper in the headwaters of the Skagit River in British Columbia.
Some officials, tribes and conservation groups on both sides of the border say the proposal threatens the environment of the Skagit River watershed and that it violates an agreement — the High Ross Treaty — that has been in place between the United States and Canada for 35 years.
In the latest show of opposition, a letter was sent Thursday to an official in British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. The letter was signed by officials and nonprofits.
Among them are state Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, the nine Seattle City Council members and representatives of national groups such as American Rivers and Defenders of Wildlife. Local groups that signed include the Skagit Watershed Council and Skagit Land Trust.
Imperial Metals Corporation applied in March for permits to drill for mineral deposits for up to five years, the Associated Press reported. The company wants to search for gold and copper in the area where the Skagit River begins, in the Canadian portion of the Cascade Range.
According to Imperial Metals’ permit application, exploratory mining would involve building roads, helicopter landing sites, air strips, boat ramps and settling ponds as well as doing surface drilling. The company expects those activities to impact about 0.9 of an acre.
As the Skagit River passes through Whatcom and Skagit counties, it provides water for drinking, irrigation, fish and recreation. Those opposed to the exploratory mining proposal say it would put the river and everything that relies on it at risk.
“Washington’s Skagit River and its international watershed is a key provider of healthy salmon populations, resources associated with tribal treaty rights, world class recreational opportunities on national park and forest lands and fresh water for agriculture and ultimately Puget Sound,” Tom Uniack, executive director for the conservation organization Washington Wild, said in a news release accompanying Thursday’s letter.
That letter follows others from area tribes, Seattle officials and nonprofits.
Leaders of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs expressed alarm over the proposal in an opinion piece published May 12 in The Seattle Times.
“Mining in the Skagit River headwaters is antithetical to salmon recovery and our way of life,” the opinion piece reads. “Our subsistence, cultural and commercial activities are dependent upon wild salmon, and are central pillars to Washington tribes’ treaty-protected rights.”
From its headwaters, the Skagit River passes through Seattle City Light’s three hydroelectric dams in Whatcom County before carving through Skagit County and emptying into the Salish Sea.
The Skagit River also winds through the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the agriculturally rich Skagit Valley. The river provides one-third of the freshwater flowing into Puget Sound.
Along the way, the river supports all five species of Pacific salmon as well as steelhead trout. Some of those fish, particularly threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon, are critical food for the endangered Southern Resident orca whales, which the state has been trying to prevent from going extinct.
“The Washington state Legislature is putting time, effort and resources into restoring and preserving salmon habitat to help with the recovery of our beloved resident orca,” Lovelett said in a statement she released May 1. “Siting a mine at the headwaters of this watershed risks too much.”
Imperial Metals is known for a past environmental mishap at one of its mines. A slurry was released from its Mount Polley mine into Polley Lake in 2014 following years of copper and gold mining — an operation similar to what the company now envisions for the Skagit River headwaters.
“The headwaters of the Skagit River is no place for a mine and the headwaters of any river should no longer be a place where this mining company should be involved,” Leo Bodensteiner, U.S. chair of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, said in the release that accompanied Thursday’s letter. “Imperial Metals is responsible for the largest mining disaster in British Columbia history.”
According to Canadian news organizations, the mishap at Polley Lake occurred due to a dam break at the mine site, about 250 miles north of the area the company is now eyeing at Silverdaisy Mountain in the headwaters of the Skagit River.
Silverdaisy Mountain is in an unprotected area — referred to as the “donut hole” — between British Columbia’s Skagit Valley and E.C. Manning provincial parks.
South of this “donut hole” is protected land — both in British Columbia and the U.S. — that the regional nonprofit Conservation Northwest said makes up one of the largest blocks of interconnected protected land along the shared border.
Ross Lake, a National Recreation Area in the North Cascades complex, sits almost directly south of Silverdaisy Mountain.
The creation of Ross Lake after construction of Seattle City Light’s Ross Dam led to the High Ross Treaty, which was signed in 1984.
The most recent mining opposition letter urges British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources to deny the proposed mining and work toward long-term protection of the Skagit River headwaters as called for in the treaty and set as the mission of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission.
Conservation Northwest, which signed on to the group letter this week, also submitted an independent comment in response to the proposal.
In that comment, International Programs Director Joe Scott said the organization stands with the Native American and First Nation tribes, and the dozens of other conservation and recreation groups who have spoken out.
“Industrial activities as proposed in the application are ill-advised and inappropriate in such a sensitive area with such high ecological, environmental and recreational values,” Scott wrote.
By Ryan Whalen
PUBLISHED 5:49 PM ET May. 16, 2019 UPDATED 11:26 PM ET May. 16, 2019
The U.S. Senate has finally confirmed three new members of the International Joint Commission, which regulates water levels for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.
Lawmakers in New York have been pushing for the positions to be filled for roughly two years. Canada still has three vacancies and needs to appoint at least one commissioner before there is a quorum and the body can meet.
However, with Lake Ontario water levels at record highs and local leaders concerned about a repeat of 2017 flooding, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded the confirmations.
“The filling of all three U.S. seats on the IJC is a major step in the right direction and will help prepare New York State for the absolute worst,” he said. “I was proud to support the confirmation of these nominees to the IJC and look forward to working in lockstep with them to shield Lake Ontario communities from more devastating flooding.”
Former New York State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, will be the new chair of the commission. Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY-27, recommended Corwin.
“President Trump could not have made a better choice than Jane L. Corwin to be the next U.S. Chair of the IJC,” he said. ” Thanks to his leadership, we now have a voice for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario shoreline residents. Jane’s experience as an Assemblywoman for the Ontario Lakeshore properties and her understanding of the issues with Plan 2014 will make her an exceptional leader of the Commission. I know Jane, as well as Commissioners Robert Sission and Lance Yohe, will protect the homeowners and small businesses along our shorelines.”
The IJC would have the authority to move away from the controversial Plan 2014, which currently regulates outflows for the various bodies of water. Many homeowners and elected officials in Lake Ontario communities believe the plan is at least partially responsible for the 2017 damage and potential damage this year.
The state has already started sending resources to communities this year in anticipation of flooding.
Reforms required to address ‘ticking time bomb’ of abandoned mines and protect taxpayers from millions in liabilities, authors of new report say
May 15, 2019 11 min read
If a mining company cannot provide the full security to pay for clean-up and reclamation costs upfront, it should not be allowed to open a mine.
This is one of almost 70 recommendations released today in Victoria — part of a sweeping package of legal reforms launched by at least 30 mining advocacy and law organizations — designed to overhaul the way British Columbia regulates exploration, placer mining and metal/mineral mining.
“This will be the day that we begin to change B.C.’s outdated, archaic mining laws,” said Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria. “Too many of our laws find their origin in the 19th century.”
There are 1,100 closed mines across British Columbia, which Sandborn called “ecological ticking time bombs.”
B.C. Mining Law Reform: A Plan of Action for Change is the product of almost two years of research initiated by the Environmental Law Centre, with support from Indigenous advocates and groups like MiningWatch Canada.
British Columbians impacted by mining shared their stories from all corners of the province at a press conference launching the reform campaign.
“We were devastated on the morning of August 4, 2014,” said Christine McLean of the Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, referencing the Mount Polley mine disaster, which resulted in an estimated 25 billion litres of contaminated materials flowing into Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake.
“Despair turned to anger for me and many of our friends and neighbours when the B.C. government allowed the mine to resume full operations, and in April 2017 issued a permit to build a pipeline to discharge mine waste water directly into the lake, allowing the ongoing pollution of Quesnel Lake.”
Christine McLean of the Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake launched an appeal to challenge Mount Polley mine’s permit to discharge effluent into Quesnel Lake. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
Cindy Charleyboy of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining spoke of the Tsilhqot’in’s fight for the past decade to stop the Taseko Mine, proposed for Teztan Biny, also known as Fish Lake.
“The lake is pristine and that water is needed there, untouched, so we can continue our Indigenous ways of life, our culture, language and spirituality uninterrupted so we can provide for our families,” Charleyboy said.
Cindy Charleyboy of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining said: “We are all here together in what is known as ‘Super, Natural BC.’ What are we going to do about it?” Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
Sandborn said most British Columbians haven’t been aware of the urgent need to update B.C.’s mining laws. He pointed to an expert panel report on the Mount Polley mine disaster that predicted two tailings pond failures every 10 years and called on the province to phase out liquid tailings ponds.
“That hasn’t happened,” Sandborn said. “That’s why we’re here.”
The proposed law reforms target nine subject areas, including water protection, First Nations governance, mining tenure and the imperative to protect taxpayers from billions in mine clean-up costs.
Water is the common thread that runs through the reform package.
“We want to change the way mining is done in B.C., and in particular, the need to protect water,” said Ugo Lapointe of Ottawa-based MiningWatch Canada, which participated in drafting recommendations. “We say yes to mining, but not if it contaminates water.”
Good timing for changes?The timing of the launch reflects three things: May is B.C. Mining Month, an annual industry celebration. It’s also the same month that McLean was supposed to get her hearing to challenge Mount Polley’s permit to discharge effluent into Quesnel Lake. And finally, B.C. has already started reviewing several mining-related laws.
The Mount Polley mine in central B.C., owned by Vancouver’s Imperial Metals, got permission in spring 2017 to discharge almost 60,000 cubic metres per day of tailings effluent into Quesnel lake. Christine McLean, who lives close to the lake, is currently trying to quash this permit and close this pipeline for good. On Wednesday, she released this underwater video.
“This is the opportune time to bring up the problems we have identified over the last few decades,” Sandborn said. He said many of the recommendations are designed to anticipate current government efforts to reform mining laws — including possible changes to the way mine securities are set for mining companies and the Mineral Tenure Act, which regulates placer and mineral rights.
“For years we had a government that wasn’t going to reform anything, they were totally in the thrall of the mining industry,” Sandborn said. “Now we have a government that will at least listen, so there’s a better opportunity [for change] today than a few years ago.”
Step one: change how mining claims are stakedB.C.’s mineral tenure laws, which determine where mining can occur, are a relic of our gold rush past and must change, Sandborn said. Today a prospector can go online without setting foot on the land and secure access to the sub-surface in most of the province, including beneath private property and First Nations traditional territories.
The dysfunction was apparent back in 2017, when Bev Sellars, a former chief of the Xat’sull First Nation at Soda Creek (and member of advocacy group First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining — located not far from the Mount Polley mine), grew so frustrated with the lack of placer mining regulation (e.g., mining streambeds for gold nuggets and dust) that she legally staked the subsurface rights to the Cranbrook area property of then-energy and mines minister Bill Bennett. (It took Sellars less than an hour and about $130 in fees from her desktop computer.)
The coalition is calling for government to consider a broad range of interests before issuing tenures to miners, including Indigenous free, prior and informed consent. Landowner consent should also be required for mining activities to commence on private property, and “no-go” areas need to be mandated to protect sensitive environments. The latter could prevent situations like Imperial Metals’ current exploration plans in the “doughnut hole,” located in the headwaters of the Canada-U.S. transboundary Skagit river.
Lapointe said this legal overhaul is long overdue.
“B.C. is the only province in Canada that has not yet revised its mineral tenure laws,” he said. Ontario now requires information sharing and consultation with First Nations, while Quebec requires written consent from landowners before exploration work can start.
Ugo Lapointe of Mining Watch Canada. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
A spokesman for the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources confirmed the ministry has started “pre-engagement” with First Nations and industry on proposed changes to tenure laws, but would not confirm specific content or a timeline for changes.
Mount Polley’s long shadowMany of the coalition recommendations address legal deficiencies exposed right before and after the Mount Polley mine disaster in 2014.
Most recently, the mine got permission in spring 2017 to discharge almost 60,000 cubic metres per day of tailings effluent into the lake. The company has been found out of compliance at least three times in 2018 alone, and has yet to pay a fine for this or the 2014 spill.
Sandborn said B.C. needs to finally act on the government’s expert panel recommendations made in the wake of the disaster. This includes an end of wet tailings storage for new mines in most cases, and a plan to safely retire at least 60 active mine tailings dams in B.C.
Perpetual pollution and the mother of all subsidiesA major thrust of the reform campaign is to ensure present and future generations are not on the hook for billions in mine clean-up costs.
“The taxpayers of B.C. are put in jeopardy by the archaic mining laws we have today,” Sandborn said, pointing out there are 123 tailings lakes in the province.
Today across B.C., 14 major mines rely on water treatment facilities to ensure water does not pollute the surrounding environment. The province estimates an additional 45 mines have moderate-to-high acid rock drainage/leaching potential — and predicts that 12 of these will require perpetual water treatment.
A cautionary tale is the long-closed Britannia mine, which cost taxpayers $46 million to control acid rock drainage, and now requires $3 million per year, every year (in perpetuity) to treat water.
The coalition is pushing for B.C. to stop permitting mines that have serious potential to require permanent water treatment — and adopt the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance standard for responsible mining water management standards, which sets good practices for mining and water protection at an industrial scale.
B.C. must also start regularly inspecting the closed and abandoned mines across the province, “to see how many of them are ticking timebombs,” Sandborn said.
He cites the example of the shuttered Jordan River mine, closed in 1974, which the government didn’t inspect for decades and, in that time, devastated the river’s salmon runs.
Ken Farquharson, a former Canadian commissioner of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, with a map of B.C.’s active and inactive mines from the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
Farquharson points to Jordan River, where a mine has left a toxic legacy, but isn’t even marked on the B.C. government’s map of the province’s mines. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
Paying for clean-up costs upfrontFor the mines that do go forward, British Columbia needs to get 100 per cent of the full clean-up and closure/reclamation costs upfront, the report recommends.
This would prevent what MiningWatch Canada research coordinator Catherine Coumans has called the biggest subsidy that miners receive — the ability to walk away from a mine and have taxpayers (or the environment) pay the cost. MiningWatch estimates that old B.C. mine sites collectively account for more than $3 billion in “unfunded clean-up liabilities” for taxpayers.
“We need to ensure that taxpayers don’t pick up the tab for this,” Sandborn said. “The polluter must pay.”
B.C. must follow the lead of places like Alaska and many others, which require 100 per cent security provided upfront before a mine is permitted to operate. For B.C. mines already in operation, the report said, owners would have two years to come up with the full amount.
The lax nature of B.C. law has created a surreal situation for Canadian mining giant Teck. For an Alaskan mine, they have been forced to provide the full security for estimated reclamation costs ($560 million), yet the same company’s B.C. mines have unsecured reclamation costs of $700 million dollars.
The province is currently looking at updating how securities are set for new mines, but Sandborn (who has seen draft policy ideas) said the province is not planning on requiring 100 per cent of cleanup costs upfront.
What’s next?After today’s event in Victoria, Lapointe and other campaign leaders plan to meet with the provincial government to discuss legal reform. And instead of one organization talking to government, they will present a united front of 30 different groups.
Moving forward, they hope to grow the coalition, reaching out to the public, municipalities and labour unions. “The idea moving forward is to broaden the circle of support for change,” Lapointe said.
The coalition also plans to continue its support of McLean and the Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake in their efforts to get the pipe out of their lake.
McLean’s citizen-launched appeal to challenge Mount Polley’s discharge permit scheduled for May has now been delayed. This comes as Mount Polley prepares to close down and enter “care and maintenance” at the end of this month — eliminating precious hinterland jobs and raising a whole new set of uncertainties around how and when the mine will be cleaned up.
Imperial Metals has struggled financially, with experts warning the company may be on the brink of bankruptcy, and the company selling off a 70 per cent stake in its Red Chris Mine earlier this year to Australia’s Newcrest Mining.
— With files from Emma Gilchrist
Posted by June Leffler, KSTK| May 9, 2019
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has pledged to engage with British Columbia to protect Alaska’s natural resources and environment. That’s in response to lawmakers’ concern over potential threats from transboundary mining.
Lawmakers across party lines penned a letter last month urging the Dunleavy administration to keep a close eye on Canadian mines in shared watersheds.
Twenty two legislators signed the letter urging the governor and lieutenant governor to pick up where the Walker administration left off.
This month they got an answer. A two-page letter signed by the governor catalogued high-level contacts between state and provincial officials. He called it “important work” to remain engaged over transboundary rivers.
“They said in the letter that they were going to continue with the process, so I was heartened by that,” said Ketchikan independent Rep. Dan Ortiz. “But it was not quite as energetic as I would have liked to seen.”
There was no specific mention of mining in the governor’s letter. Lawmakers had raised concerns over the roughly dozen B.C. mines that are permitted, operating or lie abandoned in shared watersheds with Southeast Alaska.
Last year Gov. Walker had urged B.C. to require mine operators post reclamation bonds before work starts. That’s in line with Alaska regulations designed to ensure mining companies can afford to pay for clean up later. It’s also insurance toward catastrophes.
Environmental and fishing groups on both sides of the border have been pushing B.C. reform its mining regulations for years.
Jill Weitz is with Salmon Beyond Borders in Juneau.
“There’s a need for financial assurances, essentially liability and accountability, to be placed on the B.C. mining industry for impacts to our shared water,” said Jill Weitz with Salmon Beyond Borders in Juneau. “As opposed to the communities of Southeast Alaska having to pay the burden of those impacts from their mining practices.”
Gov. Dunleavy’s letter didn’t get into specifics. But it said a teleconference between his cabinet and B.C. ministers is planned for June 18.
By Alex McCarthy, Tuesday April 30th
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Jill Weitz is the executive director of Salmon State. Weitz is the campaign director of Salmon Beyond Borders. The article has been changed to reflect that.
Experts from both sides of the Alaska-British Columbia border agreed Tuesday that the British Columbia government is not preparing well enough for possible future mining disasters.
Eight people testified to the House Fisheries Committee on Tuesday at the Capitol, all of them urging including Jason Dion from Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission (an organization that looks to promote economic and environmental prosperity). Dion’s presentation centered around how the provincial government doesn’t have a financial assurance policy for mining disasters — in other words, a mining company might not have to pay for the whole cost of an environmental cleanup.
“When a company knows it might not bear all of the cost of a risk imposed or the harm it might cause, it has less of an economic incentive to reduce that risk,” Dion, who testified by phone, said. “From our perspective, that’s a really, really important shortcoming.”
For Alaska — which has more stringent mining standards than British Columbia — that’s a big deal. Chris Sergeant, a research scientist at the University of Montana who is based in Alaska, gave a presentation to the committee running through Southeast Alaska watershed statistics. The presentation stated that almost 90 percent of Southeast Alaska households use salmon in some capacity, a number that he said underscores the importance of caring for the region’s rivers.
He also showed that 19 percent of the drainage area in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers’ watersheds is covered by mining claims and leases. He showed that 59 percent of the land area in the Unuk River watershed is covered by mining claims and leases.
Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, asked during the meeting why there are so many mining projects in British Columbia that have popped up in recent years. Jill Weitz, campaign director of Salmon Beyond Borders, answered her by saying the completion of the Northwest Transmission Line in 2014 brought electricity to the region of northwest British Columbia.
Weitz pointed out that only about 2,000 people live in that region of British Columbia, compared to the 75,000 people living in Southeast. “Many folks consider that part of B.C. the middle of nowhere, where we maintain that it is the center of everything for us,” Weitz said. “So you have power generating to a very mineral-rich region and not many people there to have a voice and organize around.”
The main example used throughout Tuesday’s meeting was the Mount Polley Mine, which became well known in 2014 after the dam on its tailings pond broke and dumped years of mining waste into nearby Polley Lake and rivers in the watershed. Imperial Metals, which owns the Mount Polley Mine and others in B.C., is in dire financial straits and many environmental organizations are worried that Imperial could end up declaring bankruptcy and walking away from its mines without paying for the cleanup.
Tuesday’s hearing was set up in part because 22 Alaska lawmakers signed a letter April 9 asking Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to continue the Transboundary Working Group. The group, established by former Gov. Bill Walker and former British Columbia Premier Christy Clark in 2015, aims to transparently share information and best practices, collaborate on data gathering and research, and to discuss draft permits and authorizations.
Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak and chair of the House Fisheries Committee, said at the end of Tuesday’s meeting that she’s looking to pen her own letter to the administration about this issue. The letter will carry a similar tone to the April 9 letter, asking the administration to engage with Alaskans and with the state’s congressional delegation and carry on the work of the previous administration on finding ways to protect the region’s watersheds.
She said she hopes to send it with the support of the rest of the committee. The Dunleavy administration didn’t immediately respond to an email for comment on where transboundary mining issues rank on the governor’s priority list.
“It’s not about resource development versus conservation,” Stutes said. “We are simply asking our neighbors across the border to adhere to best and safe practices in mining in our shared watersheds, which is clearly something they have a poor track record with.”
Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak and chair of the House Fisheries Committee, speaks during a meeting about transboundary mining on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)
By Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska April 24, 2019
State lawmakers from both the House and Senate are urging the Dunleavy administration to continue the state’s engagement with British Columbia over pollution threats from transboundary mining.
Twenty-two legislators sent a letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer earlier this month calling on them to continue efforts that began with their predecessors.
The Bilateral Working Group on the Protection of Transboundary Waters was established in 2015 by then-Gov. Bill Walker and B.C. Premier Christy Clark.
It’s since met three times. This year it’s Alaska’s turn to host the meeting with a teleconference slated for mid-June.
Republicans, Democrats and independents from both houses signed the letter. It notes that a dozen large-scale, open pit and metal mines are either permitted, operating or lie abandoned in transboundary watersheds that flow into Southeast Alaska.
“Without proper management in place to evaluate the potential cumulative effects of multiple mining projects and without robust financial assurances for the projects,” the letter states, “these Canadian mining developments threaten to permanently impact the water resources and economic drivers of Southeast Alaska.”
Gov. Walker’s administration had urged B.C. to require new mines to post a full reclamation bond to cover the cost of cleanup and closure. The letter urges these efforts to continue.
The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
By Claire Stremple, KHNS-Haines April 18, 2019
Two of the nation’s 10 most endangered rivers are in Southeast Alaska.
That’s according to American Rivers, a conservation group opposed to mining and energy development in wilderness areas.
Kimberley Strong is president of the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan. Her village sits on the Chilkat River, recently named the sixth-most endangered river in the nation by American Rivers.
“When you look around the village here, and we’re on the banks of the Chilkat River, you’ll see just in eye shot here there’s two smokehouses to my right, three smokehouses to my left,” Strong said while standing on a bank of the Chilkat River in front of her home.
“This is really a big part of our livelihood, is traditional food gathering. The salmon that runs in the Chilkat River has been part of our life for thousands of years. To endanger that is life-threatening to us,” she said.
Klukwan is one of the longest continually-inhabited places in North America. The name means “eternal village.” The Tlingit have lived on this river for thousands of years, feeding off the rich salmon runs. But Strong said mining upstream could pose an existential threat to all that.
“This is a food sovereignty issue,” she said. “It’s having access to the natural resources that are around us.” Strong said in Klukwan, the Chilkat is more than a river: It’s the history of a people and their food source. That’s why she’s fighting for the resource.
Photographers take pictures of eagles feeding on salmon in the Chilkat River. The river flows through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. (Photo by Emily Files/KHNS)
American Rivers, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., has been releasing its “America’s Most Endangered Rivers” report for over three decades. Communications Director Amy Kober said the purpose of their annual endangered rivers list is to raise national awareness about rivers they consider to be threatened.
“It’s powerful because it’s a call to action. This report showcases 10 rivers facing urgent threats,” Kober said. “These rivers aren’t the worst rivers in the country or the most polluted rivers in the country, but they are rivers really at a crossroads.”
Kober said people have taken action on behalf of rivers they’ve highlighted in the past. She said attention generated by the report helped spare the Hoback River in Wyoming from nearby natural gas development, and it helped spur cleanup actions on the St. Lawrence River in New York and Canada.
The Chilkat River is one of two Southeast Alaska rivers listed in the 2019 report. The Stikine River, which flows out of British Columbia and empties near Wrangell, is 10th.
Both are listed for the same reason: mining development.
On the Chilkat, Constantine Metal Resources is a Canadian company with exploratory permits for a potential mine in the upper watershed. The company has said any future operation would be safe and bring good jobs to the region. A message left with Constantine’s Haines office wasn’t immediately returned.
Not everyone is convinced. Gershon Cohen of Alaska Clean Water Advocacy lives in Haines. He said that Constantine’s Palmer Project would store mine waste that could threaten the ecology.
“There is just too much history of large mines polluting public waters and destroying fishery resources, that we felt this can’t be ignored,” Cohen said.
The Chilkat has runs of all five salmon species that are caught by sport anglers for subsistence and commercial use. It also flows through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, where those fish feed one of the largest gatherings of bald eagles in the world every fall.
The Stikine River Delta, as seen from the air. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)
American Rivers says the Stikine River faces similar threats. Like the Chilkat River, the Stikine is in an active seismic zone — it flows over the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault. There’s a working mine at its headwaters over the border: The Red Chris mine is operated by Imperial Metals, the same company responsible for a massive tailings dam failure at Mount Polley mine in 2014.
Transboundary mining has long been a source of contention between Alaska and British Columbia. Critics say Alaska stands to receive pollution downstream but none of the economic gains from the mine.
The Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission has accused the province of British Columbia of violating the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, which prohibits the United States and Canada from polluting each other’s waters.
Kimberley Strong on the banks of the Chilkat River by her home. (Photo by Claire Stremple/KHNS)
Klukwan, on the banks of the Chilkat River, has about 100 residents. Strong said she’s glad Chilkat is recognized nationally as a treasure worth protecting.
But for her, it’s not just a cause — it’s home.
“To hear that other people are now raising up and recognizing the threats that a mine could have on our life here in the valley is heartwarming. And, really, kind of scary, this recognition that it is being threatened. That experts believe it’s being threatened is something to listen to,” she said.
Doyle Rice, USA TODAY Published 8:00 a.m. ET April 16, 2019 | Updated 2:24 p.m. ET April 16, 2019
Sure, we know about endangered species, but did you know there are endangered rivers, too?
Environmental group American Rivers released its annual list of the USA's top 10 "most endangered" rivers Tuesday, and this year, the top "dishonor" goes to New Mexico’s Gila River. The river got the top spot due to the grave threat that climate change and a proposed diversion project pose to New Mexico’s last free-flowing river.
"New Mexicans can’t afford to dry up their last wild river,” said Matt Rice, Colorado Basin director for American Rivers. “Ruining the Gila River with an expensive diversion project doesn’t make sense when there are better, more cost-effective water supply options.”
These rivers aren't the nation's "worst" or most polluted rivers. According to American Rivers, three factors put rivers on the list: the significance of the river to human and natural communities; the magnitude of the threat to the river and its nearby communities, especially in light of a changing climate; and a major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year.
“Climate change is striking rivers and water supplies first and hardest,” said Bob Irvin, President and CEO of American Rivers, in a statement. “America’s Most Endangered Rivers is a call to action. We must speak up and take action, because climate change will profoundly impact every river and community in our country."
In addition to the 10 most troubled rivers, American Rivers also named the Cuyahoga River in Ohio as the "River of the Year." The title celebrates the progress Cleveland has made in cleaning up the Cuyahoga, 50 years after the river’s infamous fire that helped spark the USA's environmental movement.
American Rivers has been compiling an annual list of the nation's most endangered rivers since 1984.
Here is the list of American Rivers' top 10 most Endangered Rivers.
1. Gila River, New Mexico
2. Hudson River, New York
3. Upper Mississippi River, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri
4. Green-Duwamish River, Washington
5. Willamette River, Oregon
6. Chilkat River, Alaska
7. South Fork Salmon River, Idaho
8. Buffalo National River, Arkansas
9. Big Darby Creek, Ohio
10. Stikine River, Alaska
Strategy recommends increased hatchery production, seal cull, falls short on habitat protection: Skeena Wild
By Nelson Bennett, Business in Vancouver | March 8, 2019, 3:33pm
Strategy focuses largely on impacts on coastal communities hurt by a decline in commercial fishing and processing, like this cannery in Prince Rupert that shut down in 2015.| BIV ArchivesThe B.C. government’s new wild salmon strategy is a missed opportunity, says the executive director of Skeena Wild Conservation Trust, because it does not contain strong enough measures in the one area where the province has jurisdiction: habitat protection.
And the BC Wildlife Federation is concerned that, if the government adopts recommendations of the Wild Salmon Advisory Council, B.C. may follow Alaska on an over-reliance on hatchery production – something which itself may be one of the problems contributing to decreases of certain wild stock species.
It also fears that the report appears to support selective culling of seals and sea lions.
The government-appointed Wild Salmon Advisory Council has submitted its final recommendations for addressing a decline in wild salmon stocks to the provincial government.
It makes 13 recommendations, with three main goals:
• increase wild salmon abundance;
• protect and enhance economic, social and cultural benefits from wild salmon and other fisheries; and
• engage citizens and governments in stewardship and management of B.C.'s wild salmon.
The province is limited in what it can do to protect or bolster salmon stocks, since that is largely a federal jurisdiction.
The one area where it does have power is in protecting salmon habitat in streams, lakes and riparian areas.
But Greg Knox, executive director, Skeena Wild Conservation Trust, said the recommendations falls short in that regard.
The report does contain recommendations for habitat protection and restoration. One recommendation is “actively enforcing existing provincial laws and regulations.”
In other words, the province already has laws for habitat protection that apparently aren’t being enforced.
Knox had hoped to see stronger statutory measures recommended that would require decision-makers in ministries that deal with forestry, mining and industrial to place greater emphasis on salmon habitat protection.
“For decades, the federal government has been managing salmon, but they have had no authority over protecting their habitat,” Knox said. “That’s fallen under the province, yet the province has never had a strategy to protect salmon habitat. So this was a key opportunity to deal with that issue, and this panel has failed to do that.
“They’ve focused instead on industry – so the commercial and sport fishing industries – and boosting production through hatcheries, which harm wild salmon.”
Al Martin, a director for the BC Wildlife Federation, says some of the recommendations in the strategy around habitat protection and restoration is “very good.”
But he shares Knox’s concern that one of the tools being suggested for bolstering salmon stocks is “enhancement” – i.e. salmon hatcheries.
There is mounting evidence that the massive amounts of pink and chum salmon produced by commercial hatcheries in Alaska is having a negative impact on other wild salmon species.
Increasing hatchery production in B.C. would simply increase competition with wild salmon, and result in reduced genetic diversity, Martin said.
“I think the North Pacific is seeing the effects of international efforts to improve returns of salmon – particularly pink salmon and chum salmon – and there may be issues of over-stocking," Martin said.
It is particularly worrisome if the goal is to boost stocks that are more commercially valuable, like sockeye and pink, rather than species like chinook.
Martin said small-scale hatcheries to enhance certain stocks that are threatened is reasonable, but said larger scale “ocean ranching” to boost stocks for commercial purposes is a bad idea.
He also has concerns over a recommendation that selective culling of seals and sea lions be considered "where pinniped populations or problem animals are threatening wild salmon rebuilding efforts."
There has recently been a push, including among First Nations, to reduce the sea lion and seal population in order to address dwindling Chinook populations, which has largely contributed to a decline in the Southern Resident Killer whale.
Martin said seals are prey for transient killer whales. So a cull that is intended to protect one type of killer whale could have a negative impact on another type, he said.
“So are you going to control seals and accept the consequences of reducing populations of endangered (transient) killer whales?” Martin asked.
“There’s a lot of good things in the report,” he said. “But I think that some of the emphasis is misguided, particularly in terms of ocean ranching, predator control and the whole lack of an eco-system approach based on good scientific evidence.”
Murkowski Interior Bill Secures Big Wins for AlaskaProvides Economic Boost, Needed Investment in Health, Safety, and Lands
United States Senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski, Press Release February 14, 2019
Both the Senate and House today passed a seven-bill appropriations package containing funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. The package included U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) Interior-Environment bill, which passed both chambers and is a negotiated agreement that addresses a range of challenges, needs, and opportunities in Alaska. Senator Murkowski, chairman of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, secured provisions to strengthen Alaska’s economy, improve water and wastewater infrastructure, and create safer and healthier communities across the state.
The seven-bill funding package combines the FY 2019 Appropriations bills for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration; Commerce, Justice, Science; Financial Services and General Government; Homeland Security; Interior and Environment; State and Foreign Operations; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.
“Plain and simple, this bill helps ensure the health, well-being, and safety of Alaskans. In a time of fiscal uncertainty, it is pivotal that we provide stability where Alaskans need it most— in our communities and in our economy,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m proud of what we’ve done with this bill to empower Alaskans to fight back against the opioid epidemic, provide for vital services, develop new infrastructure, and improve our ability to prevent and respond to natural disasters. This bill is a significant investment in the livelihood of all Alaskans and will have a lasting impact on our state.”
Click here for a full list of Alaska-related provisions and funding levels in the Interior-Environment bill.
Water and Wastewater Infrastructure
The bill provides $2.8 billion to improve wastewater and drinking water systems through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) State Water Revolving Funds program and $25 million for a new grant program, to help bring basic water and sewer infrastructure to communities in need. The bill also includes $25 million for EPA’s Alaska Native Villages Water program for the construction of new drinking water and wastewater systems, or the improvement of existing systems in rural Alaskan communities. In an effort to provide infrastructure upgrades for tribal communities throughout Alaska, funding is maintained at $192 million for the Indian Health Service’s (IHS) Sanitation Facilities Construction program, providing American Indian and Alaska Native homes and communities with essential water supply, sewage disposal, and solid waste disposal facilities.
The bill provides funding for important programs that help emergency responders respond to and inform the public about natural hazards and disasters. Funding for the earthquakes hazard program will allow Alaska to develop and enhance earthquake monitoring capabilities. The bill also includes $30.2 million for the U.S. Geological Survey’s volcano hazards program.
Preventing and Responding to Wildfires
The bill fully funds the 10-year average cost of our nation’s wildfire suppression needs, and provides additional resources to the Forest Service in the event of catastrophic wildfires. Murkowski also increased investments in the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service for preventative measures that can be made in advance of wildfire season, such as hazardous fuels reduction and fuel breaks.
The bill maintains funding for Alaska mapping initiatives at $7.7 million, which will help gather data to improve maps, enhancing the safety of activities such as aviation.
Payment in Lieu of Taxes
Provides $500 million, full funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which provides monetary compensation to local governments throughout Alaska that contain federal lands that are not subject to state or local taxation. The revenue helps local governments provide vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, search-and-rescue operations, and the construction of public schools and roads.
Maintains Tribal Court funding at $13 million to Public Law 280 states, such as Alaska, in order to help develop tribal court systems for communities. Provides $2 million for training and specific VAWA tribal court needs. Through the Small and Needy Tribes program, direct support is provided to ensure all tribes have a base level of support to run tribal governments –Alaska receives the largest share of this funding. $15 million is provided for the Tiwahe Initiative program to help communities design a comprehensive approach for the delivery of social services and justice programs.
Health and Wellness
Fighting Abuse and Addiction
The bill establishes a new grant program through Indian Health Service (IHS) which provides $10 million to help tribes fight back against opioid abuse, $8.2 million is provided through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), to fight opioid addiction. To help address the problem of opioid over-prescription, the bill requires a report on both federal and tribal pharmacy compliance with state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.
The bill also contains significant resources that will help combat domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide. Increased funding, totaling $245 million, is included for alcohol and substance abuse prevention programs aimed at increasing behavioral health services and prevention programming for tribal youth and incorporating more holistic healthcare models. Funding increases included in the last fiscal year’s funding bill are maintained for substance abuse disorders, mental health disorders, suicide, violence, and behavior-related chronic diseases among American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Healing through the Arts
Supports the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Healing Arts Program, developed by the NEA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to help our nation’s wounded and injured service members and their families in their transition into civilian life. In 2016, Senator Murkowski announced that Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) was selected as a new site to offer the creative art therapy program to help returning service members in dealing with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and other health conditions.
Improving Healthcare Facilities
The bill provides the fully projected need for staffing of new facilities, including $57.3 million for a new facility operated by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel.
Through the Small Ambulatory Clinics program, the bill provides $15 million to make infrastructure improvements to provide healthcare delivery to Alaska Natives. The bill provides $36 million for Village Built Clinics and other tribally leased facilities providing healthcare under the Indian Self Determination Act. The Village Built Clinic program is unique to Alaska and supports approximately 150 healthcare clinics in rural areas, many of which require intensive maintenance and often serve as the only health facility and source of medical care in the respective region. The bill also includes increases to provide for the construction, maintenance, and improvement of sanitation facilities and healthcare facility construction.
Caring for Our Youth
For the first time, the bill provides funding for the Commission on Native Children created to identify the complex challenges facing Native children in Alaska and across the country by conducting an intensive study on issues such as high rates of poverty, unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and dire economic conditions. Senator Murkowski, along with former Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, sponsored legislation which created the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children.
Fulfilling Federal Promises
The IHS and BIA play a vital role in Alaska. Murkowski’s bill fulfills the federal promises made to Alaska Natives by allocating full funding for Contract Support Costs, the operational costs of tribes to deliver services including federal Indian health programs.
Construction and Deferred Maintenance
The bill prioritizes infrastructure improvements on our nation’s public lands. Both the construction and deferred maintenance budgets continue to receive increases to address the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog, building upon their historic increases from the year prior. These are priorities for our national parks, as maintaining park infrastructure is key to both local visitors and the tourism sector. The bill also increases funding for Forest Service recreation activities – including cabins, trails, and recreation – and provides more resources for special use permitting programs that allow certain businesses to operate in Alaska’s national forests.
Cleaning Up Contaminated Lands
Dozens of exploration wells and core tests that were drilled by the federal government decades ago remain abandoned in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. This bill provides $9.5 million for legacy well cleanup, and further directs the Bureau of Land Management to craft a long-term funding plan to complete the clean-up of the wells within ten years.
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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