On August 4th, 2014, Mt. Polley mine’s tailings dam failed and released 6.6 billion gallons of toxic mine waste into British Columbia’s (B.C.’s) Fraser River watershed, just as the sockeye salmon were returning. An independent investigation of the spill found that the kind of earthen tailings dam used was fundamentally flawed - and that dams of these kind could be expected to fail twice every ten years. This same kind of tailings dam is currently used by Mt. Polley’s sister mine, the Red Chris Mine, in the Stikine River watershed upstream of Wrangell, Alaska.
Three years later, no charges or fines have resulted from the largest mining disaster in Canadian history. The minimal clean-up completed has been subsidized by the B.C. government and taxpayers, at an estimated $31.5 million in clean-up costs, which inspectors tied to “poor practices” and “non-compliance” as noted in the Bowker/Chambers report.
In addition, B.C.’s two-year audit of the B.C. Ministry of Environment and the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines, released in May of 2016, found that “almost all of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program were not met. As a result, monitoring and inspections of mines were inadequate to ensure mine operators complied with requirements.”
Lack of oversight, minimal financial liability, and a push to build new mines in B.C. has created a lethal combination for the transboundary salmon rivers of Southeast Alaska. Our neighbors in B.C. will feel the impacts of the Mt. Polley mine disaster forever - there is no clean-up that could ever return the Fraser River watershed to how it was before the Mt. Polley mine disaster.
“Our neighbors in B.C. will feel the impacts of the Mt. Polley mine disaster forever - there is no clean-up that could ever return the Fraser River watershed to how it was before the Mt. Polley mine disaster.”
Imagine such a disaster happening in the Taku River watershed upstream of Juneau, the Stikine River watershed, or the Unuk River watershed near Ketchikan. All three of these major salmon-producing rivers have Canadian mines either in exploration, development, or operation. And, if history serves, these mines will have little safety measures and no steps in place to protect Alaskans if something goes wrong.
You would think that after seeing the devastation of the Mt. Polley mine disaster, that the B.C. government would take action to protect their citizens, salmon, and land from such an event ever happening again. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Nothing has changed three years later and B.C.’s inaction continues to put Alaskans at risk.
There is no financial benefit for Alaskans when it comes to Canadian mines - only risk. We need your help to get that message out - we’re rallying voices at all levels:
With the three year anniversary approaching, we honor and remember those impacted by the disaster at Mount Polley and vow to continue doing our part to ensure this devastation will not happen again.
Hi! My name is Erin Heist, and I'm a salmon lover. In April I started working for our Southeast Alaskan salmon with the Salmon Beyond Borders team as the new outreach coordinator. We've had a lot going on with Salmon Beyond Borders this summer, so even though I've only been in the job for three months, you may have already read some of my emails, met me on the docks, seen me in the 4th of July parade, or liked one of my pictures on Instagram.
I'm a Southeast girl through and through. Born in Ketchikan, raised in Juneau, I am a die-hard advocate for our Southeast Alaskan way of life. And wild, healthy salmon are at the heart of what it means to love this place. Whether you live in the big city of Juneau or you're a year-rounder in Angoon, salmon shape your life. They fuel the people, the animals, and even the land through the nutrients they provide to our forest.
I sometimes find it difficult to explain to friends and family in the lower 48 what it feels like to be of a place like Alaska. Like a lot of Southeast Alaskans, my fridge, freezer, and pantry is full of food I hunted, fished, and foraged (which I blog about at foodabe.com). We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, in a landscape that not only inspires, but provides and sustains us. There's a fashion right now for locally-sourced, organic, natural, non-GMO, wild foods. For once, we Alaskans are on the cutting edge, because we've always known the intense connection and thankfulness that comes from the intimacy of harvesting our own food.
In the office the other day we were talking about 'salmon love stories.' I'm not sure I have one grand love story to salmon, more like lots of little stories. The magic I felt as a kid when my dad would fillet a just-caught salmon and let us hold that still beating chestnut of a heart; the first time I hooked a bright silver on a fly rod, the hen bursting from the water to try and shake me off; the rich distinct smell of low-tide in spawning season, awful and wonderful at the same time; the taste of the summer's first king shared with friends around a midnight bonfire.
This love for our salmon is what drives my work with Salmon Beyond Borders. It is unthinkable to me that some of the largest open-pit mines in the world are under development in the headwaters of some of our most important salmon rivers - we're talking Pebble Mine in our back yard. B.C.'s record is horrible, and after what we saw happen to the Fraser River watershed just three years ago when the Mt. Polley Mine disaster happened, we have to do do everything we can to defend our salmon rivers.
Braided channels and marshes twist and tangle across the Taku’s river valley. A thousand variations of green, brown, and blue, these intricate waterways make up some of the best salmon rearing habitat on the planet. Seven miles south of Juneau, the Taku River is the largest totally intact watershed on the Pacific Coast of North America. Home to all five species of Pacific salmon, as well as wolves, brown and black bears, moose, mountain goats, wolverine, and lynx, and just about every kind of migratory bird found in Southeast Alaska, the Taku watershed shines.
But just across the Canadian-U.S. border, on the banks of the Tulsequah River (main tributary to the Taku River), the Tulsequah Chief Mine’s dilapidated remains are leeching sickly red acid mine waste into this pristine river-system.
The Taku has been the traditional territory of the T’aaku Kwaan for millennia. Head up the Taku Inlet today and you’ll find Juneau-ites using the Taku for subsistence, sport fishing, and recreation. Commercial fishermen from Juneau and surrounding communities rely on the Taku’s massive salmon runs for their livelihoods, and tens of thousands of tourists come to marvel at the Taku’s wildlife and glacial landscape.
The Tulsequah Chief Mine hasn’t operated since the 1950s, so why is this site still not cleaned up, despite the acknowledged need?
Plain and simple.
B.C.’s alternate solution is to help the owner of Tulsequah Chief find yet another buyer, not to clean-up the site, but to re-open it and expand it. And then once they’re done mining, that new owner will clean up the site.
Let’s just say we’re feeling skeptical – especially given that the two most recent owners of the mine went bankrupt within a few years.
The Taku River is in Juneau’s backyard and belongs to all of us. We want our children and our children’s children to have the chance to pull in a net full of fighting sockeye salmon, to see a bull moose pick his way across a marsh, and to fly over the Taku and see nothing but beautiful clean water.
Take half a minute and sign on to let our local, state, and congressional elected officials know that you want them to stand up and defend our salmon rivers.
What just happened? How is it already the end of 2016?
Today is the Winter Solstice, perhaps my favorite holiday because it gives us pause. Pause to appreciate the gift of light (for real) and a sense of rebirth; solstice draws from new energies in the atmosphere which create transitions that I totally don’t even pretend to understand. But by all means, I do my best to embrace. This is starting to sound like one of my Mom’s holiday cards...
This past year was one of ups (seriously HUGE ups) and downs for the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign. For those of you I’ve not yet had the chance to meet, let me just say that I am a real human, and therefore intend to deliver this message as a real human would. I don’t always get to write these messages to you, our remarkable support crew, because I have colleagues that are way better at this kind of thing. However, I’ve been feeling the weight of the world as of late, and I absolutely wanted to take this opportunity to tell you, for real, how incredibly proud I am to be part of this campaign, this movement...this remarkable THING - with YOU.
From our meetings with the United States Department of State, to the United States Ambassador to Canada and subsequent Consulate Staff to meetings with the members of the University of Alaska Southeast Sustainability Club, I am humbled by the resonating call for action to protect the transboundary rivers of Southeast Alaska and the people dependant upon them.
I was asked to write about what I am most proud of for the campaign. That’s easy. YOU. We had numerous opportunities for the public to submit comments, sign petitions, send letters, eat and donate sustainable seafood, take pictures, watch movies, answer questions, etc. And you did. And you did it WELL. The support we are so fortunate to have garnered from our elected leaders is because you told them that this issue matters. That these rivers matter. These salmon matter. This is not just about our fishing communities - it’s about watersheds, the future, our food security. It’s about health and safety. It’s about governance. It’s about community. And we are so thankful to be part of this working community.
I was also asked recently about what will come of this issue in 2017 with the impending administration. Thankfully I had just had an insightful conversation with one of my best friends at Coppa in Juneau, and I now feel more prepared to answer.
My best and most honest answer: think globally, act locally.
Alaska: More than 7,000 Alaskans have signed onto our petition calling for international binding and enforceable protections for the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk transboundary rivers. Although this number is impressive - we know Alaskans can do better. Tell your friend, your neighbor, your deckhand - about this issue. Talk to them about ways we can better relay information to you - ways we can help each other reduce, reuse, and recycle - alternative energy sources - local food systems, including but not even limited to salmon! And no, I’m not pulling out the old play book here - this stuff really matters and is part of the bigger picture - part of the future.
United States: More than 25,000 Americans have signed onto our petition. Why do Americans care? Because they recognize how much ALASKANS VALUE sustainable seafood, quality of life, pristine environment, and clean water. And because governance matters. And Canada has not given us reason to trust that they VALUE what WE VALUE quite the same way. So again, tell your people. Tell your story. Tell them about Alaska.
2017 needs us. And I am ready. And we need you. We have some exciting things brewing with our partners in Alaska and in BC and we cannot wait to share them with you. Are you in Vancouver? Sweet, we’ll see you there, and with world-renowned chefs in tow. Are you in Southeast Alaska? Cool, join us at your upcoming community assembly meetings (dates and locations TBD). Are you somewhere far away - like my friend in Africa getting her PhD? Or on a commercial fishing vessel in the middle of the Bering Sea? We’ve got stuff for you, too (online, of course, silly). Southeast Feast with a new twist? Stay tuned.
Keep up with us on our website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter to learn what’s next and ways to get involved. Also, have you checked out our new swag? Our online store is back in action, ready to kick 2017 in the teeth.
Here’s to the new energies in the universe, the unknowns, and the knowns - like the fact that we’re all in this together - like we’ve already been. With the most sincere thanks I can muster - from the core of my being - I bid farewell to 2016, and tremble with might for 2017. It’s go time.
Salmon Beyond Borders
P.S. - My mom wishes you all a happy winter! :)
Looking back on the past year I find it very difficult to identify one story or moment that is emblematic of what I think was most meaningful or profound in the work of Salmon Beyond Borders. The thing that stands out to me most is the connections that have either been made or strengthened between people who care about protecting the rivers that sustain us and, ultimately, draw us together.
Thinking about this feels especially poignant to me after enduring a year whose end has been punctuated with politics that paint such strong pictures of division. For my own strength and psychological wellbeing, I have been looking to emphasize ways of finding common ground with those who I come into contact with and drawing closer to those I am already connected to in all aspects of my life and work.
Just today I found a passage that, I feel, exemplifies the kind of thinking that extends beyond the politics of people and reaches to the core of how minds and hearts can move toward finding solutions based on what we all experience as humans. The exercise of finding a passage of writing to share with co-workers as a gift to bring to each other led me to this:
“‘Love seems paramount to me. Seeing through the world, explaining it, despising it may be crucial to great thinkers. But all I care about is to be able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it or myself, to be able to view it and myself and all beings with love and admiration and awe.’”—Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Looking back at the past year I see people we have connected with because of their orientation around fish and water. They are part of a river of faces that is flowing together in time and our numbers are growing. This river of people brings gladness to me, makes my heart feel strong and full, and it brings me hope.
It is my wish that you feel a sense of hope and love in the New Year.
Salmon Beyond Borders
Organizer and Connector
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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