Over the last four years of the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign, we’ve seen a groundswell of support throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Resolutions from dozens of Alaska municipalities and Tribes, and the calls from tens of thousands of local citizens, have driven engagement at all levels of government throughout the region and in Washington, D.C..
But as Alaskans downstream face a ticking clock, new B.C. transboundary mine projects have progressed from exploration to development and two have begun operations. On August 4, 2014, Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine tailings dam failed, releasing 24 million cubic meters of tailings waste into the Fraser River watershed. Less than one year later in 2015, the same company that operates Mt. Polley was authorized by the B.C. government to begin operations at its Red Chris mine in the Stikine-Iskut watershed, using the same kind of wet tailings storage technology that resulted in the Mt. Polley mine disaster. The State of Alaska, Alaska Tribes, and downstream municipalities were not notified or involved in the permitting of this project, regardless of the fact that the Red Chris mine tailings storage facility is seven times the size of Mt. Polley’s and holds back acid generating materials. In 2017 Brucejack mine began operations in the Unuk river watershed, which also is the proposed site for the acid-generating Kerr-Sulphurets Mitchell (KSM) project, owned by Seabridge Gold. KSM would be the largest open-pit mine in Canada, located only 30 kilometers from the Alaska - B.C. border.
Although experts like those who comprised the expert panel to review the Mt. Polley tailings dam failure, and the B.C. Auditor General, have all claimed that mining practices in British Columbia must improve, business continues as usual.
It’s time to ramp up our efforts and work with our neighboring communities… so Salmon Beyond Borders is officially going international!
Meet our new B.C. organizers, Celine Trojand and Mary Leighton!
Northwest B.C. is in the midst of a mining boom. One that’s happening out of the public eye, yet in one of the most pristine regions of the province. The Taku, Stikine, and Unuk rivers create intact watersheds that are critical habitat for some of the world’s most valuable salmon runs and wildlife. On the U.S. side of the border, these rivers are designated as National Monuments, National Forests, and wilderness areas with special protections. On the Canadian side of the border, these systems have no such protection and are being developed by a mining industry that the U.N. ranks as the second worst in the world, right behind China. And did you know that B.C. taxpayers are the ones who have to pay when disaster strikes on the BC side of the border?! British Columbians have already paid $40 million toward initial clean up of the Mt. Polley mine disaster, and that’s just scratching the surface of what needs to be done.
Here’s what we want: Binding international agreements between Canada, the U.S. and Indigenous Nations that address: financial liability, joint funding for ongoing water quality monitoring, and transparency in the permitting process across all jurisdictions.
Salmon Beyond Borders is working to educate and empower Alaska and B.C. communities to defend and sustain our rivers, jobs, and way of life.
To do that, we’re going to need support on both sides of the AK-B.C. border.
Share this blog post with your friends in BC, talk to your neighbors about this issue, invite them to check out our website and video and encourage them to add their name to our letter to Canadian and U.S. officials.
Interested in volunteering with us in B.C.? Contact Celine and Mary.
Mary Leighton is a third generation Vancouverite. She grew up sailing around the British Columbia coast, collecting sea grass and dropping crab traps. She was living abroad when in 2014 Prime Minister Stephen Harper approved the Enbridge oil pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to the B.C. coast. She saw science being ignored and local communities being overruled, but she also saw the possibility of British Columbians coming together and successfully defending their province (which they did!). Mary moved back to Vancouver and started a new path in community organizing, volunteer training, and politics.
Now Mary is excited about the growing solidarity among people in the Pacific Northwest to defend the sacred places and the resources that have sustained people here for thousands of years – fresh water and wild salmon. She will be focusing her energies on raising awareness of "out of sight, out of mind" risks and developing local leaders in Southwestern B.C. She looks forward to connecting with people and building relationships for the long run.
Email Mary: firstname.lastname@example.org
Celine Trojand grew up on the prairies of Northeast BC but in 2009 she found her sea legs on board an old wooden fishing boat in the Douglas channel, travelling the proposed crude oil tanker route for the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal. The boat smelled like tar and the weather got a bit rough but she caught her first salmon and attended a feast in Hartley Bay. What enduring love doesn’t start with food?
After her trip she committed (with the salmon as witness) to work with communities in defence of our land, air and water. In the decade since she’s made good on her promise and organized, trained, acted and strategized with dozens of BC’s most effective conservation groups. She’s learned that organized people can overcome anything – dysfunctional democracies, corporate agendas, social isolation and even foolhardy Texan business men. She’ll be focusing on building SBB support in Northwest BC and northern Vancouver Island.
Last year Celine moved to Kitwanga where she’s building a little house and dreaming of a day when our rivers are secure and abundant and she can finally run a small sled dog team.
Email Celine: email@example.com
In a year that otherwise felt politically divisive, Alaskans spoke with one voice on the issue of upstream Canadian mines threatening shared AK-B.C. transboundary salmon rivers.
We ended 2017 with a long-awaited letter from the State of Alaska and the entire Alaska congressional delegation to the U.S. State Department - an unprecedented and powerful show of unity on behalf of our rivers. Thank you for making this a reality. In their official response, the U.S. State Department acknowledged the concerns of Alaskans and outlined the steps they are taking to address those concerns. This international problem requires international solutions and with your help, we will hold them accountable to ensure these steps become real action.
We want to hear from you! Please take our one-minute survey to help us keep you up-to-date: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/N8XR279
In 2017, we had the chance to meet with many of you in person. You told us how important wild, healthy salmon and their productive habitat are to your way of life, and we heard through your stories the love you have for these rivers. It was only with your support that we all achieved so much last year, including...
In 2018, we’re going to keep pushing. We will travel to D.C. and B.C. to work with government leaders and to keep the heat on. We will continue to amplify this issue through our partnership with other states, including Montana, Washington, and Idaho, and our partners in B.C. And most of all, we will continue to work closely with you to defend our shared rivers, jobs, and way of life.
We want to hear from you! Please take our one-minute survey to help us keep you up-to-date: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/N8XR279
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.
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.
Connect with us
Provide your email to get updates on the campaign.