This year has been a big one for the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign.
All of your emails, phone calls, and testimonies have contributed directly to some big actions in 2019 that move us closer to establishing binding protections for the rivers, jobs, and way of life in Southeast Alaska and Northwest British Columbia (B.C.). We have a lot of work to do in the year ahead and look forward to staying connected throughout the region.
It was difficult to do, but here is what we have narrowed down as the top five highlights from 2019...
5. U.S. Federal Dollars Granted for Water Quality Testing in U.S.-B.C. Rivers
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and the Interior-Environment Appropriations sub-committee directed $1.8 million to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for the installation and operation of stream gauges in U.S. rivers shared with British Columbia (B.C.). USGS will work with Tribes and state agencies to carry out this very important work for Alaska and other U.S. states that share a border with B.C. (Washington, Idaho, and Montana). The goal is to establish defensible baseline water quality information, which will enable the U.S. to detect water quality changes at the international border shared with British Columbia.
4. Imperial Metals: Skagit River Exploration, No Charges for Mount Polley Disaster
In March of 2019, Imperial Metals sold 70% of its shares of the Red Chris mine in the Sacred Headwaters of the Stikine River to Australian mining giant Newcrest Metals. Shortly after the buyout, Imperial Metals applied for an exploratory mining permit in the headwaters of the transboundary, salmon-bearing Skagit River, which flows from British Columbia across the international border into Washington state. The Skagit serves as the largest producer of Chinook salmon for the Puget Sound and Southern Resident Killer Whale population--and is a key source of power for the City of Seattle.
August 4th, 2019 marked the five-year anniversary of Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine waste dam failure into the Fraser River watershed, and also marked the deadline for Canada to pursue charges against Imperial Metals under the Federal Fisheries Act — a deadline that came and went. At this time, no charges have been filed against Imperial Metals. Despite significant opposition from Tribes and First Nations, stakeholders, U.S. lawmakers, Governor Inslee, and the City of Seattle, the B.C. government is still considering whether to grant Imperial Metals a permit for mining exploration in the Skagit River headwaters.
3. British Columbia Policy and Legislation: Continued Pressure & New Opportunities
In May, 30 organizations launched the B.C. Mining Reform Coalition. The coalition represents nearly 30 local, provincial and national organizations from a wide range of sectors, including stakeholders, First Nations, and legal experts, including Salmon Beyond Borders. Learn more about the efforts to Reform B.C. Mining Law here.
Last month, British Columbia became the first Canadian province to pass legislation implementing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The legislation passed unanimously. It will take some time to ensure all B.C. laws are consistent with the 46 articles of UNDRIP, as called for by this legislation, but passage of this legislation is sure to have far-reaching impacts in B.C. and beyond for years to come.
At the end of 2018, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission filed a petition alleging human rights violations from B.C. transboundary mines. B.C.’s recent legislation regarding UNDRIP, including the requirement that developers seek the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of Indigenous people, is an important step forward. However, the provincial government has yet to acknowledge the rights and requests of Tribes on the U.S. side of the border, whose ways of life are threatened by operating, abandoned and proposed large-scale Canadian mines upstream.
Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission also led the effort to ensure the Stikine River was recognized as one of “America's Most Endangered Rivers” in 2019.
2. Mine Waste Dam Standards Under Global Review After Multiple Dam Failures
Following the Mount Polley disaster in 2014, there have been over 20 major mine tailings dam failures worldwide. This year alone, hundreds of people were killed in mine waste dump disasters. The second catastrophic mine waste dam failure in Brazil in just over three years, at Vale’s Brumadinho mine, killed over 200 people in January. These disasters have focused attention on a growing global concern: the lack of global tailings dam standards for the mining industry. Never before has so much scrutiny been placed on the global mining industry and tailings waste dam standards.
The official report on the Mount Polley mine disaster concluded that an average of two mine waste dam failures will occur every 10 years in British Columbia alone--though there have been multiple failures in the last five years worldwide. In northern British Columbia there are over 35 existing mine waste dumps, including the massive Red Chris mine tailings dam near the Stikine River. Dozens more mine tailings dams are proposed in the headwaters of our shared transboundary salmon rivers.
With all of the global attention on the mining industry's lack of tailings dam standards, will British Columbia look to improving theirs? The Reform B.C. Mining Coalition has suggestions for where the provincial government should start.
1. Eight U.S. Senators Send Letter to B.C. Premier Horgan, IJC Visits Alaska & B.C.
Last June, in an unprecedented and bipartisan effort, all eight U.S. senators from the four U.S. states bordering B.C. — Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana — urged B.C. Premier John Horgan to recognize that contamination from upstream B.C. mining in shared U.S.-Canada rivers threatens United States businesses, citizens and resources. In a press release following the letter, Senator Murkowski said:
“This letter shows solidarity from our states and calls for greater protections for our transboundary watersheds. Reforms that ensure mining projects in British Columbia don’t impact Southeast Alaska are essential to protecting our way of life, and must include a system of financial assurances to assure sustained protections of vulnerable natural resources.”
Following the letter to Premier Horgan, at the invitation of Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan, four members of the International Joint Commission (IJC), an organization that works to prevent and resolve disputes under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, visited Southeast Alaska to meet with Tribes, government officials, stakeholders, and industry members about their transboundary mining concerns.
All six members of the IJC visited Victoria, B.C. in early December but only met with provincial officials and members of industry, and not with the diversity of people with whom the IJC met in Alaska.
THANK YOU for all of your support this year!
Take action - add your name here to urgent letters for the U.S. State Department and Global Affairs Canada.
Stay up to date on our NEW SBB Community Calendar and Events Page — we look forward to seeing you in the new year! Reach out to us anytime; we always love to hear from you.
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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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