By Mary Catharine Martin
July 28, 2020
An adult Chinook salmon in Ship Creek. Photo by Ryan Hagerty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceA new study has found that the answer to Alaska’s Chinook salmon decline lies not just in the ocean, but also in freshwater rivers and streams — and that climate change’s effects on Alaska’s freshwater systems are affecting king salmon.
“The take-home message is that what happens in freshwater really matters to the strength of our salmon runs in Alaska,” said University of Alaska Fairbanks research scientist Erik Schoen. “In a lot of ways, that’s good news, because we have some control over freshwater conditions in our salmon streams.”
The study, led by the University of Alaska, with data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Cook Inletkeeper and with help from additional authors as well, focused on 15 Chinook populations in Cook Inlet over a span of almost three decades. It found that heavier than average rainfall in late summer and fall leads to fewer surviving Chinook — the rain moves gravel, which displaces eggs. Those findings may be relevant to other regions, even those, like Southeast Alaska, which are typically rainy in the fall, because the key is “above average” rainfall — different river systems are adapted and optimized to different conditions, Schoen said.
On the positive side, the study also found that higher-than-average summer rainfall during juvenile rearing was good for Chinook.
Water temperatures above 64 degrees Fahrenheit for a week or more in the summer during spawning decreased Chinook productivity. In 2019, a year of record heat for the state, Alaska’s salmon made international headlines when water temperatures in some rivers rose above 80 degrees and thousands of salmon died of heatstroke before they could spawn.
All of these things are happening more as climate change, which is warming Alaska at twice the global average, also changes Alaska’s rain, snowpack, and glacial melt — and, accordingly, the flow, timing and temperature of its rivers. Climate change is also increasing “extreme precipitation events” across the state.
Sue Mauger, Cook Inletkeeper’s science and executive director, has seen those effects firsthand. She started collecting temperature data in Cook Inlet streams in 2002. Each successive July surprised her, she said, as the temperatures she collected got warmer and warmer. Then Chinook began to decline, leading to a closure of the sport fishery and, in 2012, a disaster declaration for the commercial fishery. (A disaster was declared for the Yukon and Kuskokwim king salmon fisheries the same year.)
This year, with cooler temperatures in Cook Inlet streams, things are looking up: the Mat-Su basin, which has been closed for Chinook sportfishing for many years, is now open. The Deshka River also made its lower escapement goal and, with cooler temperatures during spawning, more of those salmon eggs are likely to survive.
Some potential ways to lessen the effects of climate change and bolster Chinook salmon’s chances, Schoen said, are revegetating river banks and the areas bordering rivers and streams; identifying and preserving cold water habitat; culvert replacement to help mitigate the effect of heavy fall rains; and green infrastructure in urban salmon run areas like Mat-Su or the Kenai.
“The patterns we’re seeing in this changing climate help us understand that as land managers, as people living on these landscapes, we want to avoid having an impact that would exacerbate some of these changing conditions,” Mauger said. “For example, we want to make sure we are not constraining the rivers so that when we have fall floods, they’re worse. If summer rains are good because they allow fish to get into side channels, we need to be sure we keep those side channels. This is basically showing us our vulnerabilities and making sure we don’t have an additive negative effect to some of these changing climate effects. And, of course, anything we can do related to keeping streams, particularly warmer streams, as cool as possible will help.”
Ocean conditions are still extremely important to what is happening to Chinook. A next step, Mauger said, will be to start to work with oceanographers, marine biologists and ocean scientists, and to quantify the interaction between climate-driven freshwater and marine habitat changes on Chinook populations.
“This paper is a great example of the value of long-term data sets,” Mauger said. “It’s a culmination of lots of people and lots of little efforts that can get us to a bigger understanding.”
Read the full paper for free here: https://tinyurl.com/CookInletChinook
Watch a three-minute video about the project here: https://youtu.be/9xSISeNR1ro
Mary Catharine Martin is the communications director for SalmonState.
Jeff Lewis 5 MIN READ
TORONTO (Reuters) - A sweeping global standard that sets out how the world’s largest miners care for waste dams falls short of measures environmental and civil society groups say are needed to avert future disasters, according to a copy of the final draft seen by Reuters.
A panel of industry, investor and U.N. groups has been working for more than a year on the standard, triggered by the 2019 collapse of Vale SA’s (VALE3.SA) Brumadinho upstream tailings dam that killed more than 250 people. The standard is not binding but the panel expects that miners will adhere to it.
Tailings dams, some of which tower dozens of meters high and stretch for several kilometers, are the most common waste-disposal method for miners. Brazil has banned new upstream mining dams and ordered existing ones be deactivated by 2021.
The review did not cover technical design or look to exclude certain types such as upstream dams from future use. It is unclear how soon the new standard will be released and how quickly miners will adopt it.
Civil society groups had urged the panel to ban upstream dams while increasing accountability measures for corporate boards. Cheaper to build, upstream dams have higher risks because their walls are constructed over a base of muddy mining waste rather than on solid ground.
More than a third of the world’s tailings dams are at high risk of causing catastrophic damage to nearby communities if they crumble, a Reuters analysis of company data found last year. here
The final draft compels miners to study “all feasible sites, technologies and strategies” for new tailings facilities to reduce risks.
They would also be required to increase disclosure of risks while appointing one or more accountable executives with responsibility for tailings safety who are directly answerable to the chief executive and have regular communication with the board.
“They didn’t go far enough to really make changes that are going to significantly impact the safety of tailings dam management,” said David Chambers, a geophysicist and president of the Center for Science in Public Participation.
“You’re basically creating a sacrificial lamb, so that if something goes wrong you sacrifice the accountable executive and claim that it wasn’t your fault.”
The review panel is backed by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and ethical investor group Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).
A March deadline for finalizing the standard was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic but all three groups have now endorsed the final draft, a PRI representative said.
The standard will have “clear consequences” for the way companies design tailings dams while underlining the responsibility of boards in decision-making, said Adam Matthews, head of the Church of England’s pension office.
“We are confident that if this standard is implemented, it will significantly improve safety across the mining sector,” he said.
ICMM Chief Executive Tom Butler said the standard is “deliberately not too prescriptive” and is a “comprehensive first step in terms of setting expectations across the industry.”
ICMM represents global miners Vale, BHP Group (BHP.AX), Glencore Plc (GLEN.L) and others. UNEP did not respond to a request for comment.
Under the standards, an independent safety review of the riskiest structures must be completed at least every five years, with limits to stop one contractor from conducting consecutive reviews on the same facility.
Such facilities would also face review “at appropriate intervals” by an independent tailings review board, the document said.
Miners must also show “adequate financial capacity (including insurance, to the extent commercially reasonable) is available” to cover closure and reclamation costs, it said.
Reporting by Jeff Lewis in Toronto; Editing by Matthew Lewis
OPINION: Historic mineral claims left a small sensitive area open for mining at the junction of the twin jewels of B.C. Parks, Manning and Skagit Valley Parks, and development of a mine would profoundly degrade their values.
Author of the article:
Mike Harcourt, Ken Farquharson
Jul 19, 2020 • Last Updated 1 month ago • 4 minute read
This photo shows the general area of the Upper Smitheram Creek Valley in the Donut Hole that Imperial Metals is proposing to explore. The Switchback logging road on the right of the photo is the road they want to extend. The forested mountains in the near distance are all in Manning Park. This photo was taken in the summer of 2018 when the cut blocks you can see were being logged by B.C. Timber Sales.Article SidebarShareArticle contentFifty years ago, Canadians and Americans joined forces to save the Canadian Skagit Valley from High Ross Dam.
The 1984 Skagit River Treaty finally stopped the dam, and by 1995 B.C. established Skagit Valley Park. Yet the “Donut Hole” — an area of magnificent old growth where Highway 3 ascends toward Manning Park — was omitted from protection. Historic mineral claims from B.C.’s pre-environmental era left this small sensitive area open for mining at the headwaters of an international river — and the junction of the twin jewels of B.C. Parks.
Imperial Metals — which brought us the Mount Polley tailings dam collapse — owns the Giant Copper mineral claims in the upper Skagit. Since 2016 the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission (SEEC), established under the Skagit River Treaty, has sought to retire these tenures, but so far without success.
Yet the value of Imperial’s claims is questionable, from both mining and environmental perspectives. The Donut Hole has a long history of exploration, but no development — even during the era of lax regulation and high metal prices.
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This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.Article content continuedThe first claims staked by Cominco in 1930 and Invermay in 1933 were consolidated by the Canam Copper Company in 1950. By 1955 Mogul Mining had begun construction of a 100-man camp complex and a 1,450-metre adit to prepare for active mining. With falling copper prices, they walked away. Despite more exploration in the 1960s and Canam’s sale to Giant Mascot, no development took place. By 1974, Giant Mascot Mines removed its camp, and in 1988 it sold out to Bethlehem Resources Corporation, later to become Imperial Metals.
After further drilling in 1995 and 1996, Imperial stopped exploration, but for a minor program in 2017 and a fiercely opposed 2019 application for another permit. Over almost 90 years and five experienced companies, economics stymied development.
There are good reasons why a mine cannot succeed here. First, the mineral resource is clearly marginal. More important is the challenge of developing a mine adjacent to Manning and Skagit Provincial Parks on an international river. What might have been feasible in the pro-development 1950s, when impounding the wild Skagit River was also permissible, is now virtually inconceivable. Even if mining economics were favourable, what is the probability that Imperial Metals could ever obtain the necessary permits in British Columbia — let alone deal with objections from Americans downstream?
When the Skagit Treaty prevented flooding of B.C.’s Skagit Valley, it also created the SEEC, funded by B.C. and the City of Seattle. SEEC’s strong environmental mandate in the Skagit watershed includes the acquisition of mineral claims “consistent with conservation and recreation purposes.”
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This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.Article content continuedRetiring Imperial’s claims is vital for conservation. Development of a mine would profoundly degrade the values of Manning and Skagit Valley Parks. Downstream in the U.S., environmentalists and First Nations fear copper/acid mine drainage leaching from waste pits and tailings ponds. This could threaten fish stocks in the lower Skagit River — the most important salmon producer in Puget Sound. Washington State and Seattle City Light have spent millions upgrading the Skagit’s fish habitat. They fear a repeat of what mining did to extirpate salmon in B.C.’s Jordan and Tsolum rivers.
SEEC’s difficulty in negotiating to buy the “Donut Hole” claims is that Imperial still perceives them to have significant value. However, in 2016 an independent expert review concluded that development would require an on-site mill, that the ore identified would only support a mine for 10 years, that the price of copper would have to rise far above today’s price to be viable, and that very substantial environmental, social and permitting issues would materially affect viability.
Geography explains why the “Donut Hole” is a doubtful site for a successful mine. The review advised that mining would require an open pit operation with the waste dumps located on the north side of the Silverdaisy Ridge, facing Highway 3. The mill and tailings ponds would be in immediately uphill from Skagit Valley Park. A new 138kV transmission line from Hope would require permitting within Manning Park. Would British Columbians tolerate such impacts on one of B.C.’s best-loved landscapes?
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This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.Article content continuedIn addition, the only adequate water source for the mine would be the Skagit River, which flows entirely within the two provincial parks before entering the U.S. and the jurisdiction of the International Joint Commission.
Despite these effectively insurmountable constraints to mining in the Skagit “Donut Hole,” Imperial maintains that its claims have high value, even though it didn’t develop when copper prices were high. Impartial observers conclude that the main value of Imperial’s property is as a “holding for compensation.”
As SEEC’s slow dance with Imperial proceeds, the company should consider that objections to mining Giant Copper from Indigenous and environmental communities on both sides of the border will be strong, sustained and relentless. On the other hand, if the company sells the mining claims at a reasonable price, it could boldly restore its public image after Mount Polley. British Columbians would welcome the final unification of Skagit and Manning Parks and the permanent protection of the Skagit River. Imperial could yet be a hero in bringing this 90-year-old saga to a positive conclusion.
Mike Harcourt is former premier of B.C. Ken Farquharson is a retired civil engineer who has worked for 51 years to preserve the Skagit Valley.
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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