By Daniel Schindler and Jonathan Moore
Special to The Times
It’s easy to take wild salmon for granted when we see it prominently featured on restaurant menus and in grocery stores. This wild salmon comes mostly from Alaska because elsewhere over the last century, society has chosen to compromise the core thing wild salmon need to survive: clean, free-flowing rivers. The good news is that we can choose to do things differently in Alaska and British Columbia, where we still have intact habitat with thriving wild salmon populations.
At the World Salmon Forum in Seattle this week, scientists and practitioners will discuss how to sustain and restore remaining wild salmon populations. While these conversations take place, government agencies in the U.S. and Canada are actively advancing some of the world’s largest and riskiest mines despite peer-reviewed science showing that these mines would have permanent adverse impacts on the environment, wild salmon and local people. These permitting decisions must be based on credible risk assessments — not on politics, as they seem to be now.
In the U.S., the Environmental Impact Statement process is the “gold standard” for assessing risks mining developments pose to the quality of the human environment. However, this process is only as good as the science that informs it. This has never been truer than in Alaska’s Bristol Bay — home of the world’s largest wild salmon fishery — where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the EIS process for the highly controversial proposed Pebble Mine. The Army Corps recently concluded that the Pebble Mine posed no risks to the rivers of this region, though their draft EIS was so flawed that other federal agencies publicly criticized its inadequacies. The Department of Interior said the draft EIS was so deficient that it “precludes meaningful analysis,” and Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed that “the Corps’ DEIS has failed to meet [her] standard of a robust and rigorous process.” Unless Congress intervenes, the Army Corps says it will make a final permitting decision in early 2020.
Meanwhile, British Columbia is promoting numerous mines in the headwaters of the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers — the region’s top salmon producers — without defensible scientific assessments of cumulative risks, which extend into Southeast Alaska. The political process that oversees mining regulation in B.C. is exemplified by the collapse of the Mount Polley mine’s “state-of-the-art” tailings dam that released 6.6 billion gallons of waste into the Fraser River watershed in 2014. Just six months later, that same company, Imperial Metals, began operations at the massive Red Chris mine on the Stikine River — with the same waste storage design, except exponentially larger. Imperial Metals is also the same company that recently applied for an exploratory mining permit in the headwaters of the Skagit River — critical for the southern resident orcas.
By Ryan Prior, CNN Updated 7:23 AM ET, Sat August 17, 2019
CNN)Alaska has been in the throes of an unprecedented heat wave this summer, and the heat stress is killing salmon in large numbers.
Scientists have observed die-offs of several varieties of Alaskan salmon, including sockeye, chum and pink salmon.
Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, director of the Yukon Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, told CNN she took a group of scientists on an expedition along Alaska's Koyokuk River at the end of July, after locals alerted her to salmon die-offs on the stream.
She and the other scientists counted 850 dead unspawned salmon on that expedition, although they estimated the total was likely four to 10 times larger.
They looked for signs of lesions, parasites and infections, but came up empty. Nearly all the salmon they found had "beautiful eggs still inside them," she said. Because the die-off coincided with the heat wave, they concluded that heat stress was the cause of the mass deaths.
Quinn-Davidson said she'd been working as a scientist for eight years and had "never heard of anything to this extent before."
"I'm not sure people expected how large a die-off we'd see on these rivers," she said.
The heat decreases the amount of oxygen in the water, causing salmon to suffocate.
The heat wave is higher than climate change models predicted
The water temperatures have breaking records at the same time as the air temperatures, according to Sue Mauger, the science director for the Cook Inletkeeper.
Scientists have been tracking stream temperatures around the Cook Inlet, located south of Anchorage, since 2002. They've never recorded a temperature above 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Until now.
On July 7, a major salmon stream on the west side of the Cook Inlet registered 81.7 degrees.
Mauger said she and her team published a study in 2016, creating models outlining moderate and pessimistic projections for how climate change would drive temperatures in Alaska's streams.
"2019 exceeded the value we expected for the worst-case scenario in 2069," she said.
Mauger said that the warm temperatures are affecting salmon in various ways, depending on the stream.
"Physiologically, the fish can't get oxygen moving through their bellies," Mauger said. In other places in the state, the salmon "didn't have the energy to spawn and died with healthy eggs in their bellies."
With so many salmon dying before having a chance to spawn, scientists will have to keep tabs for the next few years to see if this year's heat-related deaths have longer term effects on the state's salmon population.
Salmon under threat
Salmon populations are under stress from other angles as well.
Overfishing is threatening salmon further south in southwestern Canada and northwestern Washington. Orca whales, which are themselves endangered, feed on salmon.
With fewer salmon to eat, populations of orca whales have steadily declined over the past decades.
And last week the Environmental Protection Agency told staff scientists it would no longer oppose a mining project in Alaska that had the potential to devastate one of the world's most valuable wild salmon fisheries, just after President Trump met with Alaska's Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
But in other areas, things are looking up. "Salmon are very resilient. They've overcome a lot," said Mary Catharine Martin, a spokeswoman for the non-profit Salmon State.Alaska's Bristol Bay, the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, is annually seeing boom times for salmon returns, and in 2016 celebrated the 2 billionth salmon caught in its waters, after more than a century of commercial fishing.
"That's very good," she said. "Salmon have sustained the way of life of the people of Alaska for thousands of years."
CNN's Alisha Ebrahimji contributed to this story.
Canadian Mining Journal Staff | August 16, 2019 | 1:45 pm Canada Copper Gold
Imperial Metals’ sale of a 70% interest in the Red Chris copper-gold mine in B.C. has officially closed, with Australia’s Newcrest Mining now the operator of the asset.
Newcrest paid $804 million for its majority interest. The deal was first announced in March.
“We are delighted to have closed the Red Chris transaction and add this operating mine to our existing low cost, long-life portfolio,” Newcrest’s managing director and CEO, Sandeep Biswas, said in a release.
RED CHRIS BEGAN PRODUCTION IN 2015 AND HOSTS RESERVES OF 301.5 MILLION TONNES GRADING 0.36% COPPER AND 0.27 G/T GOLD
“We are pleased with the highly constructive and collaborative relationship we are developing with the Tahltan Nation and the government of British Columbia and look forward to working together as we execute our forward work plan to unlock the significant potential from Red Chris. We are excited to establish a strong presence in British Columbia, a quality mining jurisdiction in a country with roots in mining, much like Australia.”
Red Chris, which began production in 2015 and is located 80 km south of Dease Lake, hosts reserves of 301.5 million tonnes grading 0.36% copper and 0.27 g/t gold. Production for 2019 is forecast at 72-76 million lb. copper and 36,000 to 38,000 oz. gold. Newcrest has said it has identified a clear path to turn Red Chris into a Tier 1 operation.
Imperial will use the funds to pay down debt and as working capital. The company is still suffering the financial repercussions of the 2014 tailings dam failure at its still-suspended Mount Polley copper-gold mine in B.C.
“The sale of a 70% interest in Red Chris to Newcrest will allow Imperial to significantly strengthen its balance sheet, while continuing to hold a 30% interest in a joint venture that will leverage Newcrest’s unique technical expertise in block caving operations,” said Imperial’s president, Brian Kynoch. “We look forward to working alongside Newcrest with this new venture as well as the resumption of exploration activities at Red Chris. As a result of this transaction, Imperial will be in a much better position to create value and opportunities for its shareholders and stakeholders.”
(This article first appeared in The Canadian Mining Journal)
Imperial Metals seeking permit in the Skagit headwaters just north of the U.S. border
Rafferty Baker · CBC News · Posted: Aug 14, 2019 5:37 PM PT | Last Updated: August 14
The Smitheram Valley is one of the three main valleys in the area known as the Donut Hole, where Imperial Metals wants to explore for gold. (Wilderness Committee)
The list of organizations and officials opposing proposed mining work just north of the U.S. border has grown to 140, as Imperial Metals seeks a permit to do exploratory drilling in the Skagit headwaters — an area surrounded by protected parks.
The area is known as the Giant Copper property, but according to the company's website, exploratory work carried out in 2017 revealed the potential for gold mining.
It's about 50 kilometres southeast of Hope, B.C., between Skagit Valley Provincial Park and Manning Provincial Park.
In December, Imperial Metals applied to do more exploratory work, including drilling and trenching. According to its website, the plan is do that work during the 2019 field season. A public comment period on the proposal wrapped up in April.
A weathered shack filled with mineral core samples sits near the area where Imperial Metals has applied to do exploratory drilling in search for gold. (Wilderness Committee)The collection of names opposing the project includes Canadian and U.S. First Nations, conservancy groups, recreation user groups, local businesses and U.S. politicians. This week, 29 names were added to the list, including Arc'teryx, Red Truck Beer, Patagonia Vancouver and the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C.
Tom Uniack, executive director of the non-profit Washington Wild, highlighted the concern about resource extraction in the Skagit headwaters, which are within Canadian jurisdiction, but drain straight into the United States and across Washington state.
"The Skagit River is extremely important. It contributes about 30 per cent of the fresh water into Puget Sound. It's one of the most productive salmon streams that we have and it's kind of iconic for a lot of reasons," said Uniack.
"The headwaters — and a place nestled between two protected parks is not the place that we should be prioritizing mining," he said.
Contents from an Imperial Metals tailings pond are pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. on August, 5, 2014, following the collapse of the Mount Polley mine tailings dam. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)Uniack said he wasn't familiar with Imperial Metals prior to 2014, when one of the company's mines, Mount Polley, was the scene of the largest environmental mining disaster in the province.
After a dam at a tailings facility collapsed, 24 million cubic metres of mining waste spilled into the waterways near Likely, B.C.
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By Ainslie Cruickshank Star Vancouver
Fri., Aug. 9, 2019, 4 min. read
VANCOUVER—Two U.S. senators and Alaska government officials have taken long-standing concerns about toxic waste from B.C. mines to an international body created under a century-old treaty that governs transboundary water issues between Canada and the United States.
Some Alaskan officials are not satisfied that B.C. has the regulatory system in place to protect the environment from the impacts of mining, especially as new mines are proposed in the region.
“My longstanding concern is that our neighbors in British Columbia are not meeting a similar high standard with regard to the impacts of hard rock mining on other resources and livelihoods in transboundary watersheds — especially the downstream fisheries that support tribes and coastal communities in Alaska,” said U.S. senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski in a statement.
U.S. senator for Alaska Dan Sullivan, who also attended the meeting with the International Joint Commission, said in a statement that progress is finally being made on the transboundary mining concerns.
“The best way to build on this momentum is for Canadian officials to work expeditiously to fully and finally remediate the Tulsequah Chief mine to prevent further pollution into the Taku River. This is an issue I’ve been pressing senior Canadian officials on, including Prime Minister Trudeau. I am hopeful we’ll see progress soon,” he said.
For six decades, the Tulsequah Chief copper mine in B.C.’s northwest, about 60 kilometres northeast from Juneau, Alaska, has been discharging acid waste into the Tulsequah River, which flows into the Taku River, before continuing west to the Alaskan coast. This acid forms when sulphides in the rock are exposed to air and water.
B.C. mining touted as green solution even as environmental groups warn of lax industry regulation
By Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska - Juneau
August 6, 2019
International Joint Commission U.S. commissioners Rob Sissons, left and co-chair Jane Corwin listen at an Aug 5, 2019 meeting in Juneau hosted by Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. (Photo by Karina Borger/Murkowski’s office)Alaska’s U.S. Senators hosted members of an international commission charged with investigating transboundary water disputes.
“This has long been a priority — it’s fair to say — for so many of us,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said, leading off the discussion.
She said there has long been a concern that British Columbia’s government doesn’t regulate hard rock mining to the same standard as Alaska.
The commissioners are looking into concerns with British Columbia’s Golden Triangle Mining District and its impact on Southeast Alaska.
The six-member International Joint Commission is charged with helping enforce a 1909 treaty between the two countries to resolve disputes over transboundary water resources.
A delegation of commissioners from both countries spent the past few days in the region. Canada’s co-chair Pierre Béland says they plan to cross the border to B.C.’s booming mining districts.
“We’re on a fact finding mission,” Béland told CoastAlaska. “We want to know what people have to say. So we’ll ask the same questions and we’ll listen on the other side as we did here.”
August 4 marked the five-year anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster in central British Columbia. And with that expired the last statute of limitations for Canadian government penalizing its owner Imperial Metals.
For years there have been fears that a tailings dam failure on a transboundary river could devastate Southeast Alaska fisheries.
Concerns over potential future disasters and legacy pollution lingering from long shuttered historic mines have been the impetus for green groups pushing the U.S. State Department to refer Alaska’s transboundary mining concerns to the international commission.
More than a dozen working and legacy mine sites are located in watersheds that are shared between British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. (Image courtesy of B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources).U.S. co-chair Jane Corwin says the commission’s intervention would be a last resort.
“But I think that the fact we’re here shows the importance that has been placed on this issue,” she said in an interview. “We get that message and I believe our Canadian counterparts, get that message. And that’s all good for everyone involved.”
The IJC’s two other U.S. commissioners Lance Yohe and Rob Sisson also attended.
There was consensus in the room about the need to clean up B.C.’s Tulsequah Chief Mine near the Taku River. Closed since the 1950s, remediation efforts began this year by the provincial government.
As the U.S. senators left to catch their plane, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan told CoastAlaska that cleaning up the Tulsequah Chief mine is the low-hanging fruit.
“My view — and this is the view I’ve been pressing with everybody from the Prime Minister of Canada on down — is a good faith effort would be to finally close the Tulsequah Chief mine,” Sullivan said. “Let’s start with that, that’s the most urgent, most obvious and then we’ll continue progress from there.”
“The province shares Alaska’s concerns about the longstanding pollution being discharged in the Tulsequah River from the Tulsequah Mine,” B.C.’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources wrote in a statement to CoastAlaska. “We are committed to resolving the ongoing contamination and remediation concerns at the site and holding all owners both past and present accountable for remediation.”
Read the B.C. ministry’s full statement here.
Tribes on both sides of the border have been advocating for cleaning up legacy pollution and better safeguards to protect commercial and subsistence fisheries.
“One of the commissioners mentioned that that you know, they work really closely with First Nations on the Canadian side — so that was very encouraging to hear,” Rob Sanderson Jr., vice president of Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska said in an interview.
“Transparency is everything,” he added.
The Monday meeting in Juneau’s federal building also brought together Alaska’s cabinet level regulators, environmentalists and the mining industry in the same room.
Hecla Greens Creek Mine’s Mike Satre says the roundtable meeting showed him potential for common ground.
“We can have responsible resource development on both sides of the border and still maintain our quality of life, our fisheries and our water,” he said.
Salmon Beyond Borders has been pushing for B.C. to tighten its mining regulations and require stronger financial guarantees when it issues permits. Executive Director Jill Weitz says bringing the commissioners to Alaska is part of getting them up to speed if they’re called upon to elevate the issue to a treaty dispute.
“And I think that in this point in time, having the IJC here to become better educated so that potentially down the road when and if — as a senator said — we need help in preventing disputes between the two countries they’re eager and ready to rock and roll,” she said.
This summer, Alaska’s U.S. senators and their counterparts in three other border states penned a letter to B.C. Premier John Horgan urging his government to strengthen oversight and accountability of transboundary mines.
Dirk Meissner / The Canadian PressAUGUST 4, 2019 04:00 AM
Damage from a tailings pond breach is seen near Likely, B.C., Tuesday, August 5, 2014. People are swimming and fishing in Quesnel Lake five years after the largest environmental mining disaster in Canadian history, but residents of Likely, B.C., are still struggling with unresolved emotions about what happened and who will be held accountable for the dam collapse at the Mount Polley mine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
VICTORIA — People are swimming and fishing in Quesnel Lake five years after the largest environmental mining disaster in Canadian history, but residents of Likely, B.C., are still struggling with unresolved emotions about what happened and who will be held accountable for the dam collapse at the Mount Polley mine.
A five-year deadline for federal Fisheries Act charges expired Sunday, while the possibility of other charges under the same act remains with no timeline for a decision. British Columbia missed the three-year deadline to proceed with charges under both the province's Environmental Management Act and Mines Act.
Likely resident Lisa Kraus said the central B.C. community of about 350 people remains wounded, concerned and somewhat divided about the tailings dam breach at the Imperial Metals open-pit copper and gold mine.
The Aug. 4, 2014, collapse sent 24 million cubic metres of mine waste into Quesnel Lake, Hazeltine Creek and other area waterways.
An independent report into the disaster said the dam was built on a sloped glacial lake, weakening its foundation. It said the inadequate design of the dam didn't account for drainage or erosion failures associated with glacial till beneath the pond.
One independent geotechnical engineer described the location and design of the tailings pond as loading a gun and pulling the trigger.
Kraus said she's not convinced that charges would satisfy area residents.
"I don't know that the people who are still so angry would be happy with that or not," she said. "There's still the feeling for some that they're not saying everything and they're not telling us all the truths. I don't like everything that happened but I'm a neutral party."
Kraus said even though she's made fish and chips from trout recently caught in Quesnel Lake, she doesn't drink the water.
"Will I put my cup in the lake again, I don't know," she said. "Before that day I did. I haven't done that since."
Imperial Metals suspended operations in January at Mount Polley over declining copper prices. More than 350 people worked at the mine.
The firm said the suspension would not impact ongoing environmental and remediation work at the Mount Polley site.
An Imperial Metals spokesman did not return a request for comment, but the company's website includes a July 29 update about the cleanup written by the firm's former chief scientific officer.
"While this tailings spill incident was very unfortunate, and significant in terms of sheer size, the environmental impacts have fortunately not been as dire as many had feared," said Lyn Anglin, in the B.C. online publication Resource Works.
Anglin says the company undertook reclamation work in salmon and trout waterways, including Edney Creek, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake. It also included comments that geochemical studies of mine tailings at the bottom of Quesnel Lake are physically and chemically stable and not releasing metals into the water.
Tests conducted by B.C. officials after the disaster also said water quality met provincial guidelines.
The Department of Environment and Climate Change Canada, which enforces the Fisheries Act, said in a statement that Crown counsel has been conducting a charge assessment related to the breach since last April, but there is no date for a decision and no further comment was available.
Julia Kilpatrick, a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, said Canadians can be assured that the government won't hesitate to enforce its environmental laws.
"The fact that five years has elapsed since the incident occurred does not preclude the commencement of prosecution proceedings under the Fisheries Act," she said in a statement.
Mining Watch Canada spokesman Ugo Lapointe said if the federal government does not proceed with charges this weekend, it could be a long wait.
"We have a deficient enforcement regime for cases like these," said Lapointe, adding it could be another two or three years before there is any resolution.
"The Fisheries Act, which is supposed to protect Canadian waters and fish habitat, is not working," he said. "We haven't seen any charges laid by any level of government for the largest mining spill in Canadian history. It's very disconcerting to witness the situation."
Lapointe said he suspects federal prosecution officials are wrestling with deciding whether they can prove there was negligence or knowledge that the tailing's pond location and design could fail.
"Proving damages is the easy part," he said. "What's difficult to prove is was there a total lack of due diligence on the part of the operators. They need to prove that the operator did not do all it should have done to prevent this beyond any reasonable doubt."
Imperial Metals lawsuit against several engineering firms alleging negligence and breach of contract was settled out of court last year, resulting in the company receiving about $108 million.
Engineers and Geoscientists BC, the regulatory body for engineers in the province, said it has a May 2020 disciplinary hearing scheduled for engineer Todd Martin and is confirming hearing dates for engineers Stephen Rice and Laura Fidel in connection with the collapse of the Mount Polley dam.
Michelle Mungall, B.C.'s Minister of Energy and Mines, said the disaster sent shock waves through the mining industry worldwide.
"It was a big lesson," she said. "It's a lesson of what happens when you don't have a good regulatory regime."
Mungall said the disaster was the impetus for the B.C. government's $20 million investment this year to hire 65 safety and enforcement officials and implement changes to the mine permit approval process.
She said the changes were based on the 25 recommendations of a task force report by auditor general Carol Bellringer.
"We've put more boots, more eyes on the ground," said Mungall.
She said she expects the government to introduce regulations this fall that ensure mining companies have money set aside to pay for reclamation work.
Back in Likely, Kraus said she'll look out her window Sunday morning and think back to five years ago.
"That's something you won't forget, waking up and being told that this has happened and hearing the rush of the water and knowing this plume is potentially coming down the lake," she said.
Dave Hadden, Heather Hardcastle, Rob Smith, Matt Nykiel: B.C. mines threaten neighbouring U.S. states
Published:August 1, 2019 Updated:August 1, 2019 6:00 PM PDT
The Province, Op-Ed
On June 13, eight U.S. senators from B.C.’s neighbouring states of Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Washington wrote Premier John Horgan about their concerns regarding impacts of B.C. mining practices on downstream U.S. states.
The senators stated: “We write together to highlight efforts of the United States and continued plans of Congress to protect American interests in the face of potential environmental and economic impacts resulting form large-scale hardrock and coal mines in British Columbia. … We remain concerned about the lack of oversight of Canadian mining projects near multiple transboundary rivers that originate in B.C. and flow into our four U.S. states.”
While these four states all bear scars from historic mining, the mines in Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana — past and present — do not threaten B.C. water, fish, or local economies. Canada and the U.S. have a long history of cooperation, as well as disputes over trade. As citizens of the U.S., we regret the current tensions between our two countries and we count on things improving. Nevertheless, B.C. mining now significantly threatens downstream states.
B.C. mining in transboundary watersheds must be addressed in a civil, cooperative, and urgent way. B.C. mining operations today, whether existing or proposed, must be subject to similar regulations, and must not degrade the water or fisheries of either country.
We have been heartened by the B.C. auditor-general’s official acknowledgement of deficiencies in B.C.’s mining regulatory environment in her independent report on the mining sector in 2016. However, the potential for great harm to water, fish and the economies of downstream states remains even more urgent today than in 2016, as B.C. is aggressively promoting open-pit mining in the “Golden Triangle” near the B.C.-Alaska border, and impacts in the Kootenay are mounting.
The eight U.S. senators who wrote to Horgan were from both parties (three Democratic and five Republican). These senators see a common threat and acted to Premier Horgan of their concerns.
Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska (Republicans) want to maintain the robust salmon fisheries of the Unuk, Stikine and Taku transboundary rivers. Senators Jon Tester (Democrat) and Steve Daines (Republican) of Montana and Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho (Republicans) want water quality in the Kootenay to improve. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (Democrats) of Washington want to protect Puget Sound salmon and the lower Skagit River from a potential Imperial Metals’ copper mine in the Upper Skagit.
The threats to water, fish, and communities downstream of B.C. mines are real. We wish to see a meaningful and timely engagement that resolves differences in mining policy. Balance must be established between neighbours, and priceless natural resources kept whole for future generations.
Dave Hadden is the executive director of Headwaters Montana; Heather Hardcastle is an Alaskan fisherman; Rob Smith is the northwest regional director for National Parks Conservation Association; and Matt Nykiel is a conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League.
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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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