After 65 years of waiting, an acid waste-generating abandoned mine in the Taku River watershed may finally be cleaned up.
JUNEAU—The Tulsequah Chief Mine, located near the confluence of the Tulsequah and Taku Rivers in British Columbia, has long been a source of acid mine contamination as well as frustration for those downstream in Alaska. The former gold mine, which ceased operation in 1957, has been a political and legal football for decades. In mid-August, however, a court-mandated deadline ended for a creditor owed money by the Tulsequah Chief’s bankrupt owner, Chieftain Metals.
West Face Capital, the creditor, had until August 11 to reappoint a receiver in hopes someone would buy the mine. Before that, the B.C. government was reluctant to begin the estimated $100 million cleanup.
“We’re thrilled that the last bureaucratic hurdles are being cleared and we urge the B.C. government to move quickly to fix this decades-long mess,” said Breanna Walker, director of Salmon Beyond Borders. “While we are optimistic this source of acid mine waste contamination will soon be brought under control, it does not obscure the fact this took far too long and much larger mines loom on the horizon."
Elsewhere in the Taku watershed, as well as the transboundary Stikine and Unuk river systems, a modern day gold rush is underway.
“In the Taku watershed alone, B.C. is allowing mining speculators to stake hundreds of square miles of claims literally right up to the U.S. border — and the situation is even worse in the Stikine and Unuk watersheds,” said Walker. “In the Unuk, for example, 88% of the B.C. side of the watershed is staked with B.C. mining claims. We waited 65 years for B.C. to initiate cleanup of Tulsequah Chief, and it was a tiny mine compared to those now operating and planned in the transboundary region.”
In response to the growing upstream threats, communities across Southeast Alaska have passed resolutions calling for a “time out” on mineral claim staking and development and a tailings dam ban in watersheds shared by the two countries.
“It is long past time for all of us connected to these special places to have a seat at the table,” Walker concluded.
For more information on the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers and the Salmon Coast visit www.salmonbeyondborders.org.
For important perspective from the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and Southeast Alaska Tribes, see this news release.
Alaska’s Republican Congressional Delegation asks Biden Administration to defend American waters from Canadian mine contamination. Will it?
June 28 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNEAU—Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, along with Congressman Don Young, have sent a letter of concern to the Biden Administration regarding potential impacts from risky large-scale mines in Canada near transboundary waters that flow into Alaska. The letter, dated June 24, went to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and urges the Department of State and Canada to protect downstream communities from British Columbia (B.C.) mines’ potential negative impacts, in line with the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. In spite of decades of repeated efforts from both Republican and Democratic state and federal lawmakers, a proven record of failures in B.C., and repeated requests from sovereign Indigenous nations, B.C. has continued to heavily industrialize and put at risk the international salmon rivers vital to the Tongass National Forest. The ball is now in the Biden Administration’s court.
The letter highlights that seven years after Canada’s worst environmental disaster, at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine, Americans are still not protected “from the potential downstream impacts of B.C.’s large-scale mines.” It also follows a report released on June 18, 2021 by the British Columbia government, highlighting that B.C. has failed to follow through on its commitments to prioritize human health and environmental safety in its mining regulations. Those commitments were made after the 2016 B.C. Auditor General reported that when it comes to the mining industry, “B.C. is failing on every level to protect human health and the environment.”
“We are very thankful that our congressional delegation continues to alert the Department of State regarding this complex international issue, especially as our wild salmon populations are struggling in the face of the climate crisis. But so far, these letters have fallen short to garner the attention of Secretaries of State. Thousands of Alaskans are united in asking to protect our coastal communities from B.C. — the bad neighbors next door — and we have been waiting, so far in vain, for our federal government to defend American interests and communities from existing and threatened Canadian mine contamination. President Biden has committed to initiatives like America the Beautiful and the Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership. If those commitments are to have any real meaning, Secretary Blinken must take immediate action to prevent our vital international salmon rivers from being completely overrun with poorly regulated, polluting mines in Canada,” said Salmon Beyond Borders Director Jill Weitz.
Lawmakers representing all U.S. states bordering B.C. have asked B.C. Premier Horgan to address B.C.’s shortcomings and to stop contaminating U.S. watersheds. Earlier this month, Senator John Tester submitted a letter to Secretary Blinken requesting that he engage with Canada regarding B.C. selenium leaching from Teck Coal’s (Teck Resources) mining operations along the Elk River in Canada and into Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River in Montana. Twenty-five Washington lawmakers sent a letter to B.C. Premier in May of 2021, and Alaska state lawmakers have done the same. Furthermore, in 2019, the Senate delegations from Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana — every state downstream of British Columbia — submitted a bipartisan, joint letter of concern to B.C. Premier John Horgan, expressing concerns that B.C.’s industrialization of the headwaters of shared rivers will negatively affect shared resources.
“All sectors of Southeast Alaska, including Tribes, commercial and sport fishermen, business owners, municipalities, and hard working Alaskans, are united with the congressional delegation’s efforts to attract attention and action from the Department of State. What is missing from this renewed delegation letter is the signature of Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy,” said Weitz. “Without it, B.C. and its mining industry continue to block action, claiming division amongst Alaska’s elected officials. In all four states downstream — Washington, Idaho, and Montana as well — Canada is reluctant to correct its liabilities and is attempting to prevent the Department of State from taking action. Until B.C. is accountable for the ramifications of industrializing the headwaters of some of North America’s last remaining great wild salmon rivers, B.C. remains a liability to Canada, to the global markets, and to companies seeking to invest in responsible resource development.”
Jill Weitz, Salmon Beyond Borders, firstname.lastname@example.org, 907.957.9504
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. It is united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs, and way of life.
June 22, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNEAU— An audit by British Columbia’s Mine Audits and Effectiveness Unit, an independent team in the provincial government’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, has revealed that the ministry is continuing to fail to protect communities and the environment — including in Alaska and other U.S. states — from the catastrophic risks associated with massive, toxic mine waste dams, also known as tailings dams.
The report makes clear that mining code changes brought in after the 2014 Mount Polley tailings disaster — which sent 6.6 billion gallons of mining waste into the Fraser River watershed — are ambiguous, open to multiple interpretations and lack the definition needed to ensure compliance, verification and enforcement. While B.C. markets itself to the U.S. as a global leader for “responsible metals” sourcing, this report shows that’s far from true. Among other things, 28% of 64 mine waste dams the audit considered were out of compliance. Seven out of 31 mine waste dams determined to have “very high or high'' consequence ratings for failure do not meet requirements. It is clear that safety is merely a consideration, not the priority, throughout B.C.’s mine permitting process.
“Time and again, B.C. Premier John Horgan has given the mining industry the keys to drive the bus, and we’re all along for the ride, whether we like it or not. This report makes clear how irresponsible that is,”said Jill Weitz, Director of Salmon Beyond Borders. “Lakes full of contaminants held back by earthen dams are the most likely to fail and to harm those of us downstream — yet despite this knowledge, B.C. continues to approve these risky projects. It’s imperative that the Biden Administration and the Trudeau Administration prioritize working together to prevent damage to international salmon rivers, and to ensure that Indigenous peoples, fishermen, and others connected to the rivers that give us life have a meaningful voice in what becomes of their homes.”
“Our people have known our rivers since time immemorial,” said Frederick Olsen, Jr., Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC), which has petitioned British Columbia to halt the permitting of new mines and expansion of existing mines until a formal Tribal consultation process is implemented. “It is incredibly upsetting that foreign corporations are being allowed to endanger the rivers that give us life, while ignoring sovereign nations downstream. This report confirms that these corporations are still allowed to prioritize their bottom line over human life and human and ecological health. It’s time for Tribes to have a voice in the future of our homelands.”
Over the protest of Tribes, fishermen, municipalities, businesses, First Nations and many others, the B.C. government is pushing through a glut of massive open-pit mines and mine waste dams in the headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s most important salmon rivers — the Taku, Stikine and Unuk. Some of those projects, like the proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine in the Unuk watershed, rival the size of the proposed Pebble Mine, in Bristol Bay. The abandoned Tulsequah Chief Mine in the Taku River watershed, has been contaminating the river system with acid mine drainage and heavy metals for more than 60 years.
B.C. does not require the consideration of cumulative impacts of multiple projects, though in some cases more than half the overall watershed is staked (on the Unuk River, 59 percent is staked; on the Iskut, the largest tributary of the Stikine, virtually all of the corridor is staked. The Stikine is also where the Red Chris Mine, which is co-owned by Imperial Metals, the company responsible for the much smaller Mt. Polley mine is already operating.) B.C. does not require that companies post clean up money prior to permitting, meaning if any of these companies go bankrupt, those downstream will be left with the mess. B.C. does not require the consent of Indigenous peoples impacted, in spite of British Columbia’s ostensible commitment to UNDRIP — the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Frederick Olsen Jr., Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, email@example.com, 907.738.7319
Jill Weitz, Salmon Beyond Borders, firstname.lastname@example.org, 907.957.9504
Alaskans call on Biden Administration, State of Alaska to ensure comprehensive cleanup and closure of British Columbia mine polluting transboundary Taku River
(JUNEAU)—Alaskans today are cautiously encouraged by two recent steps taken to address the ongoing toxic acid mine drainage from the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine, located in the northwest British Columbia (B.C.) portion of the transboundary Taku River watershed, and to prepare for the eventual closure and remediation of the mine site. But they also note that these are only two small steps. There is still much to be done to ensure the Tulsequah Chief is closed down and cleaned up, and to safeguard the lower Taku River from the threat of additional mining.
According to a June 9 article from the Canadian publication The Narwhal, Teck Resources, which is a responsible party fully liable for mine cleanup and closure, is now contributing about $1.5 million to fund studies and site preparation activities this year. The Tulsequah Chief was abandoned by Cominco (which later merged with Teck to become Teck Cominco, now known as Teck Resources) in 1957. Also, the article quoted an email from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation that stated, “The Chief Gold Commissioner established a no-staking reserve under the Mineral Tenure Act over the Tulsequah Mine area in 2017. As long as the no-staking reserve remains in place, mineral rights cannot be re-staked should they forfeit or return to the Crown.”
“It is encouraging to see the B.C. provincial government establish this no-staking reserve. Once the receivership is concluded in August 2022, this will prevent a re-start of mining activities at the Tulsequah Chief site. It’s also good to see Teck Resources, a legally responsible party, begin to contribute to the cleanup. But there is still a lot to do to ensure the Tulsequah Chief is closed down and cleaned up. We need our state and federal leaders to ensure B.C. provides a clear and detailed cleanup and closure plan, a plan for fully funding the cleanup, closure and long-term monitoring, a commitment from B.C. to ensure the lower Taku River area doesn’t face continued threats from mining, and a seat at the table for Alaskans,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.
In August 2019, the B.C. provincial government released a draft Closure and Reclamation Plan for the Tulsequah Chief Mine Site and appropriated $1.6 million for its activities. In October, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled to halt the long receivership process for Chieftain Metals, owner of the Tulsequah Chief Mine. The court decision is significant because as long as the receivership process was ongoing, B.C. was legally prevented from taking specific measures to assume responsibility for the mine. However, the Court also gave Chieftain Metals’ largest creditor, West Face Capital, until August 2022 to find a buyer for the mine and petition the court to re-start the receivership process.
“Investors must know by now from Alaska lawmakers, Tribes, and coastal fishing communities that the Tulsequah Chief mine in the largest tributary of the Taku River — one of our planet’s last remaining wild salmon rivers — isn’t a viable project, economically, environmentally, politically or culturally. We recognize that British Columbia is moving to take over responsibility for the cleanup and closure of the Tulsequah Chief mine site. But, we’re largely in the dark as to specific details, timelines, funding, and B.C.’s long term plans for the lower Taku River area,” said Frederick Olsen, Jr, Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC). “This is a cautionary tale of the industry for us downstream.”
Since the mine began operating in 1951, there have been three owners of the Tulsequah Chief, Cominco (now Teck Resources), Redfern Resources, and Chieftain Metals. Redfern went out of business in 2009 and Chieftain is in bankruptcy proceedings, so Teck Resources is now the sole remaining responsible party with resources to pay for cleanup and closure. B.C. has already spent $1.4 million in bonds from these companies, so the additional estimated $60.4 million will have to come from Teck Resources and/or the B.C. taxpayer, exemplifying B.C.’s policies that do not require companies to pay full reclamation bonding at the time of permitting. Presently, B.C. has almost $1 billion in unfunded liabilities throughout the Province.
“Teck Resources has committed just 2.4 percent of the total $61.8 million estimated cost of cleaning up a mine that has been polluting Canadian and U.S. waters for more than 60 years, and for which they are completely liable. Tulsequah Chief, and other Teck projects polluting downstream neighboring communities, are prime examples of the inadequacies of B.C.'s mining laws that allow giant corporations to walk away from their messes — leaving it up to B.C. taxpayers and those of us downstream to bear the burden. These laws must change, and polluters must pay. It’s the cost of doing business,” said Jill Weitz of Salmon Beyond Borders.
The funds from Teck Resources will contribute towards work at the mine site this season, including a LIDAR study, other site characterization studies, and repairs to roads and bridges.
“B.C. and Teck should be doing all they can between now and August 2022 to complete studies and other site work, formalize plans for halting the acid mine drainage and reclaiming the mine site, and to make sure that the mine reclamation plan is shovel-ready once the receivership process formally ends,” said Zimmer. “The Biden Administration and State of Alaska need to keep the pressure on B.C. to ensure this happens.”
Tribes, Southeast Alaskans, and British Columbians respond to lack of commitment to protect salmon rivers from Transboundary Bilateral Working Group
May 19, 2021 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNEAU, AK – At their first joint public meeting today, Alaska’s Dunleavy Administration and the Province of British Columbia (B.C.) attempted to reassure the public they are working to protect people, imperiled salmon, and transboundary salmon rivers from B.C.’s modern-day Gold Rush at the headwaters of the shared Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers. Peter Robb, Assistant Deputy Minister of the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low-Carbon Innovation, stated that this region is where most of B.C.’s mining exploration is focused and where B.C. hopes to build more mines because “it is the ‘Golden Triangle’ after all.” This comment and the meeting presentations did little to allay or meaningfully address three long-term concerns and requests of Alaskans and British Columbians—asks that are only growing more urgent as transboundary salmon runs continue to plummet.
First, Southeast Alaskans and British Columbians have been calling for cleanup of the Tulsequah Chief mine for decades. The mine, which was abandoned in 1957, has been polluting the Taku River watershed for 63 years. In August 2020, the B.C. government released a draft Closure and Reclamation Plan for the Tulsequah Chief Mine Site. However, this Plan is more of an options package with numerous unanswered questions than a specific plan with clear timelines and procedures.
“Today’s presentation did not provide much clarity. While it is encouraging to see B.C. take some actions to address the ongoing pollution from Tulsequah Chief, we are very much concerned about the slow pace, lack of funding, and lack of a clear and detailed commitment to full cleanup and closure of Tulsequah Chief. B.C. has taken no action to hold any of the previous owners of the mine accountable, including Teck Resources, which raises concerns about cleanup of the Tulsequah Chief, and also for B.C.’s commitment to a ‘polluter pays’ policy,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.
“Tulsequah Chief is one of B.C.’s top 12 polluting and risky mines for its pollution of a top salmon-producing watershed and for the financial risks it has imposed on B.C.'s public. A regulatory overhaul is urgently needed in B.C. before the many large-scale mines being proposed and approved on transboundary waters amplify these types of risks and negative impacts on both sides of the border,” urged Adrienne Berchtold, Mining Impacts Researcher for SkeenaWild Conservation Trust in British Columbia.
Secondly, there is broad support from political, community, and Indigenous leaders on both sides of the border for B.C. to require companies with transboundary mines to post a full reclamation bond at permitting to ensure full mine cleanup at closure--in order to avoid chronic pollution like that at Tulsequah Chief. The State of Alaska requires this full reclamation bond, but B.C. still does not require this of companies who operate or wish to operate some of North America’s largest open-pit mines along shared salmon rivers.
“With what we’ve seen play out at Tulsequah Chief -- which is tiny compared to B.C.’s massive projects already operating or underway near the Stikine and Unuk Rivers -- how the heck are Alaskans supposed to trust that B.C. will hold companies accountable for impacts to our shared resources if their policies do not require them to do so,” asked Jill Weitz, director of Salmon Beyond Borders. “Today’s presentation and the AK/B.C. working group’s efforts to date are simply about sharing information. Sharing information is good, but it doesn’t protect the communities of this region from the industrialization of the headwaters of our largest salmon-producing rivers.”
Thirdly, Alaska Tribes, municipalities, and legislators, as well as congressional delegations and thousands of individual Alaskans and British Columbians have called for years for the U.S., Canada, and Indigenous governments to work with local communities to secure binding protections for shared international rivers. Although the Alaska-B.C. Bilateral Working Group just concluded their Transboundary Rivers Monitoring Program for good, so as to not “duplicate efforts” and to defer to “the great work of the U.S.G.S and Tribes” for ongoing monitoring work, Alaska and B.C. officials still maintain they have everything under control with their unfunded, non-binding agreements.
“Why is this the first public meeting by Alaska/British Columbia since the Walker-Mallott Administration?” Rob Sanderson, Jr, Chair, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC). “Out-of-control B.C. mining needs more attention, especially for and with Tribes and First Nations.”
Jill Weitz, Director, Salmon Beyond Borders email@example.com, 907.957.9504
Frederick Olsen Jr., Executive Director, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, (907) 738-7319, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director, Rivers Without Borders, Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org, 907.586.2166
Adrienne Berchtold, Ecologist & Mining Impacts Researcher, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, email@example.com, 778.887.0634
To Learn More:
SOUTHEAST ALASKANS RESPOND TO RELEASE OF AK - BC REPORT, HIGHLIGHT NEED FOR TRIBAL AND FEDERAL LEADERSHIP TO PROTECT INTERNATIONAL SALMON RIVERS
Juneau, AK - The State of Alaska and the Province of British Columbia released yesterday their final report on the B.C.-Alaska Transboundary Rivers Monitoring Program, claiming “extraordinary partnership” across the border and conclusion of the program after river sampling for just two years. While data collection for water quality and fish health in the shared Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers is important, this report is extremely limited in scope, and the state and province grossly misrepresent their collaboration with Tribes in Alaska, First Nations in B.C., and U.S. federal agencies in their press release about the data report.
Furthermore, Alaska and B.C.’s characterization of their monitoring efforts dramatically underestimates the current situation as they do not address the future risks associated with large-scale industrial mining in the B.C. headwaters of these crucial shared salmon rivers. Now, more than ever, we need an international framework with Tribal and Federal leadership and community engagement to determine the future of these iconic watersheds -- just as thousands of Alaskans, Tribes, commercial fishermen, municipalities, and the Alaska congressional delegation have requested for years.
Rob Sanderson, Jr, Chair, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC): “Since the Dunleavey Administration came in, we have not been invited to any meetings. Everything fell off the table. This work is just getting started but they declare it ‘The End’.” Added Frederick Olsen, Jr, Executive Director, SEITC: “We found out about the report in the press. No data from Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska nor Ketchikan Indian Community, the two Alaska Tribes named in the report, was included. Where is the supposed collaboration with Tribes?”
Jill Weitz, Director, Salmon Beyond Borders: “ The characterization of this report clearly shows that Alaska and B.C. agencies are not willing nor able to grapple with the huge challenges facing our shared rivers, yet they are trying to control the conversation to suggest “everything is fine” while undermining the concerns of Tribes, commercial fishermen, and thousands of Alaskans. The State of Alaska has yet again demonstrated why there is incredible need to create a framework that establishes binding and enforceable protections for these rivers at the federal level. ”
Frances Leach, Executive Director, United Fishermen of Alaska: “Our salmon populations in the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk are already struggling. We have made every attempt possible to engage the State of Alaska on this issue, and the fact that they arrived at these premature conclusions is a disservice to Alaskans and the fishing communities of Southeast Alaska. We need our federal delegation to elevate this issue to the highest levels.”
Rob Sanderson Jr., firstname.lastname@example.org, (907) 821-8885
Frederick Olsen Jr., email@example.com, (907) 738-7319
Jill Weitz, firstname.lastname@example.org, (907)-957-9504
Frances Leach, email@example.com, (907)-209-8888
Alaskans thank the Alaska Congressional Delegation for bolstering State Department involvement on transboundary B.C.-Alaska rivers and ensuring funding to continue baseline monitoring
December 22, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Alaskans thank the Alaska Congressional Delegation for bolstering State Department involvement on transboundary B.C.-Alaska rivers and ensuring funding to continue baseline monitoring
JUNEAU, AK—Led by the Alaska Congressional Delegation, the U.S. Congress has approved more than $3.62 million dollars for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to continue baseline water quality monitoring at the international border for Southeast Alaska’s transboundary rivers, and to shore up U.S. Department of State involvement on the issue of British Columbia (B.C.) mining, and mining contamination, near rivers that flow into the United States. The funding was included as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, and approved by Congress on December 21, 2020.
“To defend Alaskan interests and interests of the United States, there must be focused data collected for baseline water quality, fisheries, and reference conditions in the U.S. portions of transboundary rivers shared with B.C.,” said Salmon Beyond Borders Director Jill Weitz. “Historically, 80 percent of Southeast Alaska king salmon have come from the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers — and yet, by this spring, all three rivers’ king salmon populations will likely be listed as stocks of concern, and B.C. is rushing through more than a dozen Pebble Mine-sized projects just over the Alaska border in those same river systems. We do not have any time to waste, and we are grateful for the Alaska Congressional Delegation’s continued involvement in and support of Southeast Alaska’s transboundary rivers, jobs, and ways of life.”
In the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 is $3.12 million for the USGS to continue to expand its streamgage monitoring of transboundary watersheds and to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate and reduce pollution from B.C. mines in rivers that flow into the United States. The USGS has also been directed to continue evolving a formal partnership with Tribes and other federal agencies to develop a water quality strategy for the transboundary rivers.
“We look forward to developing a true partnership between Tribes and the USGS,” said Rob Sanderson, Jr., Chair of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC). “Besides putting up money, we need to ensure that long-term water quality monitoring includes Tribal involvement.”
“This funding for data collection continues to validate the concerns of our tribes in Southeast Alaska, as well as our ongoing request for increased engagement between Canada, the United States and Indigenous governments,” shared Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s (Tlingit & Haida) Environmental Coordinator Raymond Paddock III. “We must work together to better understand and manage the proposed, existing and abandoned mines in our shared rivers.”
Tlingit & Haida has called on the federal government for action under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and to meaningfully engage Southeast Alaska’s Tribes. In 2015, Tlingit & Haida began working to collect baseline water quality data, sediment sampling and water quality surveys on the Taku and Stikine Rivers. Tlingit & Haida has since expanded their scope to sampling on the Alsek River near Yakutat and the Chilkat and Klehini Rivers outside of Klukwan and Haines.
“We are very excited about the future of this partnership,” said Chris Zimmerman, center director of the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center. “By working collaboratively, we will be able to better understand water quality in transboundary rivers to help resource managers and users make sound, science-based decisions.”
The U.S. Department of State was also allocated $500,000 for the first time to specifically expand its participation in the matter of transboundary mines, which is vital to the federal involvement necessary for long-term, binding solutions to B.C. mining contamination in transboundary rivers. Specifically, in a request led by Congressman Don Young, the funding directs the U.S. Department of State to engage with relevant federal agencies to identify remaining gaps in the nonbinding Memoranda of Understanding between British Columbia and Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
“We are the gap,” said SEITC’s Executive Director Frederick Olsen, Jr. “We like that our federal government will allocate some funding towards the transboundary mining issue but looking for gaps in the MOUs may not be the best use of said funds. Sovereign Tribal governments must have meaningful inclusion in transboundary decisions, something that is not the case with the current nonbinding agreements.”
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. We are united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
INTERNATIONAL LETTER URGES CANADA, U.S. TO JOINTLY ADDRESS BRITISH COLUMBIA TRANSBOUNDARY MINING POLLUTION
An international group of 22 science and policy experts have published a joint commentary in the prestigious journal Science, urging United States (U.S.) and Canadian leadership to immediately address damages and risks caused by Canadian mine pollution flowing downstream into U.S. states. At a workshop led by University of Montana and Alaska researchers, the group, which included representatives from U.S. Tribes and British Columbia
(B.C.) First Nations, concluded that the threats and impacts of Canadian mines on shared rivers, fisheries, and communities is not adequately assessed by the B.C. government. The letter also calls on the U.S. and Canadian federal governments to invoke the U.S.-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and address the fact that B.C. mine assessments are not adequately based on defensible science nor adequately protect U.S.-B.C. transboundary waters from mining pollution.
See the full press release below.
January 22, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNEAU—It was with interest that Salmon Beyond Borders learned Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy is in Vancouver for the Association for Mineral Exploration conference this week to tout Alaska mining, and that British Columbia’s transboundary mining will be a topic of discussion for Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. Lest the administration forget, Alaskans are demanding binding protections from Canada’s mines.
“Alaska tribes, fishermen, municipalities, and thousands of residents have made clear that B.C.’s large-scale open pit mines near the Taku, Stikine/Iskut, and Unuk/Nass rivers, many of which have insanely massive tailings dams at their headwaters, pose direct downstream threats to our salmon, jobs, and way of life,” said Salmon Beyond Borders Director Jill Weitz. “As a new series of maps show, B.C.’s gold-rush era mining laws allow whole watersheds to be staked for exploitation without a consideration of cumulative effects. Unfortunately, what we see in the media and understand from British Columbia’s government is that the State of Alaska has been downplaying Alaskans’ and the Congressional Delegation’s concerns regarding the need for financial assurances and binding protections for the downstream communities that depend upon our billion dollar fisheries and visitor industries. Southeast Alaska has nothing to gain but everything to lose from these Canadian projects.”
In a July 2019 op-ed, Commissioners Corri Feige (Alaska Department of Natural Resources), Doug Vincent-Lang (ADF&G) and Jason Brune (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation), all of whom are also in Vancouver for the mining conference, confirmed that “Alaska remains committed to maintaining both high water quality standards and responsible mineral development in the transboundary waters.” In a May 6, 2019 letter, Governor Dunleavy confirmed that when it comes to transboundary engagement, “the Governor’s Office continues to take the lead on behalf of the State of Alaska.”
“Southeast Alaska tribes, communities, and the Alaska delegation are all deeply concerned about impacts from B.C. mines and the province's track record, which is far from ‘responsible’” Weitz continued. “That lack of responsibility is clear from, in many instances, the lack of consent from First Nations; ongoing acid mine drainage from the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine in the Taku River watershed, which B.C. has failed to solve for six decades; and the lack of accountability and oversight responsible for the Mount Polley tailings dam disaster — Canada’s worst environmental disaster — which flooded 6.6 billion gallons of mine waste into the Fraser River watershed and has still resulted in no charges against the mine’s owner, Imperial Metals. If Governor Dunleavy is truly at the helm, he must not follow B.C. and B.C. mining companies’ lead. Instead, the Governor and the Commissioners must amplify concerns from thousands of Alaskans, including our Congressional Delegation, commercial and sport fishing powerhouses, business owners, and Southeast tribes. For Southeast Alaska, Mount Polley is not an abstraction. It is a nightmare to be avoided.”
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. We are united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs, and way of life.
Salmon Beyond Borders
1 (907) 957-9504
SENATORS FROM ALL 4 BORDER STATES PRESS BRITISH COLUMBIA TO CLEAN UP ITS MINING ACT IN TRANSBOUNDARY WATERS
June 13, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C.—In an unprecedented and bipartisan effort, all eight U.S. senators from the four U.S. states bordering B.C. — Alaska, Montana, Washington and Idaho — are urging British Columbia Premier John Horgan to recognize that contamination from upstream B.C. mining in shared U.S./Canada rivers threatens American businesses, citizens and resources.
The letter from Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), James Risch (R-ID), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Steve Daines (R-MT) elevates downstream U.S. concerns and highlights the need to improve B.C.’s mining sector safeguards. The letter also references the need for binding international protections to match B.C.’s mining laws with those in the U.S.
For decades, B.C.’s large-scale, open-pit hard rock and coal mines have polluted rivers that flow from B.C., fouling U.S. waters with acid mine drainage and other contaminants. In the Elk/Kootenai watersheds, shared by Idaho, Montana and B.C., selenium from Teck Resources’ coal mines has killed and deformed fish and threatens native trout and Kootenai River white sturgeon. In Alaska, acid mine drainage from B.C.’s Tulsequah Chief mine into the transboundary Taku River, one of the region’s most productive for salmon, has continued for more than 60 years. Compounding threats, B.C. is rapidly approving new mines and expanding existing mines in the lands around all four surrounding states’ rivers. Most recently, British Columbia opened a permit process for a controversial new mine in the headwaters of the Skagit River, which flows into Washington state through North Cascades National Park, and into the Puget Sound.
Current B.C. regulations do not require a cumulative analysis of mining impacts to these shared rivers, though the land around them, in at least one instance, is more than 50 percent covered by mining claims and leases. Furthermore, current regulations do not require consent from First Nations, private property owners, or allow for meaningful public input by U.S. stakeholders and tribal citizens.
The senators’ letter is the latest action aimed at cleaning up B.C.’s mining operations in transboundary rivers. Such calls have been echoed by members of the U.S. House, the gubernatorial administrations of Washington, Montana and Alaska, tribes and First Nations on every border, state legislators, municipalities, fishermen, businesses, B.C. residents and tens of thousands of U.S. residents.
Earlier this year, U.S. federal lawmakers allocated $1.8 million to monitor water quality in these four states’ transboundary rivers.
Other recent actions include:
• A human rights petition filed by 15 of Southeast Alaska's 19 federally recognized tribes;
• Letters of complaint regarding exclusion from the decision-making process filed by indigenous leadership in Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana and B.C.;
• Joint state-federal letters of concern and a formal complaint by U.S. federal water negotiators that their Canadian counterparts were refusing to acknowledge best available science in B.C.'s shared transboundary rivers;
• The B.C./AK transboundary Stikine River recently was named to American Rivers' "most endangered" list due to transboundary mining (a distinction shared in recent years by the B.C./MT Kootenai River.)
Even residents of B.C. mining towns have grown alarmed by the extent of air and water pollution, and in May, thirty British Columbian NGOs launched their own campaign to reform B.C.’s mining regulations.
“We know we have a tremendous problem with contamination flowing from B.C.’s mining sector,” said Robyn Allan, former President and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. “B.C.’s own auditor general has chided the province for our lax rules and lack of enforcement. We absolutely need to ensure British Columbia’s taxpayers don’t end up paying for industry shortfalls and to bring British Columbia’s mining practices into the 21st century, both for Canadians and for the U.S. citizens living downstream.”
In May, tribal leaders in Washington state expressed their “grave concerns”regarding B.C.’s plans to allow Imperial Metals to mine the headwaters of the Skagit River, the most important salmon river in Seattle’s Puget Sound area. They warned of “the potential for disastrous results,” and noted that just five years ago a mine failure by the same company released millions of gallons of toxic copper and gold tailings into B.C. lakes, drinking water and salmon runs.
“The Skagit River is critical to the survival of salmon and orca,” said Scott Schuyler, policy expert for the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe. “It’s the lifeblood that connects the ocean with the mountain interior, and any thought of mining its headwaters only proves how out of touch British Columbia’s regulators are.”
Similar concerns are echoed by members of Alaska’s commercial fishing industry, who are asking for federal intervention to hold B.C.’s mining regulators accountable.
“This is a multi-state, international problem for which we need a multi-state, international solution,” said United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach. “Right now B.C.’s massive open-pit mines and waste dumps put some of Alaska and B.C.’s most important salmon rivers, and the fishing jobs that rely on them, at risk. Alaska fishermen and the thousands of people across the world who enjoy wild salmon expect and deserve better from B.C. regulators.”
Montana fishing guides agree.
“The United States is not a settling pond for Teck Resources and the rest of Canada’s mining industry,” said former Kootenai River fishing guide Mike Rooney. “It’s our hope that Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Premier John Horgan act to protect our businesses, resources and citizens by requesting intervention under the Boundary Waters Treaty. Anything less is not the solution this international problem deserves.”
In Idaho, where millions of dollars have been spent recovering endangered sturgeon in transboundary rivers, the upstream threat is particularly alarming.
“We commend our Congressional leaders for taking steps towards a long-term solution that will benefit our waterways on both sides of the border,” said Matthew Nykiel, conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League. “A letter like this is a powerful message to British Columbia, and it shows that we are stronger together. Mining in the B.C. headwaters of transboundary rivers is a problem we all share, and it will require an international response to solve it."
Salmon Beyond Borders Director Jill Weitz summed up what is at stake.
"Today, every single border-state senator joined with commercial and sport fishermen, business owners, communities, tribes, and tens of thousands of Americans to highlight for Premier John Horgan the serious issue of B.C.'s transboundary mining contamination.
"U.S. taxpayers have spent billions of dollars restoring these rivers and fisheries. It would be a tragedy to have that investment undone by B.C. mining contamination. And until B.C. enacts adequate financial assurance requirements, U.S. taxpayers will remain on the hook for all future damage to U.S. resources by B.C.'s mining sector.
"It's our hope that Premier Horgan will prioritize wild salmon and the health and wealth of B.C. citizens, and protect taxpayers in both countries, by acting on the senators' requests for enforceable standards, water quality monitoring, and international safeguards for international rivers."
Jill Weitz, Salmon Beyond Borders Director; firstname.lastname@example.org; (907) 957-9504
Heather Hardcastle, Salmon Beyond Borders Advisor; email@example.com; (907) 209-8486
Michael Jamison, NPCA Crown of the Continent Senior Program Manager;firstname.lastname@example.org; (406) 250-2540
Dave Hadden, Headwaters Montana Director; email@example.com; (406) 270-3184