Alaskan and Canadian Groups Petition Secretary of the Interior to Investigate Mines in British Columbia
Groups say threats to Pacific salmon, steelhead, grizzly bears, and woodland caribou, undermine U.S. conservation treaties.
For Immediate Release
Mon. June 27, 2016
Kenta Tsuda | Earthjustice | 857-523-5153 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Frederick Olsen, Jr. |United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group | 907-617-9941 | email@example.com
Guy Archibald | Inside Passage Waterkeeper |907-209-2720 |firstname.lastname@example.org
Juneau, Alaska — A coalition of conservation and Alaska Native groups today formally invoked Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s duties under a federal law to investigate six hard-rock mines in British Columbia, and their expected impacts on transboundary watersheds shared by the United States and Canada. The petition asks Jewell to join with other federal agencies in calling for a referral of the controversy over these mines to the International Joint Commission, the governing body of the Boundary Waters Treaty between the two countries.
The Taku, Stikine, and Unuk rivers flow across the Canada-United States border, from headwaters in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia through Southeast Alaska to the sea. These watersheds are rich with wildlife, and their salmon harvests sustain local fishing enterprises and Alaska Native and First Nations communities. Native peoples have harvested salmon and caribou from these watersheds for generations, and continue to rely on such harvests today. Commercial fishermen from Southeast Alaska also rely on these harvests, harvesting tens of millions of dollars’ worth of salmon from these three rivers annually. The watersheds collectively support hundreds of Alaskan workers and their families.
The watersheds are now endangered by the development of metals mines in British Columbia, including the six subjects of the groups’ petition: the Tulsequah Chief, Red Chris, Schaft Creek, Galore Creek, Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, and Brucejack mines. All involve large-scale infrastructure development and generate immense quantities of tailings and mine wastes. Water treatment will be required in perpetuity. The threats of acid-mine drainage and heavy metals pollution—not to mention catastrophic dam failures—will hang over the watersheds for centuries after the closure of the mines.
The petition, submitted under the 1971 Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act by Earthjustice’s Alaska regional office, analyzes the mine projects and their expected impacts on watersheds, and invokes the Interior Department’s duty to investigate when foreign nationals may be “diminishing the effectiveness” of U.S. conservation treaties.
The petition presents evidence supporting a finding that the British Columbia mines diminish the effectiveness of two treaties that protect Pacific salmon, steelhead trout, grizzly bears, and woodland caribou, namely the Convention for the Conservation of Anadromous Stocks in the North Pacific Ocean and the Convention on Nature Protection and Wild Life Preservation in the Western Hemisphere.
The groups urge the Secretary to engage other federal agencies in calling for a referral of the issue of harms from the six mines to the International Joint Commission. This body addresses disputes arising from the Boundary Waters Treaty between the United States and Canada. The Treaty, signed in 1909, governs the use of waters shared by the United States and Canada, and provides that “waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.” Where disputes arise as to the parties’ compliance with the Treaty, issues can be referred to the International Joint Commission for a recommended resolution.
The petition echoes a call by a May 12, 2016 letter from Alaska’s congressional delegation, suggesting a referral of the issue to the International Joint Commission as a potential solution.
The petition was made to Secretary Jewell by the Craig Tribal Association, Friends of the Stikine Society, Inside Passage Waterkeeper, Organized Village of Kasaan, Rivers Without Borders, Petersburg Indian Association, Salmon State, Sierra Club of British Columbia, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Trout Unlimited, United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, and Earthjustice.
The following are statements from the groups:
Kenta Tsuda, Associate Attorney, Earthjustice: “Canadian authorities are letting these projects go ahead, and the U.S. government is still waiting on the sidelines. This Petition provides yet another reason for the government to take action, and calls on Secretary Jewell to join in protecting the interests of citizens and tribes that the Federal Government represents on the international stage.”
Clinton Cook, Sr., President, Craig Tribal Association: “As a Haida tribal leader I've been taught to cherish our traditional values, respect our elders, enhance our way of life as hunter–gatherers, and respect our natural resources. When these are threatened we feel threatened. Our goal is to protect these from selfish interests who only see commerce and not the harm it can cause to our land and our way of life.”
Frederick Olsen, Jr., Chairman, United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group: “The development and operation of the B.C. Mines could severely impact life on the U.S. side of the border. Already, the Tulsequah Chief Mine has polluted the Taku watershed for decades. We need federal involvement, but rather than ‘federal overreach,’ we currently experience ‘federal under-reach.’ The U.S. government has a fiduciary responsibility to federally recognized Tribes—we maintain a special government-to-government relationship. We call on the federal government, in this case Secretary Jewell, to formally get involved. We are all in this together.”
Guy Archibald, Science Director, Inside Passage Water Keeper: “This action underscores the fact that existing treaties recognize that these watersheds and the fish and wildlife they support are internationally significant above and beyond any value to a particular state or province. The issue of large scale mining in is region requires international oversight.”
Delegation in Ottawa ahead of “Three Amigos” meeting to call for federal engagement
June 17, 2016
Heather Hardcastle, Campaign Director, Salmon Beyond Borders, Juneau, Alaska, (907) 209-8486, email@example.com
Frederick Otilius Olsen Jr., Chair, United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, Kasaan, Alaska, (907) 617-9941, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shane Gottfriedson, Regional Chief, B.C. Assembly of First Nations, Vancouver, B.C., (250) 852-1143, email@example.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Ottawa) The immense downstream threat to crucial salmon fisheries and Alaskans’ way of life from a combination of mining in the headwaters of key Northwest B.C. watersheds and weak B.C. environmental regulations has brought Alaskan Tribes, commercial fishing groups and conservation organizations to Ottawa seeking help.
Alaskans met this week with Canadian Members of Parliament and ministry officials to elevate the issue of B.C.’s transboundary mining projects in the headwaters of rivers that flow into Southeast Alaska and its multi-billion-dollar fishing and tourism industries. Alaskans also press for use of the Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to address the many serious concerns related to the mines. Alaska, as the downstream neighbor, assumes virtually all of the risks associated with the mines.
“We wanted to get our request on the radar before Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama meet here in Ottawa later this month as part of a North American summit. It is increasingly clear that it will take our two countries working together to decide how to manage our globally significant shared resources of this iconic region,” said Heather Hardcastle of the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign.
Hardcastle added: “At least ten B.C. large-scale open-pit and underground metal mines are in some phase of proposal, permitting or operation near the headwaters of Northwest B.C./Southeast Alaska transboundary salmon rivers, namely the Taku, Stikine and Unuk.”
Frederick Otilius Olsen Jr., Chairman of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group that currently represents 15 federally recognized Tribes in Southeast Alaska, stated, “We have been trying for years to get the B.C. government to adequately address our interests and concerns, but other than nice words and vague promises, we seem to be getting nowhere. Facts, reports, and studies keep emerging – the latest from B.C.’s own Auditor General - that indicate the situation is even worse than we had feared. We need federal help and an international solution for this international problem.”
Many First Nations members in B.C. share Alaskan concerns. Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations has been actively engaged in this issue, stating “We stand firm with our Alaskan brothers and sisters, and share their concerns and demands for direct consultation with our federal governments. Long-term protections of our traditional way of life and stewardship of our land and water are essential.”
“For more than 150 years First Nations have had no say, and have paid the price for irresponsible mining in the province of B.C. The situation in the Northwest is as big a threat as we have ever faced given the current mining laws and environmental monitoring and enforcement – or lack of it,” said Jacinda Mack, coordinator for B.C.’s First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining and liaison with Alaska groups.
Neither the Alaskans nor the B.C. First Nations are against all mining, but insist it must be done properly, and not at the expense of the environment and all other sectors and livelihoods.
Alaska's entire Congressional Delegation and the Washington State U.S. Senate Delegation support the use of all international tools to address the situation in the shared watersheds of Northwest B.C. and Southeast Alaska. Salmon Beyond Borders and the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group advocate that a review by the International Joint Commission, created by the Boundary Waters Treaty, should focus on the following in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk transboundary watersheds:
The Alaskan delegation will wrap up its Ottawa visit today with a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman.
For more information on this issue, including maps and photographs, please visit:
Salmon Beyond Borders is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, Tribal and First Nations members, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to sustain our transboundary salmon rivers, jobs and way of life. Visit us online at salmonbeyondborders.org and find us on Facebook and Twitter.
The United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group is a coalition of 15 federally recognized Southeastern Alaska Tribes formed in 2014 to address concerns about mining development in British Columbia, Canada.