Time is running out for salmon. That’s why we’re calling for a ban on Canada’s transboundary mine waste dams and a halt to B.C.’s industrialization of critical salmon habitat.
Jill Weitz, Director
Salmon Beyond Borders
August is the peak of summer in Lingít Aaní — Southeast Alaska. I can still smell the wild strawberries that stain my hands, and sockeye are in the smoker. This last week marked a significant date that changed our campaign work forever. Seven years ago on August 4th, 2014, Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine waste dam burst and sent 6.6 billion gallons of contaminated mining waste into the Fraser River watershed in British Columbia (B.C.), just as the sockeye were returning.
As I sit down to reflect on our seven years as a campaign, a wave of déjà vu floods over me. How are we still here talking about how there haven’t been charges against Imperial Metals? How has there not been justice for those who were (and are) impacted? And more than that — how is it that Imperial Metals actually made money from this catastrophe?!
After nearly a decade of incredible organizing and engagement from downstream communities in Alaska and with leadership from our members of Congress, we don’t have time to wait and hope for B.C. to become a better neighbor, or for B.C. to change its inadequate and outdated mining laws - with all that is at stake. Given the plummeting salmon numbers from the State of Washington all the way up to mainland Alaska, it becomes very clear that, for all his talk about the importance of wild salmon, British Columbia’s leader, Premier John Horgan, and his government are failing to take meaningful action, validating that this international issue requires international solutions.
Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game have suggested that Taku and Stikine River kings will soon join Unuk River kings as stocks of concern. Historically, these transboundary rivers have produced 80% of our region’s king salmon, which is truly remarkable. However, within the spawning grounds at the headwaters of these rivers, British Columbia (B.C.) continues to aggressively pursue unprecedented industrial development, including large-scale mining, with dozens of proposed and operating projects rivaling the size of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. Just this last week, we learned that B.C. is pushing forward an old underground mine, Eskay Creek, to operate as an open pit gold-silver mine, just north of the border from Ketchikan.
While British Columbia (B.C.) continues to double down on industrial development in these vital salmon watersheds, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced it was closing 60% of B.C.’s commercial fisheries due to poor returns and declining populations — some near 90% declines — resulting in the largest set of commercial salmon fishery closures in B.C. history.
Our lawmaking neighbors next door are not only failing those of us who live downstream and have no meaningful way to engage, but also disrespecting their own tax paying constituents and First Nations who want mining policies that mirror their own efforts to conserve the environment -— while undercutting the efforts of those who are working to resolve the salmon crisis.
Instead of defending communities throughout the region who depend on wild salmon and clean waters by working with Indigenous communities and stakeholders, and in support of a parallel approach with our federal governments to improve shared governance and secure protections for coastal communities, Premier John Horgan and Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy are effectively standing by and waiting for another tragedy, like failure of a tailings dam on one of our shared transboundary rivers, to occur.
It’s time for a change. It’s time for President Biden to take the lead.
If salmon populations continue to drop, and the few healthy remaining populations get hammered by a catastrophic mining incident, we will see several Indigenous cultures face their own extinction. By sitting on their hands now, our governments, which have long focused only on allocation (rather than the conservation of habitat) are essentially saying, "Fine by us." It’s a passive equivalent to the 19th century U.S. policy of exterminating bison to rid the country of Native Americans.
It isn't fine by me. And I don't think any elected officials would like to be remembered as purposely or casually causing such suffering.
Time is running out for wild salmon. That’s why we are calling for a TIME OUT on B.C. mining activity near our shared salmon rivers - because mining can be done better.
Salmon Beyond Borders has been working with our regional partners to make clear that this is a year in which we must see meaningful action to defend our transboundary rivers if they are to continue to birth millions of salmon in the years to come.
The transboundary Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers of Southeast Alaska and Northwest British Columbia’s Salmon Coast are THE RIVERS THAT FEED US. These wild, glacial rivers flow from the vast boreal forest of British Columbia (B.C.) into the temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska and the Tongass National Forest.
Our nets are in the water, and we need your help to bring this in. Please join us and our partners and call on the Biden Administration to support a ban on Canada’s tailings dams, and a time out for B.C.'s permitting of new mines and expansion of existing mines in transboundary watersheds, until the U.S.-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are upheld and an international agreement on watershed protections is implemented.
Jill Weitz, Director
Salmon Beyond Borders
TIME OUT, BC: A Resolution of Support for a Permanent Ban on Tailings Dams and a Temporary Halt to Mining Activity in the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers:
Please click the link below to add your business or organization to the Resolution.
If you are a community member, you can support this effort here.
While this is a busy time of year, concerns for low salmon numbers in Alaska and British Columbia are growing, and we need your voice!
The AK-B.C. transboundary rivers issue has ongoing support from our elected members of Congress and state lawmakers -- and it is so important that they continue to hear from Alaskans. Please take a few minutes to send their offices an email to give thanks for their continued work to elevate the transboundary issue to the highest levels of government - and to defend our rivers, jobs, and way of life.
The Province of British Columbia continues to permit massive tailings dams to hold back contaminated mining waste at the headwaters of the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk rivers - creating ticking time bombs that could deliver the final knockout blow to our shared wild salmon runs.
We need our Alaska lawmakers to keep the pressure on B.C. and on President Biden to establish binding protections for the rivers that feed +
Recent actions taken to defend our salmon rivers by Alaska Lawmakers:
Take Action here.
As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read this update and staying engaged – we’re all in this together. Please reach out anytime!
Gunalchéesh / Háw’aa / Thank you,
Bre Walker, Campaign Coordinator
Salmon Beyond Borders
Hannah Northey and James Marshall, E&E News reporters
Published: Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is expressing concern about mine pollution from Canada. Francis Chung/E&E News
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is calling on the State Department to help stem the flow of pollution from Canadian mines into the northwestern reaches of his home state of Montana.
Tester last week asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a letter to engage with the Canadian government regarding selenium leaching from mining operations along the Elk River in Canada and into Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River in Montana.
The senator warned that the pollution could hamper Montana's way of life and the state's $7.1 billion outdoor recreation economy.
"For decades, mining operations in Canada have caused elevated selenium levels in the transboundary watershed," he wrote. "Efforts to curb selenium contamination have been unsuccessful, and selenium levels continue to rise. Meanwhile, mining companies are proposing new mines without a tested plan in place to control selenium and other contaminants."
Tester has joined the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in calling for the International Joint Commission (IJC) to get involved. Guided by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, the commission helps resolve transboundary water disputes between the United States and Canada.
From hardrock minerals like copper and gold to metallurgical coal used to make steel, British Columbia is home to a thriving mining industry. About 70 miles north of Montana's northwest border with Canada, Vancouver, British Columbia-based Teck Resources Ltd. currently operates four surface coal mines.
Those mines in the Canadian Rockies' Elk River Valley extract metallurgical coal by mountaintop removal. That method, which was once common in Appalachia, produces nitrate pollution through blasting and releases selenium into waterways.
Selenium magnifies as it moves up the food chain, said Erin Sexton, a scientist at the University of Montana's Flathead Lake Biological Station. Ingesting too much of the element can harm animals' reproductive organs and can cause deformities in fish eggs.
In March, Teck pleaded guilty in Canada and paid a $60 million fine due to selenium discharges in violation of the country's fisheries law.
Pollution coming from its coal operations were blamed for fish kills and damage in Canada, Montana and Idaho, the Associated Press reported.
Teck spokesperson Chris Stannell said the company is unaware of fish deaths associated with selenium in Lake Koocanusa or the Kootenai River.
"We have spent more than $1 billion so far to implement the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan," Stannell said via email. "Between now and 2024 we plan to invest up to a further $655 million in work to protect the watershed."
In response to transboundary mine pollution last year, Montana set a new limit on selenium in Lake Koocanusa at 0.8 microgram per liter. Lake Koocanusa already averages 1.1 micrograms per liter, Sexton said.
"Which basically says we are violating the Boundary Waters Treaty in the Kootenai watershed, because water flowing in from British Columbia is exceeding our water quality standard," she said over the phone.
Sexton spoke with E&E News yesterday morning before meeting up with the three American members of IJC. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho invited commissioners to discuss transboundary pollution.
Environmentalists in Alaska and Washington are also concerned about transboundary mining pollution. Those states are downstream from numerous gold and copper mines along the border in various stages of development.
British Columbia's lax mining regulations are a barrier to fending off transboundary pollution in the region, said Jill Weitz, who directs SalmonState's beyond borders fishery conservation campaign in Alaska.
Unlike its Pacific Northwest neighbors, British Columbia doesn't require mining companies to post full-cost bonds on the front end to ensure they have enough money for expensive environmental obligations once mines close.
The framework can let miners off the hook for long-term environmental remediation and allows companies to more easily pass cleanup costs on to taxpayers, Weitz said.
"From a mining perspective, our jurisdictions are at a competitive disadvantage because it's easy for companies to mine in BC," she said.
British Columbia's provincial government has been reluctant to crack down on the powerful mining sector, Weitz said. Her organization has been working with Congress, where the issue is bipartisan.
The Congressional Wild Salmon Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), hosted a transboundary mining briefing in April.
"I do think there is a willingness to try to make sure ... that the mining that takes place in rivers that go into Alaska waters and Washington waters are done safely," Young said about the Canadian government.
Mitch Friedman, director of Conservation Northwest, said curbing transboundary pollution is a matter of cleaning up the mining industry because copper, lithium and other minerals are key parts of renewable energy supply chains.
"You can't get alternative energy without a mountain of copper," Friedman said.
He advocated for mining policies that reflect the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance. IRMA provides independent certification to verify mines have sound environmental, human rights and social standards.
"We need to figure out how to save the sky without destroying our waters," Friedman said. "We need better mining. We can't be anti-mining. We need to figure this out."
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Hours of net mending, working on engines, tying flies, prepping smoke houses, checking gear, and longer days can only mean one thing…
salmon season is upon us!
While we truly hope this year is better than last, the pre-season forecasts are not looking up.
Our wild salmon stocks here on the Salmon Coast are struggling - and the three rivers that have historically produced 80% of Southeast Alaska’s king salmon - the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers - will likely be listed as stocks of concern by Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game (ADFG). Additionally, federal managers expect the Stikine subsistence sockeye fishery may be cut short due to low forecasts, and the Ketchikan salmon derby has been cancelled due to concerns for low king returns.
The Taku, Stikine, and Unuk need your voices!
On Wednesday, May 19th - show up on behalf of the coastal communities that are at risk of losing everything - and who have not been adequately represented in the fight to defend and sustain our rivers, jobs, and way of life. The State of Alaska has scheduled its first public presentation on this issue during the Dunleavy administration to take place (virtually) with the Province of British Columbia on Wednesday, May 19th at 2:00 PM AKST.
Registration link for the event is here.
If you’re interested in learning more - or would like to discuss some ideas for questions to ask during the presentation - please reach out to Salmon Beyond Borders directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. And while we’re at it, here is a summary of recent events...
Top Three Updates on AK-BC Transboundary Salmon Rivers
Tribes, Commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, business owners, tour operators, and thousands of hard-working Alaskans continue to work together with our congressional delegation, legislators, and municipal leaders toward binding international solutions that will defend and sustain our wild salmon rivers for generations to come.
As always, thank you for your continued engagement and support, we’re all in this together.
The Salmon Beyond Borders team
Jill, Bre, Heather, and Mary Catharine
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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