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we don’t have time to wait and hope for B.C. to become a better neighbor, or for B.C. to change its inadequate and outdated mining laws - with all that is at stake.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 at the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC) 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
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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