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. They 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.
A coalition of conservation and Alaska Native groups have 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 six mines are the Tulsequah Chief, Red Chris, Schaft Creek, Galore Creek, Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, and Brucejack 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 was made 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 film Xboundary, by Ryan Peterson, explores the large-scale open-pit mining boom currently underway in northwest British Columbia, Canada. Concerns over risks posed by the mines were heightened with the August 4, 2014, catastrophic tailings dam failure at Mt. Polley Mine in the Fraser River watershed.
Additional video, Water is Life: “To try to put a measure on why clean water is so important is hard to do, except that it is what this community is,” says Petersburg resident Karin McCullough in Water is Life, a film by Inside Passage Waterkeeper on the heritage, livelihoods, and futures that rely on a healthy Stikine River.
Photo Spotlight on The Red Chris Mine:
A copper-gold mine on the Stikine river watershed, the Red Chris Mine is one of the six subjects of the groups’ petition. The project includes an open pit mine, ore mill, tailings impoundment, waste rock dump, power lines, water works, mine camp, and a possible explosives manufacturing facility. The mine began operations on February 15, 2015.