As much water as it is land, Southeast Alaska has 8,000 miles of shoreline, over 1,000 distinct islands, more than 10,000 estuaries, and 13,750 river miles of fish habitat.
Southeast Alaska’s rainforest flushes enough rainwater to the ocean to fill the Mississippi, loading the Alaska Coastal Current with fresh, nutrient rich water that supports a rich marine food web. Completing the cycle, millions of salmon bring marine nutrients back to the rainforest, feeding trees, bears, ravens and eagles, when they spawn and die upriver.
Millions of the salmon that feed and spend their adult lives in Alaskan waters return to their spawning grounds across the border, in Canada, hence the term transboundary. The biggest, most salmon-rich rivers in Southeast Alaska know no borders, as their estuaries and feeding grounds are found in Alaska, and their tributaries, headwaters, and spawning grounds are found in the mountains of British Columbia.
There’s no difference when you pass from British Columbia into Alaska. The fish don’t care, the moose don’t care, the water doesn’t care. The Unuk, Stikine, and Taku rivers literally transcend national boundaries. What happens to the river on one side of the border affects the other side.
Several mega-scale, open pit mines are proposed in the headwaters of our most ecologically and economically sacred rivers: the Taku, the Stikine, and the Unuk. And when we say “mega-scale,” we mean it. If developed, at least three of the proposed mines in the Stikine and Unuk watersheds alone would be among the largest open pit mines in North America.
The Red Chris Mine in the headwaters of the great Stikine River opened in early February 2015. Imperial Metals Corporation owns the Red Chris Mine, the same company responsible for the Mt. Polley Mine disaster that devastated BC’s Fraser River sockeye and destroyed Quesnel Lake’s local fishing and tourism economy.
Very basic ecology shows us that salmon need clean water. History has repeatedly shown us that large scale, acid-generating mines and salmon don’t mix well. Recent history at the Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia has shown us that industry promises don’t always hold water.
Where things stand
Already, Alaskan politicians, city governments, tribal governments, fishing associations, and thousands of citizens have asked the federal government to step in and protect Alaska’s clean running rivers.
Despite this, the BC government is bulldozing forward, recently approving a permit to Imperial Metals Corporation to open the Red Chris Mine, an acid-generating mega mine in the headwaters of the Stikine River. Imperial Metals is the same company responsible for the Mount Polley Mine disaster that occurred in British Columbia August 4, 2014, the largest environmental disaster in Canadian history. An independent geotechnical report released January 30, 2015 showed that the Mount Polley Mine disaster occurred due to “major design problems.” A separate independent report, released in the fall of 2014, showed that the the Red Chris Mine also has “major design problems.”
The fact that the BC government disregarded both reports and moved forward on the Red Chris Mine is unacceptable. It proves to both Alaskans and Canadians that the BC government and the BC mining industry place corporate profit over clean water, wild salmon, human health, safety, and sustainable industries like fishing and tourism.
Thousands of Alaskans, tribes, cities, and politicians have called for federal intervention. And a growing movement demand a moratorium on all new dam permits in BC, and a moratorium on tailings dams similar to the one at Mount Polley.