Alaska Natives, conservation groups want investigation of BC mines

A new effort to get the International Joint Commission involved in investigating the potential adverse impact of hard rock mines in British Columbia on salmon-rich transboundary rivers is contained in a petition to U.S. Secretary of Commerce from a coalition of Alaska Native and conservation entities.

The coalition petitioned Ross on Sept. 26 to join the Interior Department and other federal agencies in bringing the controversial issue before the governing body of the Boundary Waters Treaty signed by the United States and Canada.

Salmon from these rivers are critical to commercial, sport and subsistence harvesters in Southeast Alaska, as well as wildlife, and the fishery contributes millions of dollars to the region’s economy.

The coalition contends that the watershed habitat critical to the fishery is endangered by development of metals mines in British Columbia, including the Tulsequah Chief, Red Chris, Schaft Creek, Galore Creek, Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell and Brucejack mines. These mines involve large-scale infrastructure development and generate immense quantities of tailings and mine wastes and will require water treatment in perpetuity, they said.

The petition analyzes the mine projects and their expected impacts on watersheds, and invokes the shared duties of the Commerce and Interior departments to investigate when foreign nationals may be “diminishing the effectiveness” of U.S. conservation treaties.

The petition was submitted by the Alaska regional office of Earthjustice under the 1971 Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act, whose purpose is to boost the effectiveness of two treaties that protect Pacific salmon, steelhead trout, grizzly bears and woodland caribou, 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 petition to Ross was signed by the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Craig Tribal Association, Douglas Indian Association, Friends of the Stikine Society, Ketchikan Indian Community, Klawock Cooperative Association, Organized Village of Kake, Organized Village of Kasaan, Organized Village of Saxman, Petersburg Indian Association, Rivers Without Borders, Salmon Beyond Borders, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Trout Unlimited, Wrangell Cooperative Association, Yakutat Tlingit Tribe and Earthjustice.

The Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, formerly known as the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, announced earlier in the week receipt of an $80,000 grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation which they said will allow the commission to continue developing relationships with other Alaskan tribes and First Nations in Canada.

“Leveraging the unified voice of over 100,000 tribal citizens to demand their rights under the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights, which Canada has adopted and confirmed, will change the dialogue from how we can mine the sacred headwaters to should we mine the sacred headwaters,” said Frederick Olsen Jr., chairman of the commission.