Mineral exploration approval prompts lawsuit

Three conservation entities have joined with the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan in suing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over approval of an exploration plan for a hardrock mine project in the Chilkat River watershed in Southeast Alaska.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Anchorage, was prompted by BLM’s approval of an exploration plan for Constantine Metal Resources Ltd., a Canadian firm, with financing from Japan’s Dowa Metals & Mining Co. Ltd., to drill above Glacier Creek, a tributary of the Klehini River, to determine whether there is a commercially valuable copper-zinc-gold-silver deposit in the mountainside.

Conservation group plaintiffs include the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation and Rivers Without Borders.

Should exploration lead to such a discovery, the next step would be full scale mine development, which could potentially threaten the downstream environment, including the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and Klukwan, with mine waste pollution that could devastate fish populations and all who depend on them, according to representatives of the tribal government and conservation entities.

“The Chilkat Tlingits did not merely subsist, but thrived because of the abundance of salmon that migrate home to this watershed,” said Kimberley Strong, tribal president of the Chilkat Indian Village of Klulkwan.

“Over the past several years our tribe has been having government-to-government discussions with BLM regarding the permitting process for mining in the Chilkat Watershed,” she said. “We have strongly objected to BLM’s permitting process as it does not take into account the environmental risks from a fully operating hardrock mine. Hardrock mining is a threat to our Chilkat wild stock salmon and the sustainability of our community. All five species of wild Pacific salmon, as well as steelhead, and Dolly Varden, inhabit the watershed. It continues to feed our people as it has for thousands of years.”

“We’re asking the court to make the agency take off the blindfold and evaluate the impacts of its decisions before it’s too late,” said Kenta Tsuda, an attorney at Earthjustice, one of the parties to the lawsuit.