Water monitoring report draws mixed responses

SEITC says report contains no data from Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes

A report on a four-year effort to examine water quality of salmon-rich transboundary rivers concluded these rivers sustain aquatic life in conjunction with mining efforts. However, the report is getting mixed reviews from government entities, harvesters and tribal entities.

In the wake of the report compiled in a collaborative four-year effort between the governments of British Columbia and Alaska, the Bilateral Working Group approved its conclusions, and the B.C.-Alaska Transboundary Rivers Monitoring Program has now concluded its work, they said.

“Given the existence of other sampling programs planned by state, federal or provincial agencies throughout the transboundary region, there is no need to continue the joint program,” they said. Meanwhile the two governments will continue to collaborate on efforts to ensure the long-term protection of shared waterways, they said.

“Baseline data is incredibly important to understand the health of our transboundary waters,” said Jason Brune, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. “The data has not shown a measurable impact to Alaskan waters from historical mining activities in B.C. and will serve as a foundation to assess potential impacts from future industrial activity as well.” The governments found that these rivers support and sustain aquatic life in conjunction with mining and other land uses.

Their announcement drew objections from United Fishermen of Alaska, the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, Salmon Beyond Borders and the Salmon Habitat Information Program, who said the report is extremely limited in scope and misrepresents the governments’ collaboration with tribes in Alaska, First Nations in B.C., and U.S. federal agencies.

While data collection for water quality and fish health in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers is important, collaboration with indigenous peoples has been limited, they said.

“Since the Dunleavy administration came in, we have not been invited to any meetings,” said Rob Sanderson Jr., chair of SEITC. “Everything fell off the table. This work is just getting started but they declare it ‘the end’,” he said.

“We found out about the report in the press,” said Frederick Olsen Jr., executive director of SEITC. “No data from Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska nor Ketchikan Indian Community, the two Alaska tribes named in the report, was included,” Olsen said. “Where is the supposed collaboration with tribes? It looks like they are trying to sweep it under the rug.”

According to Jill Weitz, director of Salmon Beyond Borders, the report shows that the government agencies are willing or able to grapple with challenges facing the shared rivers, and are undermining concerns of tribes, commercial fishermen and thousands of Alaskans. There is an incredible need to create a framework that establishes binding and enforceable protections for these rivers at the federal level, she said.

“We have made every attempt possible to engage the state of Alaska on this issue,” said Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska.

“The fact that they arrived at these premature conclusions is a disservice to Alaskans and the fishing communities of Southeast Alaska. We need our federal delegation to elevate this issue to the highest levels,” she said.