Mining & Transboundary Rivers: What do the Skagit, Taku, Stikine, and Elk rivers have in common?

View of the Tulsequah River looking east towards the confluence with Taku River. Photo Chris Miller

 

British Columbia is in the midst of a mining boom, with dozens of large-scale mines in various stages of exploration, development, and operation. Lax mining regulations and low standards for financial bonding have encouraged the industry’s expansion in the region, but at what cost? Many of these mine sites sit within watersheds of rivers — like the Skagit River in Washington, the Elk and Kootenai Rivers in Montana, and the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers in Alaska — that flow from Canada into the U.S. That means the mines’ pollution, and its effects on fish, people and jobs, crosses borders.

 

B.C.’s track record doesn’t inspire much confidence. In 2014 the Mt. Polley Mine’s tailings dam collapsed and dumped over 6 billion gallons of toxic mine waste into the Fraser River watershed. Teck Coal mines are releasing high levels of selenium into the Kootenai watershed in Montana, leading to deformities, infertility and die-offs in fish. Meanwhile, just dozens of miles from Alaska’s capital, the Tulsequah Chief Mine has been leaching acid mine drainage into the Tulsequah River for more than 60 years.

 

In Alaska, the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers form the backbone of Southeast Alaska’s salmon culture. All are un-dammed, largely pristine and support significant commercial, sport, and customary and traditional fisheries in Southeast Alaska and B.C.

  • The Taku is often Southeast Alaska’s largest overall salmon producer, with the region’s most prolific runs of coho and king salmon.
  • The Stikine is usually a close second.
  • The Unuk is one of Southeast’s top five king salmon producers and its eulachon run provides an important customary and traditional fishery.
  • In addition to king and coho salmon, all three of these rivers support large populations of pink, chum, and sockeye salmon, as well as steelhead, cutthroat, Dolly Varden, and bull trout.
South East Alaska Cutthroat. Photo Evan Fritz

 

Salmon fishing — including commercial, sport and subsistence fishing — supports more than 7,000 jobs in Southeast Alaska and pumps $1 billion into the regional economy every year. Similarly, salmon fishing contributes over 3,000 jobs and adds $200 million to the B.C. economy.

 
Currently, there are no enforceable policies for upstream transboundary large-scale development, leaving our wild salmon and trout, clean water, and the jobs they support unprotected. Members of both the Alaska and Montana congressional delegations, the governors of both states, several dozen municipal governments, tribes, commercial and sport fishing organizations, NGOs and businesses have called on the U.S. State Department to act under the Boundary Waters Treaty — and to protect the water and ecosystems, as well as the cultures, fisheries and way of life dependent on them — in watersheds that span the B.C./U.S. border.

 

To learn more and join the call for State Department intervention, please visit:

https://www.salmonbeyondborders.org/