Canadian Mine Near Southeast Alaska Moves Forward

A huge gold and copper mine, proposed for northwest British Columbia just 19 miles from Alaska, moved a step closer to becoming a reality this week.

Fishermen, tourism operators and tribes in Alaska, meanwhile, are raising red flags about the project and its potential to contaminate downstream Alaska waters. They are pressing the U.S. State Department to get involved.

British Columbia’s provincial government gave its approval for the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) Mine to move forward, concluding that Alaska’s salmon and water quality would suffer no ill effects as long as steps to mitigate pollution are followed. Many Alaskans strongly disagree.

If built, KSM could rival in size and scope the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska, a hugely controversial project that has drawn international opposition because of its potential to harm the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery. 

KSM still needs Canadian federal government approval. A 30-day public comment period is under way and wraps up on Aug. 20.

B.C.’s approval comes on the heels of a resolution by the National Congress of American Indians opposing KSM because of how the mine could negatively affect salmon and eulachon (candlefish), key species for tribes who live in Southeast Alaska.

The KSM deposit is located near the Unuk River, a major king salmon river that begins in B.C. and empties out into Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument, a major tourist attraction boasting an array of marine mammals, such as whales, seals and sea lions. Misty Fjords is located in the Tongass National Forest, a temperate rainforest that covers most of Southeast Alaska.

Trout Unlimited Alaska is working with a broad coalition of sport and commercial fishermen, tribal leaders, tourism entrepreneurs and others to get U.S. federal officials involved to ensure that Southeast Alaska’s billion-dollar fishing and tourism industries are protected. KSM is one of five Canadian mines located in transboundary watersheds (the Taku, Stikine and Unuk) and are part of a larger push by B.C. to develop its natural resources.

The Taku River is Southeast Alaska’s single largest overall salmon producer, and Southeast’s largest producer of coho and king salmon. The Stikine is Southeast’s second largest salmon producer. The Unuk is one of the top four king salmon producers in the region and its eulachon run provides an important subsistence fishery.

A group of fishermen and tribal leaders flew to Washington, D.C., last spring to meet with Alaska’s congressional delegation as well as officials from the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency to express their concern. U.S. Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, along with Rep. Don Young responded within days, sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, asking him and his staff to take up the matter with their Canadian counterparts. The State Department responded several days later saying officials would take it up at their next bilateral meeting with Canada.

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