Dear President Obama ... protect Alaska's rivers

Delaney Hunt battles a nice Dolly Varden on a clear-water tributary of the Stikine River in Southeast Alaska.

 

Dear President Obama,

In July, I had the opportunity to take my 16-year-old daughter on the fishing trip of a lifetime—we spent the better part of two weeks in Southeast Alaska, chasing salmon, trout and char in the rivers and streams of the rainforest. During a stop-over in Wrangell, we spent a full day fishing a tributary of the  Stikine River. As you likely know, the Stikine is a pristine  river in Southeast that originates in the British Columbian high country—it's a glacial river that drains a vast swath of the Canadian province and runs into Alaska where it meets the ocean and forms the vast Stikine Delta, an internationally significant migratory bird stopover. It's one of the most productive sockeye salmon rivers in all of the Alaskan panhandle, home of the Tongass National Forest, and I'm here to tell you that it's one of the most beautiful rivers I've ever laid eyes on.

I know you're in the midst of your Alaskan visit, and you're seeing lots of environmental challenges facing the region, including record-breaking wildfires, climate-induced melting of glaciers and snowfields and the ongoing debate over the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. But a major issue facing Southeast Alaska is the growing presence of hard-rock mining in the British Columbian headwaters of many of Alaska's great rivers, one of which is the Stikine.

The Mount Polley Mine is owned by the same company that owns and operates the Red Chris Mine in the headwaters of the Stikine River.

 

You'll remember that one year ago last month, the tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine in central  B.C. blew out and sent a torrent  of toxic mine waste down the Fraser River, one of Canada's most important sockeye salmon rivers. The company that designed that failed dam—and the company that owns Mount Polley—is the same company that built  and just opened  the Red Chris Mine in the headwaters of the Stikine, the very river my daughter and I fished in July.

Other mines the size and scale of Mount Polley are under construction or planned for the headwater reaches of the Unuk River, which drains into Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan, and for the Taku River, which empties into the ocean near the state capital of Juneau. Both rivers are hugely important to the multi- billion-dollar   seafood and tourism industries  of Southeast Alaska, and both offer unparalleled angling  opportunities for folks like me my daughter. To say that mines in British Columbia put in peril the irreplaceable American resources of Southeast Alaska is an understatement.

I, for one, appreciated Secretary of State John Kerry's comments recently in Anchorage, when he recognized the transboundary mining issue as "a serious challenge." It is, indeed, and while Secretary Kerry noted that he and the State Department have raised the issue with local governments, the state government and the federal government, very little has been accomplished on the federal level to resolve the issue that could, potentially, turn three of Alaska'a prime salmon-bearing rivers into avenues for toxic mine waste to make its way it way to the sea.

You likely know that the U.S. and Canada are parties to the Boundary Waters Treaty, a century-old agreement that, among other things, forbids either country from polluting waters that run from one country to the other. Already, mine waste from Canadian mines in B.C. is polluting American waters, albeit on small scale. The abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine in the Taku River watershed has been leaching acid mine drainage into the Taku since the 1950s despite Alaskans’ many calls on Canada for it to cease. The massive mines the scale of Mount Polley have the potential to not only violate the Boundary Waters Treaty, but destroy the fishing economy of Southeast Alaska (and fishing and tourism are the two major economic drivers in this corner of the state).

Rather than simply "raise the issue" with the various government issues in the region, Secretary Kerry should ask that the International Joint Commission, authorized under  the Boundary Waters Treaty, be convened. Kerry should also require that the British Columbia government  provide both environmental and financial guarantees that mining activity in the headwaters of some of our greatest Alaskan rivers won't harm Alaska's water, its fish or its way of life. It's time for action on this issue, not just simple awareness.

The Stikine is home to a big run of king salmon. 

 

You'll be glad to know that we enjoyed excellent fishing in the tributary of the Stikine for pink salmon, sea-run cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden and even king salmon. This remote corner of Alaska is truly special, and I'm so happy I got to share the experience with my daughter. It was a magical experience, and we'll do it again as soon as we're able.

I hope, when we do, that the Stikine River will be still be intact; that Secretary Kerry and the State Department will have acted in a responsible manner, enacted the Boundary Waters Treaty and been assured that mining in Canada won't harm the life-blood of Southeast Alaska: its rivers and its fish.

Enjoy your visit to Alaska, and thank you for considering my request.

 

Chris Hunt

National Communications Director

Trout Unlimited

 

 

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