Canadians and Americans Demand No More Mount Polleys

Chris Zimmer : Apr 28.2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 28, 2015

CONTACTS:

Monty Bassett, Documentary Filmmaker, 250-877-0961 or 250-847-5605
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders, 907-586-2166 or 907-988-8173,     Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org
Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, Professor of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, daviswade@aol.com

Diverse group of Alaska Tribes, members of First Nations, businesses, organizations, scientists and individuals calls for end to wet mine tailings storage in B.C.

Today a large and diverse group of Canadians and Americans called on the British Columbia (B.C.) government to halt the permitting of wet tailings facilities for new and proposed mines in B.C. based on the Independent Expert Panel recommendations on the Mount Polley mine tailings disaster. Eighty-seven Alaska Native tribes, members of B.C. First Nations, businesses, prominent individuals, scientists, and conservation groups signed a letter to the B.C. government calling for a shift to newer and safer dry tailings storage technology.

“Wet tailings impoundments are an unacceptable financial and environmental liability now and for future generations,” said letter organizer Monty Bassett. “A failure by the B.C. government to stop further construction of wet tailings storage facilities would be a blatant disregard for safety and its own commitments to adopt Best Available Technologies and Practices. Dry stack is a proven tailings technology. Mining industry complaints about costs fly in the face of the Mount Polley report recommendation that costs should not trump safety.”

Statement of Opposition to Continued Permitting of Wet Tailings Facilities in BC. Click on image to view or download pdf.

Statement of Opposition to Continued Permitting of Wet Tailings Facilities in BC. Click on image to view or download pdf.

These concerns are based on recommendations by the Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel, which released a report on the Mount Polley tailings failure in January 2015. The report found that unless significant changes are made in the way B.C. tailings dams are designed and maintained, more failures can be expected. The report’s principal recommendation calls for an end to outdated “hundred year old” wet tailings storage and conversion to “dry stack” tailings systems. According to page 120 of the report, “Improving technology to ensure against failures requires eliminating water both on and in the tailings: water on the surface, and water contained in the interparticle voids. Only this can provide the kind of failsafe redundancy that prevents releases no matter what.”

“We cannot afford another Mount Polley, especially at mines like Red Chris or the proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM), which are much bigger and will have more toxic acidic tailings,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “Unless there are major changes to B.C. tailings storage, we will soon see more dangerous dams built across B.C. and in the headwaters of major transboundary salmon rivers such as the Stikine, Taku and Unuk. These tailings dumps will be toxic time bombs poised upstream of vital salmon habitat.”

Despite the Mount Polley report’s recommendations, just days after the Panel released its report, B.C.’s Ministry of Energy and Mines issued an “interim operating” permit for a wet-tailings facility at the Red Chris mine in northwestern B.C., in the headwaters of the transboundary, salmon-rich Stikine River. The interim permit expires May 4, 2015. The Red Chris facility, also owned by Imperial Metals, is similar to the one that failed at Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley mine in August, releasing almost 25 million cubic meters (6.6 billion gallons) of mine waste water and tailings into the Fraser River watershed.

“It is reckless for B.C. to permit the kind of outdated watered tailings facility at Red Chris that failed at Mount Polley and that the expert panel specifically recommends against,” said Zimmer. “The panel called Mount Polley a ‘loaded gun’ and B.C. is loading the chamber at Red Chris.”

According to an independent expert report commissioned by Imperial Metals, “any failure of the Red Chris impoundment will likely have a much more significant environmental impact than the Mount Polley failure.” This is also true of other mines such as KSM. The proposed KSM tailings facility is roughly six times that of Mount Polley’s.

“We know that a dam failure at mines like Red Chris or KSM could have far worse consequences than Mount Polley, yet the B.C. government and the mining industry are avoiding the one thing that could reduce the risk of such a failure,” said Zimmer. “The costs of such failures to downstream communities could dwarf the costs of implementing changes now.”

The lessons of Mount Polley show that tailings failures are very difficult and expensive to clean up, there are no insurance policies for tailings dams, mine company bonding doesn’t pay for accidents or disasters, and there are no clear mechanisms to compensate injured parties. Industry often can’t pay, which means either B.C. taxpayers end up paying for substantial environmental liabilities, or cleanup and compensation doesn’t happen.

“What we are saying is to do Red Chris right,” said author Wade Davis, who owns a lodge at the base of Mount Todagin where Red Chris is situated. “In the wake of Mount Polley, how can we trust wet tailings storage? Can we not expect the safest mine technology possible from Imperial Metals?”

The letter was sent to Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines; Mary Polak, Minister of Environment; Al Hoffman, Chief Inspector of Mines; Diane Howe, Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines; Norm MacDonald, MLA, Opposition Critic for Energy and Mines; and Doug Donaldson, MLA, Stikine.

For more information:  www.riverswithoutborders.org, www.wildborderwatersheds.org and www.cleanmining.ca

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Yearend Reflections

Will Patric : Dec 18.2014

The end of 2014 is a good time to reflect on what Rivers Without Borders is trying to do, and why …

As the director of Rivers Without Borders (founded 15 years ago this month!), I focus on the watersheds of northwest British Columbia and southeast Alaska. But recently I attended two conferences outside that realm. One was about the Columbia River basin. The other was about Puget Sound. What struck me most about both gatherings was the extent and diversity of environmental problems being addressed within these two iconic water systems, and the amount of money, energy, and scientific expertise that’s being poured into them to try to restore a vestige of the ecological productivity that’s been squandered by development over the past century. The director of the Puget Sound Partnership made this point with an interesting illustration. As she put it, emphasizing degrees of complexity, “There’s baking a cake. Then there’s putting someone on the moon. And then there’s trying to restore Puget Sound.” As in stopping industrial pollution. Resurrecting estuaries and wetlands. Getting salmon around dams. Addressing pesticide and herbicide runoff from agriculture. Urban growth. Exotic species. Stream channeling. Logging. Mining. Removing heavy metals from water and sediment. Turning reservoirs back into rivers. And on and on with many hundreds of millions of dollars being spent chipping away at these daunting challenges.

In the BC – Alaska transboundary region, we don’t have to spend a dime on habitat restoration. Its watersheds are still amazingly intact and, not coincidentally, world class wild salmon strongholds rich in biodiversity. Close to perfect. All they need is humility to let them be; foresight to keep them as is.

The braided salmon habitat of the Taku river. Photo courtesy of Rivers Without Borders. Click on the image to embiggen.

The braided salmon habitat of the Taku river. Photo courtesy of Rivers Without Borders. Click on the image to embiggen.

That’s why Rivers Without Borders is determined to stop Tulsequah Chief, an extremely controversial mine proposal slated for the Taku, the largest totally intact watershed on the Pacific coast of North America and the transboundary region’s number one salmon system. And why we’re raising awareness of other mining proposals in transboundary watershed headwaters – the KSM mega mine in particular – and encouraging calls for an international conversation about the future of these international rivers.

With the needs of salmon in particular driving concern, the downstream demand for careful consideration and safeguarding of what we have, before we lose it, is growing. Most recently the National Congress of American Indians and several Alaska Native associations passed formal resolutions asking for the convening of an International Joint Commission under the auspices of the Boundary Waters Treaty to address headwaters mining concerns. Seven southeast Alaska communities have now passed formal resolutions for the same thing. This echoes what we’ve been calling for, namely ecosystem-based planning and decision making about these watersheds. This means getting downstream interests heard and registering upstream, across the border, where development is proposed. The international conversation. This, we believe, is the best hope for advancing conservation.

We have a long way to go, but we’ve made some real progress. The future of the Taku looks brighter, thanks to the Taku River Tlingit First Nation’s lawsuit and fishermen standing up to a really bad mine proposal on Alaska’s doorstep just upstream of the Taku’s premier salmon habitat. And there’s a rising tide of voices saying it can’t be business as usual in the BC – Alaska transboundary watersheds. Here we still have a chance to save some spectacularly wild and intact working ecosystems. With humility and foresight.

Best wishes for the new year ahead.

Taku barging – Here We Go Again!

Chris Zimmer : Nov 10.2014

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

November 10, 2014

CONTACT:
Chris Zimmer, Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org, 907/586-2166

CHIEFTAIN METALS’ TULSEQUAH CHIEF BARGING PLAN AT ODDS WITH PAST BARGING PROBLEMS AND STUDIES SHOWING BARGING WON’T WORK

Taku River Barging Faces Renewed Opposition in Alaska

(Juneau)  Chieftain Metals’, on October 20, announced an update to the December 2012 feasibility study for the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine. The most significant change is a plan to access the mine using barges on the Taku River, rather than via an access road to Atlin, British Columbia.

“This flip-flop from road to barge is very surprising. None of the barging efforts by Chieftain in 2011 and previous mine owner Redfern in 2007 and 2008 worked as planned and Chieftain’s own access report concluded in 2011 that none of the barging options were practical,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “The threat of salmon habitat damage from groundings and accidents, as well as spills of diesel fuel, cyanide and other chemicals, will certainly raise concerns in Juneau.”

Redfern tug tips over while hauling a barge on the Taku River. Tug pilots scramble to top of the tug as it capsizes. Photo dated July 1, 2008 courtesy of Dale Douglas. Click on photo to view in larger format.

Redfern tug tips over while hauling a barge on the Taku River. Tug pilots scramble to top of the tug as it capsizes. Photo dated July 1, 2008 courtesy of Dale Douglas. Click on photo to view in larger format.

Concentrate and supplies would be shipped to and from the mine using conventional river barges for five months a year, with concentrate to be barged to Seattle for export to Asia. Few details about the proposed barging plan have been provided. A Technical Report will be released by December 4.

Chieftain’s October 2011 assessment of several barging alternatives concluded none of the options would work. The assessment isn’t publicly available, but a Chieftain briefing paper from January 2012 summarized the results of the study:

“The Downstream Access Practicability Assessment Report, which was completed in October 2011,…concluded that none of the barging options were practical due to low flow levels on the river which are insufficient to sustain operational requirements….Additionally, the economic and financial implications put the project at risk of being unable to proceed.”

Chieftain’s own Feasibility Study from December 2012 raises several significant problems with barging:

  • “Regarding the 2013 (and to a lesser extent, 2014) barging campaign, there is a risk the river levels will not support a four to six week campaign.”
  • “…the Tulsequah River is not easily navigated due to high and variable flows, debris hazards, and shallow areas…would require more or less continuous dredging during the shipping season to maintain an open channel. The period available to conventional barging varies from year to year, ranging from less than three months to as much as six months;”

“The new plan calls for five months of barging a year, but experience and Chieftain’s own Feasibility Study show this is unrealistic,” added Zimmer. “It is very unlikely Chieftain would be granted Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Army Corps of Engineers permits for river dredging.”

Problems with previous barging include:

  • In May 2008 Redfern announced plans to ship 20,000 tons of supplies to the Tulsequah Chief site in 200 barge loads, yet was only able to accomplish about 30 barge runs due to river conditions. Redfern called this a “key challenge” in announcing third quarter financial results.
  • In 2007 and 2008 there were numerous reports of barge and tug groundings (none of which were reported to the U.S. Coast Guard as required by law). In July 2008 a tug almost capsized.
  • In June 2011, Chieftain was unable to complete all planned barge runs due to low water levels. Chieftain planned 8 trips that fall but couldn’t do any of them due to low water, causing a loss of $750,000.

Since buying the mine in 2010 Chieftain has emphasized a road is vital to mine development and that barging isn’t viable. “Chieftain’s own studies show barging won’t work. Experience to date shows barging on the Taku is extremely challenging and unreliable. This latest plan seems a recognition the mine and road are not economical and is a desperate last ditch attempt from a company that has demonstrated little ability to move this project forward,” said Zimmer.

Redfern’s conventional barging in 2007 and 2008 generated much concern in Juneau. In 2011 Juneau legislators formed the Taku River Task Force to look into concerns about river barging. Chieftain COO Keith Boyle emphasized in his testimony to the Task Force that Chieftain had determined river barging is “impracticable” and investors were not supportive of barging.

The mine would be in northwest British Columbia, very close to the Alaska border and just upstream of some of the Taku River’s premier salmon habitat. The new barging proposal is likely to face strong opposition in Juneau. The Taku is Southeast Alaska’s most productive salmon river and has significant commercial and recreational use. Barging could interfere with commercial, sport and personal use fishing, river navigation, floatplane landings and Alaska Department of Fish and Game research. Fishermen would undoubtedly again raise concerns about habitat damage due to barges grounding and plowing through the river bottom. Accidents and spills of diesel fuel, cyanide and other toxins are a distinct possibility. It is unlikely any kind of river dredging would be approved by regulatory agencies.

“This new barging plan fails to recognize the realities of the Taku River. It is shallow and fast, with frequently changing gravel bars and lots of logjams. The Taku is a tremendous fishery, with a large constituency of users in Southeast Alaska. Chieftain’s barging plan flies in the face of these realities, past experience and Chieftain’s own studies, and it will face a lot of opposition in Juneau,” said Zimmer.

For a pdf version of this release, click here.

High-Ranking Alaskans Call On U.S. State Department To Intervene With Canada Over British Columbia Mine Threats

Chris Zimmer : Aug 21.2014

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 21, 2014

With Mt. Polley Mine Disaster Highlighting Risks to Alaska from Canadian Mining Push, and KSM in the Final Stages of Review, Secretary of State John Kerry Should Invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty to Protect Alaska

CONTACTS:

Dale Kelley, Alaska Trollers Association, ata@gci.net, 907-586-9400

Brian Lynch, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, pvoa@gci.net, 907-772-9323

John Morris, Jr., United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, jmorris@kictribe.org, 907-617-6991

JUNEAU, Alaska —A broad coalition of Alaskans, including the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation and some of its largest commercial fishing organizations, urges U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene with Canada as large-scale mine developments in British Columbia (B.C.) near Alaska’s southeast border rapidly advance. The request comes in the wake of the Mt. Polley mine disaster in B.C. and with the Canadian province’s approval of a large-scale mine called KSM (Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell) near Alaska. KSM is one of several Canadian mine projects, located near international rivers flowing from B.C. into Southeast Alaska, that threaten Alaska’s multi-billion-dollar seafood and visitor industries and pose unacceptable risks to the environment.

To view or download a pdf version of this press release, please click image above.

To view or download a pdf version of this press release, please click image above.

This month’s catastrophic accident at the Mt. Polley mine underscores the risk Southeast Alaska faces from large-scale B.C. mine development, including five acid-generating  projects located in  the Unuk, Stikine and Taku River watersheds, some of Southeast Alaska’s most productive and lucrative salmon-bearing rivers. The five mines are part of a larger mineral development push by B.C. Premier Christy Clark who has pledged to create eight new mines and expand nine more by next year.

The newly constructed Red Chris mine, located in the Stikine River watershed, upstream from the Alaska communities of Wrangell and Petersburg, is set to start operations soon. Red Chris is owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that operates Mt. Polley, and is currently being blockaded by citizens of the Tahltan First Nation.

The tailings dam breach at Mt. Polley unleashed an estimated 2.6 billion gallons of mine wastewater and 6 million cubic yards of sand, contaminated with tons of copper, nickel, arsenic and lead, into waterways leading to the Fraser River, one of Canada’s biggest salmon producers. The massive Aug. 4 spill coincided with the annual return of an estimated 1.5 million salmon to the Fraser River.

“This failure may affect salmon stocks managed under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. A similar failure at mines proposed near the Unuk, Stikine and Taku Rivers would directly affect fishery stocks upon which commercial and recreational fishermen depend, as well as the subsistence and cultural needs of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of my state,” wrote Sen. Mark Begich in a letter to Sec. Kerry this month.

Alaska fishing and tribal leaders agree and are also calling on Sec. Kerry to act with urgency.

“Our culture, food security and livelihoods depend on wild salmon. Although the mines are in Canada, the fish rely on transboundary waters as part of their life cycle and these waters know no borders. The State Department needs to ensure that these fish and the rights of our tribal citizens are respected,” said John Morris, Jr., co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, an organization representing a broad section of Southeast Alaska’s federally recognized tribes.

Dale Kelley, executive director of Alaska Trollers Association, also urges State Department action.

“My organization represents over one thousand fishing families in Alaska who rely on the pristine waters of Southeast Alaska for their income. There are thousands more residents with an interest in the fish and wildlife of this region. Any threat to these waters from Canadian mines is a threat to the U.S. economy and a matter that we hope Secretary Kerry will take seriously. I realize he’s busy on a variety of diplomatic fronts, but this is an international problem on the U.S. border and we need his focus on this,” said Kelley.

The Mt. Polley disaster “has renewed the specter of environmental impacts from large-scale mineral developments in Canada that are located near transboundary rivers,” wrote Sen. Lisa Murkowski to Kerry on Aug. 8. “This incident should compel the State Department to evaluate additional steps that may be warranted to safeguard U.S. interests.”

Congressman Don Young also called for Kerry’s help, specifically on the proposed KSM mine near Ketchikan. KSM is a massive gold and copper open-pit mine project about 19 miles north of Alaska’s border that has already received B.C. provincial approval. The Canadian federal government is currently evaluating the project and is expected to make a decision this fall.

Alaskans, including three state commissioners and several Alaska legislators, and the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, have called on the Canadian federal government to elevate the environmental review of KSM to the highest possible level, a process called a Panel Review.

“Alaskans will face only downstream risk associated with KSM but will gain no direct employment or other economic benefits from this project. While there are no absolute guarantees that a Panel Review would prevent a catastrophe like what just happened at Mt. Polley, that level of scrutiny is the only thing that gives us any assurance that a similar catastrophe won’t happen again, this time polluting Alaska’s rich fishing grounds,” said Brian Lynch, executive director of the Petersburg organization, which represents over 100 commercial fishermen and businesses operating primarily in Southeast Alaska.

Since last fall when the KSM mine underwent provincial review, more than 1,000 Alaskans have weighed in with public comments, asking for more scrutiny of KSM, as well as the other transboundary mineral developments, and for State Department intervention. Many have cited the Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada as a tool Kerry could use to address the threats to Alaska imposed by the B.C. mines. The treaty states “that the waters herein defined as boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other side.”

“Using the Boundary Waters Treaty might get the Canadians’ attention. At least it would start the conversation,” said Lynch.

More at www.salmonbeyondborders.org

Senator Begich Contacts State Department About Protecting Alaska Fisheries

Lety Hopper : Aug 7.2014

 

U.S.  Senator Mark Begich issued a statement on August 6th in a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about the Mount Polley tailings dam failure in British Columbia.

“This week’s failure of the Mount Polley tailings pond dam in British Columbia validates fears Alaska fishermen have regarding Canada’s proposed development of large-scale hardrock mineral mines near trans-boundary rivers with Alaska.”

“A similar failure at mines proposed the near Unuk, Stikine and Taku Rivers would be devastating to fish stocks which Alaska commercial and recreational fishermen depend on, as well as the subsistence and cultural needs of the Alaska Native residents of Southeast.”

To view or download Senator Begich's letter to Secretary Kerry, click image above.

To view or download Senator Begich’s letter to Secretary Kerry, click image above.

BC Supreme Court Decision Could Void Major Permit for Chieftain Metals’ Tulsequah Chief Mine

Chris Zimmer : Aug 4.2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 4, 2014

CONTACT
Chris Zimmer, 907/586-2166, zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org

BC Must Consult with Taku River Tlingit; Redo Decision on Key Permit’s Status

(JUNEAU) The Supreme Court of British Columbia (BC) on July 11 ruled that the BC government erred in its May 30, 2012 decision to make the Environmental Assessment Certificate permanent for the Tulsequah Chief mine. The Court ruled the determination of whether the mine was started must be done again and it must also be done in consultation with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN).

“This is a major legal decision in favor of the Taku River Tlingit, and the Court’s decision could also halt the Tulsequah Chief mine,” said Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director for Rivers Without Borders. “The mine cannot proceed without an Environmental Assessment Certificate. If, after consulting with the Taku River Tlingit, the BC government decides the mine has not been started, the Certificate will immediately expire and other approvals and permits for the mine are void, including the permit for the access road. The mine project would need a new environmental assessment process to obtain a new Certificate.”

One of the issues in the legal challenge from the TRTFN, represented by Ecojustice, was whether or not the Tulsequah Chief project was “substantially started” within the required time frame. Under BC law, mining projects must be substantially started within five years of issuance of the Certificate, with the possibility of a one-time extension of up to five years. If a project is deemed substantially started, the Certificate becomes permanent for the life of the mine. If a project has not been substantially started within the time limit, the Certificate expires and the project cannot proceed.

For a downloadable pdf version of this press release, please click image.

For a downloadable pdf version of this press release, please click image.

Chieftain Metals had until December 12, 2012 to substantially start the Tulsequah Chief. Without notification to or consultation with the TRTFN, the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) deemed the project substantially started in May 2012 despite the fact that very few of the mine’s physical components identified in its project description such as the underground mine, waste storage facilities or access road, had been started.

The Court noted that the TRTFN had extensive evidence to offer in the substantially started decision and such evidence was “entirely missing from the record.” The Court also noted that the information presented to the EAO for its substantially started decision was “one-sided” and the factual record was “modest.” The court ruled the EAO had a legal duty to consult with the TRTFN and the decision must be done again. The Court also said a substantially started decision should “focus primarily on physical activities, since December 12, 2002, having a long-term impact on the site” and “should focus less on the permits which have been granted, and the money expended.”

“This ruling voids the BC government’s previous decision and sets standards for a new decision that will be tough for Chieftain to meet,” said Zimmer. “I’ve recently flown over the mine site and there is very little that most people would consider mine site construction. Chieftain tried to claim that its paperwork and non-construction activities contribute to the substantial start of the Tulsequah Chief. But the Court’s ruling indicates that the primary focus of any substantially started decision should be long-term, physical works, and there are very few, if any, of these at the mine site.”

The legal victory for the TRTFN is one of several recent setbacks for Chieftain Metals and its Tulsequah Chief project.

  • On April 28 the Ontario Securities Commission posted a notice on its Refilings and Errors list that Chieftain Metals had been deficient in its required disclosures and Chieftain had to disclose this in a press release.
  • On July 8 the Supreme Court of BC ruled that Chieftain must pay $200,000 to Tulsequah Wilderness Adventures in a case of disputed property.
  • On July 14 the Toronto Stock Exchange announced it was reviewing Chieftain Metals’ stock for potential delisting from the TSX.

Chieftain announced, on July 7, an $18.5 million loan from its largest shareholder, West Face Capital, to update the Tulsequah Chief feasibility study, cover corporate costs and pay debts owed to Royal Gold under a revised agreement.

“This high interest loan from its largest shareholder is the only thing keeping Chieftain afloat,” said Zimmer. “Chieftain hasn’t been able to entice any major construction investment and is yet again promising to ‘optimize’ its mine proposal to make it more attractive. But no matter how you look at it, the proposed Tulsequah Chief project is not viable economically, socially or environmentally. This project is the wrong mine in the wrong place.”

The proposed Tulsequah Chief mine is located on the banks of the Tulsequah River, a major tributary to the Taku River, and just upstream of the Alaska/BC border. The Taku watershed is the transboundary region’s most productive salmon river and of great cultural and economic importance. The proposed mine has the potential to harm downstream commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries and the Tlingit way of life, and has caused controversy for over two decades.

Rivers Without Borders is a project of the Tides Center
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A Long Walk in the Taku

Lety Hopper : Jun 20.2014


Rivers Without Borders was recently contacted by Kevin Geraghty, an amateur naturalist from Washington who walked across the Taku watershed in August 2012. That got our attention, and admiration! We asked if he’d share a few thoughts about this experience, and what the Taku now means to him. Here’s his story… (Click photos to embiggen)

Two years ago I passed a month walking completely across the Taku watershed, starting in the Yukon drainage to the north, and ending up in the Stikine to the south.

On some unnoticeable point on the low-gradient route from Atlin to Kuthai Lake, one crosses the divide from Atlin Lake (Yukon river drainage) to the Taku River basin, which reaches the sea at Taku Inlet south of Juneau. This lakelet is the last one to drain to the Yukon. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

On some unnoticeable point on the low-gradient route from Atlin to Kuthai Lake, one crosses the divide from Atlin Lake (Yukon river drainage) to the Taku River basin, which reaches the sea at Taku Inlet south of Juneau. This lakelet is the last one to drain to the Yukon. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

It’s a little curious how that happened. I was looking at a map of northern BC, observing roads, settlements, and the green blobs which indicated formal protected areas – Mount Edziza, Spatsizi, and the cluster of green areas surrounding the north end of the Rocky Mountain Trench.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But my eye was drawn to this big white blank spot between Atlin on the north and the Telegraph Creek road to the south which had no roads, no settlements, and no protected status at all–just a network of rivers that converged on one point and then made a beeline through the Coast Ranges, to end up at tidewater near Juneau.

A fish wier at the outlet of Kuthai Lake (the Silver Salmon River, clear, pebbly and no more than a foot deep). There were five or six big Sockeye salmon hanging out here waiting patiently for the fish counters to let them through. Kuthai Lake is about 2400'; for the Sockeye, a roughly 2000' climb up the Silver Salmon/Nakina system from the low-gradient lower-most Nakina. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

A fish wier at the outlet of Kuthai Lake (the Silver Salmon River, clear, pebbly and no more than a foot deep). There were five or six big Sockeye salmon hanging out here waiting patiently for the fish counters to let them through. Kuthai Lake is about 2400′; for the Sockeye, a roughly 2000′ climb up the Silver Salmon/Nakina system from the low-gradient lower-most Nakina. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

I have learned over the years, not only that such “blank spots” are interesting, but that interior-coastal transitions are biological hotspots.

 

 

 

The trail down to the Nakina does not follow the Silver Salmon River down, but goes over a shoulder. This is about the height of land, where the mid-elevation forest zone is dominated by subalpine fir. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

The trail down to the Nakina does not follow the Silver Salmon River down, but goes over a shoulder. This is about the height of land, where the mid-elevation forest zone is dominated by subalpine fir. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

In my home ranges in Washington, the east side of the Cascades has a wonderful mix of coastal and interior flora, and really steep climate gradients which mean that the flora and fauna change really quickly as one travels the ground. I was inspired to go look at this bigger, wilder northern version of some of my favorite Washington landscapes.

 

 

 

 

 

What can I say about the Taku?

It’s just hugely impressive.

The forest gets bigger, more interesting, and more "coastal" in the lower-most Nakina - Balsam Poplar, mostly, with a shrub understory of Viburnum and Devil's Club. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

The forest gets bigger, more interesting, and more “coastal” in the lower-most Nakina – Balsam Poplar, mostly, with a shrub understory of Viburnum and Devil’s Club. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


It’s a little hard to communicate the immensity of the place from the perspective of an individual walker. It makes one feel small. It seems to go on and on. Plateaus, mountains, rivers, bogs, meadows, willow swamps. How many areas are there left, anymore, where one has to carry a month’s food at a time, just to get to the other side?

Dropping down to the Sloko. The Sloko-Nakina confluence is maybe a mile downstream, and the "grand" confluence of the two principal arms of the Taku system maybe three miles below that. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

Dropping down to the Sloko. The Sloko-Nakina confluence is maybe a mile downstream, and the “grand” confluence of the two principal arms of the Taku system maybe three miles below that. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some parts of it are a little monotonous, some parts are a serious laborious thrash to get through, but every part of it exudes wild, and seems as if it is unchanged since the continental ice sheets melted. We tend to use words like “wild” and “pristine” a little loosely nowadays, since so few places of any size are genuinely free of human impacts. But really, if there’s any place left in North America that deserves these adjectives, it’s the Taku.

Second Nakina River crossing. It is just a smallish stream here, a few miles below its origin at the outlet of Nakina Lake. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

Second Nakina River crossing. It is just a smallish stream here, a few miles below its origin at the outlet of Nakina Lake. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We talk a lot about salmon down here in Washington. We have “salmon festivals” which celebrate the return of fish to their hatchery where they will be unceremoniously killed; we have salmon for the tourists to buy down at the Pike Street market, which all come from Alaska; we spend millions on trap-and-haul facilities to keep endangered runs on life support; and yes, we do have a few undammed rivers and surviving natural runs of all Pacific salmon species, but many runs are extinct and many more are just hanging on. This great natural spectacle of life and death, which knits together sea and land, is at best just a shadow of its former magnificence.

Anadromous reach of Tseta Creek around 2200 ft. Chinook could be seen guarding redds in some stretches. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

Anadromous reach of Tseta Creek around 2200 ft. Chinook could be seen guarding redds in some stretches. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Taku, by contrast, it’s all there in great complexity and abundance, with a bewildering array of run timings and spawning sites, and hundreds of miles of pristine habitat.

Trembling Aspen (warm green) and conifers (mostly White Spruce).   This pattern of largely single-species patches is common. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

Trembling Aspen (warm green) and conifers (mostly White Spruce). This pattern of largely single-species patches is common. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

The Nahlin river crossing. Pretty easy this high up. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

The Nahlin river crossing. Pretty easy this high up. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the other part of this natural spectacle – the gathering of terrestrial and avian life to the feast – is also very visible. I was impressed and not a little intimidated by what I came to think of as “bear congresses” – the countryside seemingly empty of bears and devoid of recent bear sign for days at a time, and then one would come to the neighborhood of an anadromous stream reach, and evidence of bears would be everywhere. One evening on the lower Nakina, it wasn’t just evidence of bears, or a single bear to be given a wide berth, but many bears, cruising the banks looking for spawned-out salmon, as thick as dogs at the local off-leash area. Not to McNeil river density, perhaps, but then again, there were no fellow watchers clicking away with their big lenses, no permits, nor minders armed with shotguns. It was just me and the bears, which does tend to focus the mind, as they say. I did not care to linger in such places, but I was certainly glad to have seen them.

Hatin Lake - big enough for a couple of loon pairs. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

Hatin Lake – big enough for a couple of loon pairs. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After my return to the twenty-first century I was distressed to learn about the Tulsequah Chief Mine project. I figured out that on my walk I had crossed the proposed route of the mine road.

Level Mountain is on the left. The Level Mountain massif is roughly circular and measures about 40 miles north to south, a little less east to west. This is a big feature, right at the edge of the Taku watershed where it borders the Iskut-Stikine watershed. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

Level Mountain is a large extinct shield volcano, about 40 miles across, which forms part of the divide between the Taku watershed and the Iskut-Stikine to the south. It’s surface has been shaped by glacial erosion into a landscape of peaks and valleys. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from the highest point on Level Mountain at a little over 7000 ft. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

The view from Meszah Peak, the highest point on the Level Mountain plateau at a little over 7000 ft. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An old hotspot shield volcano near Level Mountain. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

Some of the individual peaks on the Level Mountain plateau are brightly colored volcanic rock reminiscent of the better known Rainbow Range far south in the Chilcotin. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Descending to the Nakina from the vicinity of Atlin, one moves from a relatively dry, lodgepole-y rain-shadowed plateau, down towards a landscape of more evident moisture, warmth, and abundance. It is a memorable route, with much to savor; one feels one is approaching the pulsing natural heart of things.

 

Reached the Tahltan River valley (in the Iskut-Stikine watershed where it borders the Taku watershed) after two straight days of rain. Picked up a decent old horse trail along the river here, which took me the three or four miles to the old impassable Golden Bear mine road. End of difficulties, except a sixteen-mile road walk on the Golden Bear road and a sixty-mile hitch to Dease Lake. A roaming fire-extinguisher inspector based out of Whitehorse picked me up. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

Reached the Tahltan River valley (in the Iskut-Stikine watershed where it borders the Taku watershed) after two straight days of rain. Picked up a decent old horse trail along the river here, which took me the three or four miles to the old impassable Golden Bear mine road. End of difficulties, except a sixteen-mile road walk on the Golden Bear road and a sixty-mile hitch to Dease Lake. A roaming fire-extinguisher inspector based out of Whitehorse picked me up. Photo courtesy of Kevin Geraghty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would hate to think that I was one of the last people to be able to appreciate that journey properly, before it was bisected by an ugly mine road. And the mine itself seems to be in the worst possible place, threatening the braided channels of the Taku main stem which are mile-for-mile by far the most productive part of the whole system.

The salmon are a vital part of this place; damage the runs and you have damaged a great web of life.


Note from RWB: Kevin graciously offered to tell us the story of his walk through the Taku watershed as a guest blogger and to share his beautiful photos of the region. Thank you, Kevin!

Chieftain Metals Forced by Ontario Securities Commission to Correct 2013 Annual Information Form and Retract Corporate Presentation

Chris Zimmer : Jun 2.2014


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 2, 2014

On April 28, 2014, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) notified investors on its Refilings and Errors List that Chieftain Metals Corp. was non-compliant in its mineral project disclosure. On the same day, Chieftain Metals issued a corrected Annual Information Form noting that the report had been revised “in connection with a continuous disclosure review by the Ontario Securities Commission.”

“Chieftain has a history of selective and self-serving public statements, some based on pie-in-the-sky predictions, that do not provide a complete and accurate picture of the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine to potential investors,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “The Tulsequah Chief project has serious risks and uncertainties such as opposition by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, high levels of contaminants in the copper ore, unresolved problems with concentrate sales, potentially expensive long-term environmental liabilities, and ongoing violations of its waste discharge permit and the Canadian federal Fisheries Act. We applaud the OSC for forcing Chieftain to comply with disclosure laws and provide more accurate information.”

Chieftain’s April 28 press release, which the company did not post to its website, stated “at the OSC’s request, the Company withdraws the disclosure it made in a corporate presentation at a conference in January 2014 where the Company disclosed estimated net asset value figures of its Tulsequah Chief project based on established mineral reserves as well as potential net asset value increase based on a sensitivity of its established mineral reserve following future exploration plans.”

“It appears that Chieftain was trying to create an expectation of a potential increase in the value of the currently proposed Tulsequah Chief project based on predictions of a larger mineral deposit from exploration the company hasn’t even done yet,” said Zimmer “The existence of a larger, more economical deposit has not been substantiated and no development beyond the currently proposed Tulsequah Chief mine has undergone any environmental assessment or permitting.”

Looking downstream on the Tulsequah River. The proposed Tulsequah Chief mine site is center left. The airstrip and borrow pit are in the foreground. The road between the barge landing and the mine site runs along the left side of the river. The confluence with the Taku River is in the upper right. Photo courtesy of Chris Miller. Click photo to embiggen.

Looking downstream on the Tulsequah River. The proposed Tulsequah Chief mine site is center left. The airstrip and borrow pit are in the foreground. The road between the barge landing and the mine site runs along the left side of the river. The confluence with the Taku River is in the upper right. Photo courtesy of Chris Miller. Click photo to embiggen.

Canadian securities regulators have requirements for when and how information must be disclosed. This helps provide investors with timely and accurate information to make informed investment decisions. The OSC investigates alleged breaches of securities law such as misleading disclosure. If a company contravenes securities law, the OSC can issue a cease trade order on an issuer’s securities, or order a public company to restate and refile its financial statements.

Chieftain is the owner of the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine project located on the banks of the Tulsequah River, a major tributary to the Taku River, and just upstream of the Alaska/British Columbia border. The Taku watershed is the transboundary region’s most productive salmon river and of great cultural and economic importance to the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. The proposed mine has the potential to harm downstream commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries and the Tlingit way of life, and has caused controversy for over two decades.

A lawsuit filed on December 17, 2013 by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation naming the British Columbia Minister of Environment, Environmental Assessment Office and Chieftain Metals as respondents could void the Environmental Assessment Certificate for the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine. The legal challenge asserts the Environmental Assessment Office erred in its determination that granted the Certificate for the life of the mine, and asks that the decision be quashed, causing the Certificate to expire. Without the Certificate the Tulsequah Chief mine proposal cannot proceed.

 Rivers Without Borders is a project of Tides Center.

New map of proposed transboundary headwaters development

Lety Hopper : May 1.2014

In collaboration with Eclipse GIS, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition and Suskwa Research, Rivers Without Borders has just released an updated map of proposed development in the headwaters of the transboundary watersheds.

Massive open-pit metals and coal mines, numerous pipelines, transmission lines, hydroelectric complexes, roads and rail are all proposed for the region, and some are already in the process of construction.

Map of current and proposed development within Northwest BC and Southeast Alaska. Click on image to view or download a larger version.

Map of current and proposed development within Northwest BC and Southeast Alaska. Click on image to view or download a larger version.

With subsidized power brought to the region by BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line,  BC plans 6 major minerals mines for the transboundary headwaters in the near future. The massive Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine proposal straddles both the Unuk and Nass watersheds. The Red Chris, Schaft Creek, and Galore Creek mine proposals are all in the Iskut-Stikine watershed, and Brucejack is just next door to KSM. The Tulsequah Chief mine is an extremely controversial proposal in the Taku watershed.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Mineral claims pummel the landscape, and mining companies are vying for a piece of the action. BC plans a mining district with some of the largest holes in the world pockmarking this pristine wilderness.

The Alaska – BC transboundary region represents an extraordinary conservation opportunity. These watersheds share exceptional wild salmon and wildlife habitat, and are as yet largely intact. They are also of profound cultural importance to the First Nations and Native Alaskans that have long called them home. This region sustains huge commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries, as well as recreation, tourism, and guiding businesses on both sides of the border.

Check out the map of development plans for the region by clicking on the image to view or download a larger version.

Canadian Mines Threaten Southeast Alaska Salmon, Tourism and Tribal Resources

Chris Zimmer : Mar 26.2014

 

Fishing and Tribal Organizations Call for U.S. State Department Action to Protect Alaska’s Interests

March 26, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

JUNEAU, ALASKA — Southeast Alaska’s clean water, billion-dollar salmon and tourism industries, and tribal resources face threats from large-scale Canadian mining and other developments. Swift action by the U.S. State Department is warranted to protect U.S. interests. A group of Alaska fishermen and tribal leaders hand delivered that message today to members of Alaska’s congressional delegation and the State Department.

Letter to Alaska Delegation about transboundary headwaters. Click image to view and download.

Letter to Alaska Delegation about transboundary headwaters. Click image to view and download.

At least five large-scale mines are planned for northwest British Columbia in watersheds that drain into salmon-bearing rivers of Southeast Alaska.  One project, called Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM), rivals in size and scope the giant, highly controversial Pebble mine proposed for Bristol Bay in Southwest Alaska. If built, developers say KSM would be the world’s largest gold and copper mine. The deposit sits in the headwaters of the salmon-rich Unuk River, which drains into Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument, a major tourist attraction.

Carrying a letter signed by a diverse group of 40 businesses, tribes, trade organizations and individuals, the group of Alaskans visiting the nation’s capital this week includes representatives from Alaska Trollers Association, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association and Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. They will meet with Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young, and State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior officials to deliver the message about what’s happening in northwest British Columbia, directly across the border from Southeast Alaska.

Map of current and proposed development within Northwest BC and Southeast Alaska. Click on image to view or download a larger version.

Map of current and proposed development within Northwest BC and Southeast Alaska. Click on image to view or download a larger version.

“Alaskans rely on healthy salmon and other fish species to fuel our economy.  The seafood industry is the largest private employer in Alaska. Here in the Southeast region, over 5,000 commercial-fishing families provide jobs and revenue for the state and dozens of small towns without road access. Tourism is also an important economic driver, and sport fishing and subsistence are crucial for our sustenance and quality of life. Large-scale development in sensitive habitat is not conducive to productive ecosystems that feed fishing communities in Alaska and British Columbia,” said Dale Kelley, executive director of Alaska Trollers Association.

Kelley and the other delegates, including Brian Lynch, executive director of Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, long-time Juneau seiner Bruce Wallace and Raymond Paddock III of Central Council Tlingit and Haida, are deeply concerned by the rapid pace of B.C.’s mining development in transboundary watersheds, including the Taku, Stikine and Unuk–some of Alaska’s most prized salmon-producing rivers.  They would like to see concrete guarantees that Alaska’s water and fish will not be harmed by British Columbia’s development.

“These rivers are the region’s top producers of wild salmon and eulachon. We cannot afford to sit quietly as these mines are being developed on an accelerated timeline. The risk of pollution in the form of acid mine drainage is very real, while the benefit of these mines to Alaska is basically zero. We are asking the Alaska delegation to see that the State Department protects our downstream interests and works with Canada to ensure this unique international salmon-producing region is not negatively impacted by industrial development,” said Lynch.

Commercial and sport fishing businesses and organizations, guides, outfitters, seafood processors, Alaska communities and Alaska Native organizations all signed the letter of concern. It follows more than 350 public comments, mostly from Southeast Alaskans, last fall expressing concern about the development of the KSM mine and how it could affect Southeast Alaska’s salmon and other resources.

Central Council Tlingit and Haida, the largest federally recognized tribe in Southeast Alaska, representing some 29,000 tribal citizens, is among the organizations expressing concerns about transboundary mine development. The council, along with several other Southeast tribes, has passed resolutions of concern. The Juneau-based tribal council also signed the letter delivered to the Alaska delegation this week. One of the tribe’s chief complaints is the absence of government-to-government consultation about what’s happening upstream from its customary and traditional use areas.

“There has been a lack of tribal consultation with us about matters that affect our fisheries, our customary and traditional harvesting, and our way of life.  Harvesting fish and wildlife constitutes the nutritional, spiritual and cultural foundation of Alaska Native tribal citizens. We must be included in any decisions about mines that could affect us,” said Paddock.

The letter is available for download here and supporting documents are available for download here. Economic information about the value of commercial fishing to Southeast Alaska is available here.

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