Sunday, January 24, 2016

Alaska Salmon and Canadian Minning


                                                      Comments dues by January 31, 2016

FROM fall through spring, the fleet of commercial fishing boats here in the panhandle of Alaska stalk winter king salmon. In the mornings prisms of ice sparkle beneath the sodium lights of the docks, where I live on a World War II tugboat with my wife and 8­month­ old daughter. This winter I’ve been out a few times fishing on the I Gotta, catching pristine wild salmon, torpedoes of muscle. But the work is slow, five fish a day, and my skipper recently traveled down to Reno, Nev., for knee surgery. Carpeted in rain forest and braided with waterways, southeast Alaska is among the largest wild salmon producers in the world, its tourism and salmon fishing industries grossing about $2 billion a year. But today, the rivers and the salmon that create these jobs — and this particular way of life, which attracted me from Philadelphia to Sitka almost 20 years ago — are threatened by Canada’s growing mining industry along the mountainous Alaska­ British Columbia border, about a hundred miles east of where I now write. At least 10 underground and open­ pit copper and gold mining projects in British Columbia are up and running, in advanced exploration or in review to be approved. These operations generate billions of tons of toxic mine tailings stored behind massive dams, creating an ecological hazard at the headwaters of Alaska’s major salmon rivers — the Stikine, Unuk and Taku, which straddle the border with Canada. Despite being subjected to the environmental and health risks of these upstream mining projects, Alaskans have no say in their approval. Which is why fishermen, Alaska native tribes, local municipalities, tourism businesses, our congressional delegation and thousands of individual Alaska residents have been clamoring for the State Department to refer this issue to the International Joint Commission, an American and Canadian advisory body established in 1909 to ensure that neither country pollutes the waters of the other. Last August, on a visit to Alaska, Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the issue: “Downstream impacts should not be taken lightly by any country anywhere.” But when Alaska’s lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, visited Washington to ask that the International Joint Commission examine the problem, he returned saying that State Department officials told him that this was a local issue. Concerns about these mining projects are not new. In November 2011, a group of 36 scientists wrote an open letter to Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, warning of the environmental impact of the province’s mining industry. They predicted that “habitat for salmon and other wildlife will be destroyed” and that additional effects would include “altered flow and temperature patterns, disturbance to wildlife interacting with roads, and reduced water quality associated with sedimentation and acid mine drainage.” Three years later, in August 2014, a tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine in British Columbia failed. A volume of water equivalent to thousands of Olympic­ size swimming pools, laden with sediment and heavy metals, washed away Hazeltine Creek and dumped into Quesnel Lake, a key salmon spawning ground of the Fraser River watershed. According to Jacinda Mack, a member of the Secwepemc Nation, located downriver from Mount Polley, the following summer was the first time in thousands of years that native tribes didn’t gather sockeye salmon, because of concerns over metal in fish tissue. The episode is now considered one of the worst mining spills in North American history. An independent investigation funded by the government of British Columbia uncovered flaws in how the dam at the Mount Polley mine was built, maintained and operated, and recommended against using similar tailings facilities. The government publicly stated that the recommendations would be implemented. However, shortly after the release of the report, Imperial Metals, the owner of the Mount Polley mine, received a provincial permit to operate an open­ pit mine called Red Chris, with a facility similar to that of Mount Polley — except this one was larger, built to contain highly toxic acidic tailings, and made use of an existing freshwater trout lake. So long, trout. Today, the Red Chris mine processes 30,000 tons of ore a day — the equivalent of three Eiffel towers — about 150 miles from the Alaska border, and leaches untreated acidic water into the salmon­ rich transboundary Stikine watershed. Alongside big events like the Mount Polley disaster is the slow leach of toxins into Alaska waters. The Tulsequah Chief mine, built in the 1950s near the confluence of the Tulsequah River and the transboundary Taku River — and just over the border — has been polluting the Tulsequah for decades. Over the past 15 years there have been numerous remediation and pollution abatement orders from the government of British Columbia, to no good effect. The government again inspected the Tulsequah Chief mine late last year, and found numerous violations, including continued acid mine drainage flowing into the Tulsequah. Chieftain Metals, the mine’s owner, has said it cannot stop the pollution unless it starts up production to gain needed revenue. British Columbia granted the company the permits. And so the game continues. Except that now people are starting to pay attention. In late November, perhaps to dispel growing unease among Alaskans, Premier Clark signed a memorandum of understanding with Alaska that would supposedly increase the state’s role in reviewing mines. It’s a charming document, but ultimately toothless: Language in the memorandum contains no legally binding obligations. If we have learned one thing from depleted salmon runs in places like Norway, Iceland, Scotland, New England and Canada, it’s that the waters and the forests nurturing these salmon cannot be destroyed without consequence. Secretary Kerry and the State Department need to take a stand on the part of Alaskans, Americans and some of the last wild rivers on earth, and request that the International Joint Commission act on this issue. Soon my skipper will be back from Reno with a new knee, and I will fish with him, and perhaps his son. We will go out with our flashers and orange gloves and sharpened hooks and hunt salmon, tricking them onto dry land, as people here have done for thousands of years before us. And should be able to do for thousands more. (NYT Jan 23, 2016)

22 comments:

Christina Marciante said...

While reading this article, I thought about oil drilling in black shale across America. This was a big topic in my previous science classes. We would always compare the price companies would pay poor people who live on land above shale to set up equipment and drill inside the Earth to the effects, like oil seeping into underground watersheds. This would make the water undrinkable and flammable. I'm not so surprised that the Alaskan government was having difficulties going against the Canada Mining company because it is usually difficult to go against companies and bring change. It is horrible that this company is affecting Alaskan business and the peoples' well-being just so they could make a profit. With many businesses though, it is mostly profit-based with a lack of concern for the people affected.

-Christina Marciante

Kaitlynn Brady said...

This is a prime example of how capitalism completely disregards the consequences of their actions. This also shows how not only huge corporations are taking advantage of the environment, but also our governments. If the government removed themselves from the profits these companies were generating and considered future generations, they would take more initiative to protect the environment that is already in a state of deterioration. It is great that more people are becoming aware of this severe situation, but I must admit that I was completely ignorant to this situation in particular (due to the many other issues that have captured my attention). Therefore, I believe in order to bring about serious change, more people must be informed and push the governments for policy reform and stricter regulations.

-Kaitlynn Brady

Fatimah M. said...

This is a great example of how our society is. While reading this article, it brought back memories about the Global Warming that go unrecognized. We need to be educated about what our daily actions are doing to the environment. This is called the Humility Principle, which gets people to understand how their specific actions affect nature. If people were aware of the damage they were doing to the environment then most likely, the degradation will become less likely to continue. I found it amazing that the Alaskan residents fought back against the Canadian mining company because it is a big issue that needs to be brought to light by the government or higher officials. As Kaitlynn stated, "In order to bring about serious change, more people must be informed..." This is a great way to get things started! Especially if residents don't want the matter to become bigger than what it is.

Rowan Lanning said...

Frankly i'm very surprised and disappointed that when shown the devastating effects the mining has had on the ecosystem, john kerry and the american government have taken no steps of action to penalize the canadian miners for their actions. Even if laws are in place in order to create incentive against pollution, they will mean absolutely nothing unless they can be enforced and those who break the laws in place receive punishment. As Kaitlynn said, the governments must have policy reform and stricter regulations, but I think that the biggest issue is making sure the policies we have in place right now are actively and actually enforced at all. Information is also key - the common thing to think in my opinion when hearing stories such as this where major companies get away with heinous crimes (as Christina pointed out that she wasn't surprised to hear of this), but if we combine enforcing government policies with normalization of the viewpoint that this is a horrendous act that absolutely should not go unpunished, people can call for reform where the company would previously get away without any repercussions, partly because of the lack of awareness. This makes me wonder what I can do personally to call attention to this issue or help call attention to its severity to the federal government.

Anonymous said...

I think this type of thing – the mine tailings in Canada polluting streams and lakes that drain into the Pacific through Alaska – is just one example of environmental impact capitalism is directly responsible for. I’m sure that British Columbia originally approved these mines with the best of intentions, they would create jobs and bring revenue to the province. That doesn’t really excuse the fact that we have long known the effects of mining on the environment. Toxic water is a byproduct of this mining, and in conjunction with deforested areas this toxic water can work its way into streams. I think it ties back to the short sightedness of capitalism, which means short term profit but long term ecological damage. I’m happy to hear that already steps are being taken by British Columbia to reduce damage, but again, the entities given the most priority are the mining companies rather than the environment or the US fishing industry. I think we can also partly trace this back to the international border. Would Canada pollute this water if it was their fishing industry suffering? One might guess that they wouldn’t, or at least demand better waste management at the mines.

-Carl Wojciechowski

Anonymous said...

These mines are yet another example of toxic waste accumulation from an exorbitant process for superfluous goods. I cannot help but think of the lakes of dung that accumulate from meat production in the U.S. I argue that this is a superfluous good because of the amount of product from these farms that is wasted by the consumer. Certainly an outcome of an affluent society, individuals and their families constantly purchase more than what they need wasting around one fourth of the goods that they leave a grocery store with. Considering the kinds of mines mentioned in the article, Gold and Copper, I am now interested in what these metals will be used for. Being that they are both precious and semi-precious metals they will most likely be consumed by more a more affluent community. Copper that perhaps will be used for pipes, gutters, and until recently communication wiring. Gold, most likely turned into jewelry, which is most certainly consumed by more affluent individuals.
Yes, something must be done, but what? It seems that the only thing to do would be to implement more rules and regulations. Being that Alaska is considered “The Last Frontier” it is no surprise to me that an industry saw an opportunity to exploit the resources and lack of regulatory structure. It was an opportunity for another small group of businessmen to make a good deal of money with no regard for the impact their operation might have on the culture and environment around them. In this case, not even the immediate environment. Due to the nature of rivers and streams, they are now able to affect a much larger area. In my opinion the operation must be halted and the organization must either find a cleaner solution to their waste management problem, or cease mining altogether. The latter option seems to be the only real solution if the goal is to prevent further exploitation and contamination of Alaska’s natural resources.

Chase Fox Harnett

Rebecca McMann said...

Mining destroying the environment doesn't surprise me one bit. Constantly we try to create bugger and better ways to better the way of life, but at the same time all we do is destroy other works of life. The government needs to wake up and realize what is happening. Part of the presidents cabinet should be a professional environmentalist. We can't expect them to come and change anything when the people going into office are only focusing on the now and not looking into the future. On top of businesses taking advantage and destroying the environment the government also doesn't care what the consequences of their actions are. Actions like these will destroy pieces of the food chain and once you destroy one piece you throw off the entire system. Everything works together and nothing can stand on its own, sadly it will probably take the extinction of all the salmon for anyone to wake up and see what's going on.

Ralph Green said...

This is just sad to see in my opinion for a pair of reasons. 1. Alaska is considered to be one of the last frontiers, having masts of pristine untouched wilderness, that's what it's known for. Now were seeing it slowly deteriorate and start to become like the lower forty-eight. I'm not saying all the lower states are bad, various parts all around the country are still healthy like our national parks but pollution and its destruction is a huge problem. 2. The salmon population has a key role in that ecosystem, not only does it support all those people but also the wildlife such as grizzly bears, bald eagles, and various other scavengers. The decrease non the less extinction of the salmon population has an enormous effect on this ecosystem, the salmon run is huge ordeal. This is only a microcosm of what is happening all across the world and something needs to be done before we live in a world that we slowly killed.

Johnny Lopez said...

Throughout the reading, I felt complete bitterness towards Canada for their lack of environmental concern about the well-being of Alaskan natives (especially the Salmon population). At the same time, I am not the biggest supporter of commercial fishing, but I will bypass my bias in this case. It is a shame that the U.S. government has not put enough pressure on the Canadian mine company. It is a testament showing that companies can be ruthless and driven by financial surplus. The International Joint Commission should have taken action while the mining was still relatively" fresh", rather than deposit the issue on the local government. With the issue becoming publicized, I would recommend the affected groups to try "overpowering" the mining company. In some cases, I have seen petitions like Change.org would wonders. With further exposure, this issue can become "mainstream", like issues concerning climate change and fracking. Overall, the damage already done to the Salmon population, Alaskan community, and river pollution will produce nothing but negative consequences for the region.

Anthony Jones said...

It truly is a shame that big companies are allowed, time and time again, to plunder the Earth to meet a quota. When it comes to meeting market demand, the rights of the Planet and people fail to be protected and respected as weak environmentalism continuously fails to demand better from heavy industry. Instead, those who may wish to call themselves environmentalists continue to push the fallacy of sustainable development, sustainable growth, sustainable business models and any other false notion of sustainability and industry together. We dare not to demand for limited or no growth, as we are a culture who much rather fulfill economic conquests rather than prioritize human health and the environment. Rarely do we stop to think about those who cannot speak for themselves. What about the trees, the mountains, the lakes, the fish? Shouldn't they be afforded some level of protection? Though we may continue to act as if we are outside the biosphere, parading ourselves as conquerors, we must remember that we ARE our environment. What we do here and now will stain in the future. We must be held accountable for all of our actions and must first seek to understand and create a true model of sustainability. A model that DOES not include mining, drilling, developing and continuing business as usual on a finite and already stressed planet. New sustainability must not only demand better form big industry but also of local, state and federal governments and also of ourselves.

Megan Brown said...

While reading this, I also feel as if the lack of environmental concern about this issue. It also is just disappointing that this continues to happen time and time again in this society it seams. It is another issue that will just be ignored, like global warming only a few years ago. The salmon population is a huge role in the eco system, it alone supports a lot of animals in the wild like bears, eagles; the list could go on and on. This decrease is going to very soon be felt by every person in the area. Something will need to be done and fast.

Ariana Pdlla said...

I found this article to be extremely intriguing. Mainly because of the recent focus on Flint, Michigan. Our government has the tendency of having a lack of interest in environmental issues, until it is too late. Unfortunately our country decides to step in and acknowledge these issues once it is too late. Polluting this water and altering our ecosystem can be very dangerous and allowing such a company to do so is disturbing. In addition to this, it will lead to having other companies getting the same leeway and creating even more environmental disasters.These mining companies will continue to harm our delicate environment if no additional environmental laws are changed.The disruption in the eco system will be fully affected by the predators and prey of salmon. As a society we need to be more aware of environmental mishaps before it is too late.

Erika Anzalone said...

Environmental issues like this encompass our world and leave the environment in a struggle to becoming clean again. There is no excuse for pollution, and large companies who think they have the right to pollute our environment because of industrial necessities is mind-blowing. To think that this whole economy revolves around the dollar bill and not one bit about conservation and saving the environment and resources around us. Us as the inhabitants of this earth who cause most of the destruction, are the only organisms who can voluntarily decide to change the way our society works, if not...the whole dynamics of our ecosystem will plummet in despair.

-Erika Anzalone

Joseph Santini said...

While interested, I am not surprised by this article. As the population grows at a rapid and uncontrollable rate, so does the consumption of resources. As we continue to deplete available resources, we are forced to look for them elsewhere (ie; the mining operations on the Alaska British Colombia border). What the government needs to understand is that there will never be enough resources to sustain the population, especially as we continue to grow at such an enormous rate. I feel that the government needs to start further implementing the use of non-combustible energy such as wind, water, and solar, energy. This way, we would not have to worry about cleaning the rivers. Rather, we wouldn't have to dump so many chemical bi-products into the river, solving the problem at the root.

SUET SZE AU said...

Written by SUET SZE AU

This issue “Alaska Salmon and Canadian Minning” is a perfect example that serious environmental problems could happen as a result of rapid human activities. Human has been dominated the world for centuries and take all natural resources for granted. Just like in this case, in order to extract the gold and copper which can create a huge profit, the environment was sacrificed. The river was seriously polluted and salmons could not be consumed because of the heavy metals. This is a tragedy. Government and companies should consider the environmental cost before deciding any project.

Brian Frank said...

It isn't surprising to me to hear about something like this for an event such as this has happened before. One can date back to precolumbus days where freshwater fish was plentyful and the northern waters of Europe. Yet due to the mass population growth and increasing deforestation and advancing industrialization the fish became extreme scarce force European to deplete the fish of the Altantic. It's sad that something similar still happens today and work isnt done to correct the issue it'll be just another example of the explotation of our planet.
- Brian Frank

Micah Steele said...

The mining of metals is in no small part due to our great dependence of it. For instance, to make an automobile almost every metal in the earth goes into its production and the rise in its use in the 20th century is starting to show cause and affect. Also, considering that Alaska is Governed by Republicans, the fact that this has gone on for so long is reflective of their pro industry ideology. Additionally, good neighbor standards are difficult to enforce without a set of laws that both countries are subject to. More Broadly, the Anthropocentric perspective continues to wreak havoc on our natural environment. Without shared values of Environmental impact, capitalistic interests will continue to exploit the planet at the expense of future generations.

Grace Florian said...

The lack of concern about the issue of the pollution of waterways for the success of obtaining gold and silver is the biggest problem with this whole situation. The pollution of waterways is bad in and of itself, but the fact that this toxic water is being spread due to weak dams and unconcerned government officials is almost worse. There needs to be more people in these positions that will take action against terrible situations like these. The fact that Canadian and US officials can't control the spread of toxic water from one body of water to the other means that no one is willing to fight hard enough for the cause. If we want change to better our waterways there needs to be more people involved in these decisions that are passionate about saving what we have left and creating new laws to make sure these problems don't occur in the future.

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