The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council along with Alaska Native and other conservation groups has asked for federal involvement in protecting our transboundary rivers, petitioning the Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to investigate six mines in British Columbia. The mines are on the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers which flow from B.C. into Alaska. These rivers provide habitat for the abundant salmon runs which drive our economy and have sustained local communities for thousands of years.
The threat of chronic leaching like that seen at the Tulsequah Chief Mine or catastrophic failures of tailings dams like that at Mt. Polley is all too real. The possibility of other such events will hang over these watersheds for years to come. Canadian authorities are letting these projects go ahead, and the U.S. government has yet to become fully involved.
Our submission alleges violations to the Fishermen’s Protective Act. This Act, enforceable under what is known as the 1971 Pelly Amendment, is designed to protect salmon stocks. Our petition under the Pelly Amendment is one avenue the federal government can take to protect our rivers. This petition concerns the mine projects and their expected impacts on watersheds. It invokes the departments of Commerce and the Interior to investigate if Canada is compromising the effectiveness of two treaties designed to protect threatened and endangered species by safeguarding habitat for salmon and other wildlife. Should Canada be found to be in violation of these treaties, Commerce can request trade sanctions against Canada until the problem is resolved.
Alongside the investigation under the Fishermen’s Protective Act by the Department of Commerce, we urge Secretary Ross to engage other federal agencies, asking them to refer the issue to an International Joint Commission (IJC), the entity created under the Boundary Waters Treaty to address this and other disputes arising from Canada’s industrialization of our productive salmon rivers.
These mines are being built and there is no time to waste. The federal government must use every tool to protect our communities and economy. The IJC is the only overarching body of both U.S. and Canadian officials that can resolve this dispute. We are not seeking a trade war with Canada but are willing to use any tool available to protect our salmon, rivers, and economy.