Eelgrass Where Herring Spawn
Hawk Inlet, Weinedel in Tlingit, meaning Eelgrass Where Herring Spawn, is located on the northern end of Admiralty Island, Xootsnoowú in Tlingit, meaning Fortress of the Bears. Historically, Hawk Inlet was an open waterway allowing quick access from Stephens Pass to Chatham Strait. Long after glacial rebound closed off the passage, Tlingit people utilized a canoe drag to access the abundant resources of Hawk Inlet that include salmon, halibut, clams, and shrimp. The island has been continuously inhabited for over 10,000 years.
The inlet is used by recreational, commercial, and subsistence fishermen from the communities of Angoon, Juneau, Hoonah, and Douglas. Angoon is the only town on the roughly 1-million- acre island and considers the island sacred. The Tlingit people fought to protect the island and continue to thrive on the island’s natural resources. Most of Angoon’s residents rely on the island for daily subsistence.
Photos by: Colin Arisman
Admiralty National Monument:
In 1978 Congress designated Admiralty Island a National Monument for its exceptional distribution of animal species, including dense populations of brown bears and eagles, the highest known density of nesting bald eagles (more than are found in all the other states combined); and the largest pristine coastal island ecosystem in North America. The island was also designated due to its unique scientific values as an outdoor living laboratory for the study of the bald eagle and Alaska brown bear and has been utilized by scientists from around the world for this purpose.
A map of Admiralty Island. (Adapted from Wikimedia Commons)
Greens Creek Mine — Largest Producer of Toxic Waste in Southeast Alaska:
Greens Creek Mine is located adjacent to Hawk Inlet on Admiralty National Monument. It is the only U.S. mine allowed to operate in a national monument because it was “grandfathered-in” when the monument was created. As a condition to this exception, Congress declared that the mine could operate as long as marine and freshwater fisheries and all subsistence food resources are protected and it does not lead to irreparable harm to the monument.
Greens Creek Mine opened in 1989 with a plan to operate for 15-17 years and create 3.4 million cubic yards (CY) of toxic waste. In 1995, the Hecla Greens Creek Mining Company (HGCMC) entered a 99-year land lease with the Forest Service to conduct mineral exploration, development, and production, giving HGCMC the option of continuing to expand the mine until the year 2094. It has since been expanded twice, adding 42 years of operation and 8.5 million CY of toxic waste. HGCMC has recently amended its Plan of Operation for the Greens Creek Mine to expand yet again, increasing the current tailings dump on public lands in the Admiralty Island National Forest to 12.5-13.5 million CY.
The mine conducted baseline studies from 1979-1981 to document heavy metal concentrations and species diversity and populations in the Inlet. Researchers found the area similar to other “pristine” and “unpolluted” marine areas of the northwest Pacific coast. This pre-mining baseline was to be used to periodically measure changes in the environment as mining progressed and to alert regulators when the health of the inlet was being compromised by mine operation.
Unfortunately, 31 years and two expansions later, the baseline has never been used. The mine and the State of Alaska claim the mine has had no adverse effects, but the NOAA office of National Marine Fisheries Service concluded in 2003 that “a lack of data due to sampling design does not equate to a negligible impact.” Greens Creek Mine is the most profitable silver producer in the U.S., and the largest producer of toxic waste in Southeast Alaska, according to the Toxic Waste Inventory. It has been allowed to increase its impact twice without demonstrating that it is not causing harm, and the mine is applying now for yet another expansion.
Greens Creek Mine at Hawk Inlet. (Photo by Haley Kardek)
Hawk Inlet. (Photo by Colin Arisman)
A floatplane lands in Hawk Inlet. (Photo by Colin Arisman)
PROTECT HAWK INLET FROM THE TOXIC WASTE OF
GREENS CREEK MINE!
The mine should not be permitted to expand for a third time, adding 4-5 million cubic yards of acid generating tailings and waste rock and 10-15 years of operation, without first demonstrating that it has not yet caused harm to Admiralty Island National Monument and all who depend on it.