Unuk • Junak River


The mighty Unuk River, Junak in Tlingit or ‘To Dream’, located near the communities of Ketchikan, Saxman, and Metlakatla, is home to all five species of wild Pacific salmon and a rich Eulachon run. It was once known for having the largest Chinook (King) salmon run in Southeast Alaska. It is a significant producer for local communities and Tribes that rely on the river for traditional and cultural practices and food sovereignty. 

Photo: USGS

As stressors in the ocean ecosystem increase, such as plastic pollution and acidification, river habitats like the Unuk | Junak become even more critical to the survival of salmon.

Canada’s KSM Mine Jeopardizes Southeast Alaskan Communities and Regional Economy, with No Benefit to Alaska. The construction and operation of the KSM Mine in British Columbia, at the headwaters of the Unuk | Junak River 19 miles from the Alaskan border, could jeopardize the health and well-being of Southeast Alaskan communities and our regional economy. 

Clean water and salmon fuel Southeast Alaska’s $2 billion/year fishing and tourism economy, sustain our communities, and are integral to our cultural practices. As one of the world’s largest open-pit mines, the proposed KSM could permanently transform the upper Unuk and Nass Rivers, filling entire tributaries of these salmon strongholds with billions of tons of acid-generating rock. The massive scale and untested mitigation measures of the KSM proposal would require water treatment for at least 250 years, if not forever, to protect the Unuk | Junak.

These are just some of the reasons why this proposed mine is a bad idea. Our concerns extend beyond them to include:

Harm to salmon and those who depend on them: The KSM mega-mine is just one of many mines planned for the Canadian headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s salmon rivers. Tribal governments, fishing groups, and Southeast Alaskan communities are coming together to demand protection of Southeast Alaskan salmon from Canadian mines.

Impacts to two watersheds: The KSM would be built in the watersheds of the Unuk and Nass Rivers. The Unuk, which begins in Canada and flows into Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument, is a key Southeast Alaska King Salmon and Eulachon river. The Nass is British Columbia’s third largest salmon river, producing fish that are caught by both Canadians and Alaskans.

Among the largest in the world: The KSM would be among the largest open-pit mines on earth. It would extract 130,000 tons of gold, silver, copper, and molybdenum ore per day from three open pits and an underground mine in the waters of tributaries that flow into the Unuk River. This would create billions of tons of acid-generating waste rock, which would fill in entire tributaries of the Unuk and dump 119,000 Gallons of Treated Waste Water Dumped Every Minute.

Unproven water treatment: KSM’s main pollution-prevention mechanism would be a complex, unproven, conceptual design for water treatment. This massive, untested plant would have to operate flawlessly and continuously for at least 250 years, if not into perpetuity.

Failed permitting system: KSM’s water quality impacts could be severe and permanent, but Seabridge relies on the same permitting system that failed at the Mount Polley Mine. The proposed treatment systems to remove heavy metals (selenium) from wastewater have yet to be proven to prevent pollution.

Release of heavy metals: KSM’s permit does not take into account sublethal effects of heavy metals on salmon, though analysis shows that the amount of heavy metals Seabridge would release to the Unuk can cause habitat avoidance, impaired olfaction, migratory disruption, anti-predator response, reduced growth and swimming speed, and impaired reproduction.

Boundary Waters Treaty: Any water pollution from the KSM would violate the Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States. The treaty states in part that “waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.”

Several groups have spoken out in resistance to the KSM Mine. Subsistence and commercial fisheries are very concerned, as the eulachon and King salmon runs have been critically declining in recent years. Resistance is building, but greater mobilization is needed to protect the Unuk | Junak River.

Let’s work together to protect the Unuk | Junak River and all who depend on it. 

• From SEACC: Unuk River Factsheet and KSM Mine Factsheet
• From the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission: www.seitc.org
• From Rivers Without Borders: http://riverswithoutborders.org/about-the-region/unuk
• From Wild Border Watersheds: www.wildborderwatersheds.org

For further information, please contact SEACC at info@seacc.org or 907-586-6942.

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