Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Conservation Groups Seek Permanent Ban on BC Mine Waste Facilities

Two fisheries conservation entities focused on protection of wild salmon habitat say they will appeal to the federal governments of the United States and Canada for a temporary halt to permitting, exploration, development and expansion of British Columbia mines.

Salmon Beyond Borders and the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC) said on Aug. 3 that they also are seeking a permanent ban of mine waste facilities. The announcement came on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster of Aug. 4, 2014, when a breach in the tailings pond of the Mount Polley copper and gold mine owned by Imperial Metals released water and slurry with years’ worth of mining waste into Polley Lake. The wastes flowed on into Hazeltine Creek and the Quesnel Lake watershed, a major source of drinking water and home to one quarter of the province’s sockeye salmon.

BC fisheries officials have already agreed to meet with SEITC to discuss a plan proposed by SEITC to temporarily halt certain mining related activities pending a binding international agreement on watershed protections which are consistent with the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has already shut down nearly 60% of the commercial salmon fisheries in the province, which are of economic and cultural importance to residents of the BC coast. Commercial fishing for salmon on the Yukon River, which flows from the coast of western Alaska, is also closed for the season, as it is across the border for both Alaska commercial and subsistence harvesters. On both sides of the border, it is seen as a necessary effort to save critically low numbers of Pacific salmon.

The two nonprofit entities are wary about how mining upstream might adversely impact habitat in the salmon rich transboundary rivers that flow from British Columbia into Southeast Alaska. On both sides of the border the salmon are a critical food source for both people and wildlife.

According to Jill Weitz, campaign director for Salmon Beyond Borders, plans are to collaborate with officials in 13 communities in Southeast Alaska, and the British Columbia Mining Law Reform Network, as well as communities in Washington state, Idaho and Montana in the effort to slow the impact of mining on salmon habitat in transboundary rivers, then delivery their plea to safeguard the transboundary ecosystem to President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau by late September or early October.

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