We had a strong turnout last week at the Silverbow Inn for an event aimed at spreading the word about the threat to Alaska fisheries and tourism from the proposed KSM mine in British Columbia. More than 70 people showed up to hear about the mine project, located in the Unuk River headwaters. The Unuk is one of Southeast Alaska’s largest king salmon producers and it drains into Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan, a popular spot for ecotourism. KSM has the potential to pollute the Unuk with acid mine drainage, a toxic byproduct of sulfide mining which, if released into the ground or surface water, kills fish and wildlife.
Read news coverage about the event and take a look at an op-ed by a local fisherman.
Speakers at the event included Juneau seiner Bruce Wallace, past president of United Fishermen of Alaska, a powerful trade group representing 36 commercial fishing organizations. Wallace noted that KSM is just one of nearly a dozen mines planned for northwest B.C., which borders Southeast Alaska.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. The sheer scope of the mineral development planned for the transboundary region is staggering. I feel somewhat at a loss for how to meet these proposals head-on but we have to start somewhere,” Wallace said.
“We currently have very little recourse if something goes wrong. The existing treaties between the U.S. and Canada don’t really give us a way to productively engage in a dialogue about this,” he said.
Canada’s public comment period on KSM closed on Oct. 21. Thank you to the more than 250 individuals and groups that took the time to weigh in with their concerns about the project.
With the comment period over, we will be asking Alaska’s congressional delegation to weigh on this with the U.S. State Department to ensure that Alaska’s interests are protected. Stayed tuned for more details on what you can do.
Public Event in Juneau Oct. 16 About How BC Mines Could Harm Southeast Alaska’s Fishing and Tourism Jobs
Please join us at Juneau’s Silverbow Restaurant on October 16, 2013, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. to learn more about a mining frenzy in northern British Columbia that could threaten Alaska fisheries and tourism jobs.As many as 10 new large-scale mines are undergoing exploration in the mineral-rich region that borders Southeast Alaska. Five of these Canadian mineral projects are located in trans-boundary watersheds of key salmon rivers including the Stikine, the Taku, and the Unuk. These mines could produce water pollution that may harm Southeast Alaska fishing and tourism industries while offering few, if any, economic benefits to the region.
The project farthest along in the development process and one that could cause substantial environmental damage is Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine (KSM,) located in the headwaters of the Unuk River. The 80-mile-long Unuk produces one of Southeast Alaska’s largest king salmon runs and flows into Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan, a popular attraction for many of the region’s one million annual visitors.
At the Silverbow event on Oct. 16, Rivers Without Borders and Trout Unlimited will hold a informational meeting for the public specifically about the KSM project. We will give a short presentation followed by a Q&A session with the audience. The opportunity to submit public comments to Canadian regulators will also be available. The Canadian government’s environmental assessment process of KSM closes to public comment on Oct. 21 so it is critical that Alaskans raise their voices and express their concerns now!
Also at the event, Juneau photographer Chris Miller’s exhibit, “The Taku: A River Divided” will be on display. Beer and wine will be available for purchase.
We hope to see you there!
The Tongass National Forest is in the news again. The federal agency that manages the 17-million-acre rainforest in Southeast Alaska says that it will revise the Tongass land management plan, the document that governs activities including logging, road-building, mining, habitat restoration, and recreation.
It’s unclear to what extent the plan will be overhauled. After issuing a press release on Tuesday, no Forest Service officials were available to answer questions because of the federal government shutdown. In the release, Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole said his agency will launch a public process to identify “the timber base suitable to support a transition to young-growth management, in a way that supports the continued viability of the forest industry in Southeast Alaska, per the direction of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.”
While the Forest Service statement is too vague to draw many conclusions, it sure sounds like the Forest Service is looking for ways to continue its money-losing old-growth logging program while trying to figure out a way to nudge the existing timber industry into using young growth – smaller trees that have grown back after clear-cut logging.
TU’s Alaska Forest Program Manager Austin Williams said it’s unfortunate that the Forest Service remains so focused on old-growth logging instead of making good on its May 2010 pledge to rapidly get out of that line of work.
“The Tongass produces more wild salmon than anywhere else in the country, and these salmon depend on in-tact watersheds that haven’t been degraded by logging and road-building. The Tongass has a backlog of $100 million in watershed restoration needs, but the Forest Service is too hung-up on logging to make a meaningful dent in the unmet restoration needs,” said Williams.
He said the agency is dragging its feet on transitioning out of old-growth logging and forcing taxpayers to foot a bill for more than $20 million per year in timber losses.
“It’s a huge waste of money for what amounts to a little more than 100 logging and milling jobs. Instead, the Forest Service should be investing in salmon and recreation, which supports more than 7,200 jobs and contributes $1 billion annually to the regional economy. The Forest Service really needs to catch up with the times.” Williams said.
Williams noted a recent study by the Southeast Conference that indicated Southeast Alaska’s economy is doing well and that the population is at a record high. The Southeast Alaska labor force increased by 1,800 jobs and earnings jumped by 10 percent over the past two years, according to the report. It noted that the top sources of private employment are fishing, tourism, construction and health care. The seafood industry – which depends on healthy forest watersheds – is Southeast Alaska’s largest source of private-sector employment earnings, accounting for 12 percent of all regional wages, and 9 percent of all employment.
“It’s ironic that the Forest Service press release doesn’t even mention the fishing and tourism industries, which are the real drivers of the regional economy. It just goes to show how out of touch with reality this agency is,” said Williams.
The Forest Service will set up a Federal Advisory Committee to work on figuring out how to modify the Tongass land management plan. The committee is expected to have its first meeting in early 2014. Trout Unlimited will seek a seat at the table.