Trout Unlimited today welcomed a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to protect sensitive fish habitat in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest while allowing for the expansion of a silver mine that is an important regional employer.
Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole issued a decision on Friday that allows Hecla Mining Co., operator of Greens Creek Mine, to expand its waste rock facility by about 18 acres to the south of the mine. The company can also develop another eight acres outside the monument’s boundaries. That land will be used for a rock quarry, a storage site for reclaimed materials and an expanded pond to manage waste water.
The mine is located within Admiralty Island National Monument, one of Southeast Alaska’s wildest and most scenic areas with one of the world’s highest concentrations of brown bears.
Hecla sought to expand the mine’s waste rock area by another 116 acres within the national monument. But that would have resulted in the permanent loss of 1,646 feet of salmon habitat, according to the Forest Service.
Cole would not agree to that. In his decision, Cole specified that no mine waste can be discharged into Tributary or Fowler Creeks, which provide critical habitat for Dolly Varden char and coho salmon. Therefore, although Greens Creek will be allowed a limited expansion, no existing fish habitat will be lost, a move strongly supported by Trout Unlimited.
“We recognize that balancing the need for employment and resource extraction with the protection of important fish habitat is often difficult and complex, as it was in this case. Trout Unlimited appreciates Supervisor Cole’s concern for Admiralty’s critical fish habitat as well as his thoughtful and measured approach to the mine’s expansion,” said Mark Kaelke, Trout Unlimited’s Southeast Alaska project director.
The decision will allow Greens Creek to continue generating waste rock for another 10 years, according to the Forest Service. Had the Forest Service chosen not to allow for expansion, the mine was facing closure in 2019, the federal agency said.
Greens Creek provides some 330 full-time jobs. Last year, it produced over six million ounces of silver. Miners discovered the ore deposit at Greens Creek prior to the creation of the Admiralty Island National Monument. The mine is allowed to operate in the national monument under the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, a federal law.