The Alaskans are also threatened by our environmentally ruinous copper and gold mining operations.
This opinion piece ran in the New York Times.
Where do our political leaders stand on this issue? In the shadows mostly.
By BRENDAN JONES
Sitka, Alaska — From fall through spring, the fleet of commercial fishing boats here in the panhandle of Alaska stalk winter king salmon. In the mornings prisms of ice sparkle beneath the sodium lights of the docks, where I live on a World War II tugboat with my wife and 8-month-old daughter. This winter I’ve been out a few times fishing on the I Gotta, catching pristine wild salmon, torpedoes of muscle. But the work is slow, five fish a day, and my skipper recently traveled down to Reno, Nev., for knee surgery.
Carpeted in rain forest and braided with waterways, southeast Alaska is among the largest wild salmon producers in the world, its tourism and salmon fishing industries grossing about $2 billion a year. But today, the rivers and the salmon that create these jobs — and this particular way of life, which attracted me from Philadelphia to Sitka almost 20 years ago — are threatened by Canada’s growing mining industry along the mountainous Alaska-British Columbia border, about a hundred miles east of where I now write.
At least 10 underground and open-pit copper and gold mining projects in British Columbia are up and running, in advanced exploration or in review to be approved. These operations generate billions of tons of toxic mine tailings stored behind massive dams, creating an ecological hazard at the headwaters of Alaska’s major salmon rivers — the Stikine, Unuk and Taku, which straddle the border with Canada.
Despite being subjected to the environmental and health risks of these upstream mining projects, Alaskans have no say in their approval. Which is why fishermen, Alaska native tribes, local municipalities, tourism businesses, our congressional delegation and thousands of individual Alaska residents have been clamoring for the State Department to refer this issue to the International Joint Commission, an American and Canadian advisory body established in 1909 to ensure that neither country pollutes the waters of the other.