Canadian indifference threatens bountiful Alaska river

There are few things more satisfying to the soul of an angler than spending a quiet day casting into a remote, clean-running river in quest of the Big One. Such places exist here in Alaska. Some are well-known among sportsmen, while others have yet to be discovered by the broader sports fishing community. One such precious “secret” is the magnificent Taku River in southeast Alaska, the source of an extraordinary abundance of wild salmon, steelhead, cutthroat and rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden. At certain times of the year, the Taku can provide 50 to 90 percent of the sports fishing salmon harvest in the Juneau area. Unfortunately, the Taku is under threat from an abandoned, polluting mine in its headwaters in British Columbia, Canada. We think the anglers and outdoor sportsmen who are your readers would be greatly interested in a story about this river and the ongoing efforts to protect it. We think they might be angered to action after learning that those efforts have so far been met with indifference by Canadian officials. Fed by Canadian tributaries, the Taku River flows through British Columbia and crosses the international border into southeast Alaska not far from Juneau where it empties into Taku Inlet. Its upper reaches are the spawning grounds for the fish species mentioned above. That includes all five species of Pacific salmon – about 2 million of which return to the river each year, feeding a strong commercial fishery. But sport fishing on the Taku also has a direct and indirect impact of about $2 million per year on the local economy (http://riverswithoutborders.org/home/wp-content/up...). And while the Taku may not be broadly known among sports anglers outside Alaska, that fact makes it an increasingly attractive destination for those seeking a remote Alaska adventure. Ensuring that the river’s abundant natural resource remains healthy depends heavily on cooperation between the B.C. government and Canadian environmental regulators and their counterparts in Alaska. But Canada is not cooperating. While Canadian environmental agencies drag their feet, the long-dormant Tulsequah Chief Mine drains acidic, metal-laden waste – collectively called Acid Mine Drainage – into the Tulsequah River, a Taku River tributary. That drainage threatens Canadian and Alaskan fish resources. It’s been that way ever since Cominco Corp. abandoned the mine in the 1950s. Canadian agencies have been well aware of the danger and the damage for decades. Indeed, Canadian environmental authorities have declared the pollution “acutely lethal” to aquatic organisms. Despite numerous clean-up orders issued by Canadian agencies (http://riverswithoutborders.org/reading-room/repor...) most recently in May 22, 2009, the discharge remains unabated. Apparently the B. C. government and Canadian environmental law have no teeth. In the 1990’s a junior Canadian mining company, Redfern Resources, bought the property from Cominco, planning to re-open the mine. They made very public promises to clean up the mess, even acquiring and positioning the necessary equipment for the job. Many doubted that the mine would ever prove viable and worried that there would be no cleanup. Those fears have been realized. Redfern is now bankrupt and in receivership, and it is trying to sell the cleanup equipment to pay creditors. Just before she left office in July, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wrote a letter to British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell urging his government to take the necessary steps to remediate the Tulsequah Chief Mine. Months later, there still is no mechanism for resolving the pollution issue and the toxic leakage continues. Indeed, there has been no official response whatsoever from Campbell’s office. A story detailing the potential damage threatening the Taku and the lack of response by Canadian officials to Alaska’s numerous requests for mitigation would be of keen interest to your readers. If you need more information or contacts with local guides, outfitters and commercial fishermen who are concerned about the Taku River’s future, please don‘t hesitate to contact us. Thanks for your time. Sincerely, • Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders, (907) 586-2166; Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org • Harlin Savage, Resource Media, (720) 564-0500, ext. 11; harlin@resource-media.org • Hal Spence, Resource Media, (907) 298-1798; hspence@ptialaska.net • Phillip Yates, Resource Media, (720) 564-0500 ext. 14; phillip@resource-media.org