Legislators urged immediate federal action on transboundary mining

Stutes: It is imperative that stakeholders come together to resolve this issue

Six legislators in the Alaska House Coalition who represent residents of Southeast and coastal communities are calling for immediate federal action regarding existing and planned mines along transboundary waters flowing from British Columbia into Southeast Alaska.

Their letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asks that U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration employ the U.S.-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and immediately refer the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk-Nass rivers to the International Joint Commission (IJC) to uphold and enforce the long-standing requests from tribes and communities in Alaska to protect these salmon-rich waters from potential pollution from mining discharges harmful to wild salmon. These rivers have tremendous ecological, subsistence, economic, and recreational value, and are of socioeconomic importance to nearly 80,000 people across dozens of communities dependent on the wild salmon resource, they told Blinken.

“These rivers are historically among the most productive wild salmon rivers on the entire west coast of North America, annually contributing nearly $50 million in economic activity, $34 million in direct spending, and almost $20 million in labor income towards Southeast Alaska’s annual multi-billion-dollar fishing and visitor industries,” they said.

Their position supports that of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes, Sealaska, and Salmon Beyond Borders, who have been working for several years to protect the transboundary waters from potential pollution from more than two dozen Canadian hard rock gold-copper mining projects in various stages of abandonment, development or operation.

Former Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and the late Lt. Gov.Byron Mallott signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with British Columbia in 2015, and the Statement of Cooperation on Protection of Transboundary Waters (SOC) with British Columbia in 2016. Both of these documents are non-binding, unfunded agreements that cannot provide enforceable protections for the Alaska- British Columbia transboundary region, the state legislators said.

The letter of March 9 was signed by Reps. Dan Ortiz, NP-Ketchikan; Sara Hannan, D-Juneau; Rebecca Himschoot, NP-Sitka; Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; Andi Story, D-Juneau; and Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau. They noted that new British Columbia Premier David Eby said that British Columbian mine exploration bordering Alaska rose by 84% in 2022. Now is the time, they said, to establish binding, enforceable international protections consistent with the Boundary Waters Treaty through the International Joint Commission.


“These are some of the most productive salmon rivers on the continent,” Stutes said. “It is imperative that all stakeholders come together to resolve this problem immediately.”

“Over 100 Alaska Tribes, municipalities, commercial and sport fishing businesses and organizations, and thousands of Alaskans have written letters and passed resolutions asking for the Boundary Waters Treaty to be invoked,” Ortiz said.  “We want to join with these thousands of voices.”

“In recent years, progress between the state and B.C. to increase protections for these shared watersheds has been too slow,” said Hannan. “It’s time to elevate these issues to a federal government-to-federal government level, which will also ensure meaningful consultation with Alaska tribes.”