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Southeast Alaska leaders urging stronger international safeguards in shared watersheds


December 10, 2015
Thursday PM

(SitNews) - Southeast Alaska leaders yesterday delivered a letter to Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallott urging them to join municipalities, Tribes, fishermen, the Alaska congressional delegation and thousands of Alaskans in asking the U.S. Department of State and the Canadian federal government to work together on stronger international safeguards for water quality, fisheries and communities in shared watersheds. The letter specifically recommends the State of Alaska seek such help before finalizing non-binding negotiations with the Province of British Columbia (B.C.).

The letter delivered yesterday was signed by nearly 100 entities across Southeast Alaska and beyond, ranging from municipalities, Tribal citizens, commercial and sport fishermen, seafood processors, and sport fishing and tourism companies. The letter urges the Alaska governor to:

“…wait to transmit or sign this Statement of Cooperation until Secretary Kerry has communicated to Canada’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs a request for action under the Boundary Waters Treaty. Of course, your help in securing that request is key to its success. An International Joint Commission reference for the transboundary region would engage the U.S. State Department, elevate the issue to the federal level in both countries, and provide opportunities to secure much needed federal resources.”

“The large-scale British Columbia mining projects within the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk river systems threaten Southeast Alaska’s booming fishing economy, pure watersheds, and the way of life for Southeast Alaskans,” said Cynthia Wallesz, Executive Director of United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters. “We are deeply concerned that Alaska bears too much risk from these mines and there are no binding financial guarantees to insure we will be compensated in a pollution event.”

An international border runs through these critical watersheds and the presence of First Nations and Tribes requires that multiple sovereign nations be consulted. Thus, local agreements such as the recently renewed Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation (MOU) between Alaska and British Columbia signed by Governor Walker and Premier Clark on November 25th, and the associated, not-yet-finalized draft Statement of Cooperation on Protection of Transboundary Waters (SOC), are inadequate to comprehensively address this transboundary issue.

“The MOU process simply cannot provide Alaska the protections it needs from risks associated with large-scale mining upstream in B.C.,” said Heather Hardcastle, director of Salmon Beyond Borders. “Finalizing negotiations under this MOU prior to obtaining U.S. federal involvement in this matter will likely preclude the meaningful federal engagement that is essential to protect these resources.”

In addition to yesterday’s letter, thousands of Alaskans have requested the State of Alaska, Alaska’s congressional delegation and the U.S. State Department secure enforceable protections for the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds through action under the Boundary Waters Treaty and with the involvement of the International Joint Commission (IJC).

“It’s great to see so many communities, entities, and individuals joining with Alaska Tribes to help protect our ancestral lands and waters in the Southeast Alaska/Northwest B.C transboundary region,” said Frederick Olsen Jr., of the Organized Village of Kasaan and United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group. “As co-signers to this letter, we’re hopeful the State of Alaska will join us in requesting that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry refer the issue to the IJC before the Statement of Cooperation with B.C. is completed."

Signers to the letter delivered yesterday are groups advocating for the application of the Boundary Waters Treaty, which has productively guided U.S.-Canada cooperation and allowed the IJC to provide solutions to transboundary water issues for over 100 years.

“The Boundary Waters Treaty and its associated IJC is the best way for Alaska to address the threats to its water and salmon from mining in B.C. Alaska should use the most powerful tool in the toolbox instead of a weak MOU process,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “What’s more, it is essential that financial guarantees are developed that ensure Alaska is compensated for harm caused by pollution from upstream B.C. mines, and this requires international involvement and oversight.”

Yesterday’s letter highlights the significance of this opportunity to engage both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments. The nearly unanimous support for action under the Boundary Waters Treaty among Alaskans, coupled with the new Canadian national leadership, provides the best prospect yet for real policy change in the transboundary region. Now is the time for the State of Alaska to seize this opportunity and partner with the U.S. and Canadian federal governments to protect and sustain the economies and way of life of those in the transboundary region for generations to come.


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


On the Web:

Southeast Alaska leaders' letter to Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallott - December 09, 2015


Source of News:

Salmon Beyond Borders

Organized Village of Kasaan

United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group

United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters

United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters


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