Today Washington Wild coordinated a comment letter to the British Columbia Government signed by 53 conservation, recreation and wildlife organizations as well as a bipartisan group of former and current elected officials. The letter opposed proposed mining within an unprotected “donut hole” of British Columbia lands which are surrounded by park and protected areas in the Canadian headwaters of the Skagit River.
Today’s letter was the latest in growing movement of international opposition on both sides of the Canadian- U.S. border to the additional mining threats in the same area. Last fall, Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle wrote several letters and participated in discussions with the British Columbia Premier John Horgan and key Ministers in the British Columbia government around the proposed logging. The result was a commitment to postpone logging plans in the Skagit headwaters while an attempt is made to find alternative sites to provide the timber.
Earlier this month, two Washington treaty tribes, including Chairwoman Jennifer R. Washington of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe and Chairman Brian Cladoosby of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, joined Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs in publishing an opinion editorial in the Seattle Times expressing concern over the proposed gold mining exploration of the Skagit River headwaters.
Other entities who have weighed in on the issue with concerns through formal letters include the Nooksack Tribe, Seattle City Light, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. National Park Service and the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission.
The Skagit River has its source in Canada but flows primarily through Washington State, winding through the scenic North Cascades National Park, the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest and through the renown Skagit River Valley, known for tulips, raspberries, dairy and other agricultural products before reaching the Puget Sound. The Skagit River provides one third of the freshwater inputs to the Puget Sound and supports the largest populations of threatened steelhead and chinook salmon in the Puget Sound and the largest run of chum salmon in the conterminous U.S.
These fish are a critical food resource for the imperiled orca whales in Puget Sound. The State of Washington has invested approximately $90 million in salmon recovery into the Skagit River while the City of Seattle has invested an additional $77 million in habitat and flow protection. Mining in the headwaters threatens our investments in salmon recovery and our collective goals to restore salmon populations that are critical for orca whale survival, tribal, sport, and commercial fisheries and the overall health of the Salish Sea.
In 1984 a treaty was signed between the City of Seattle (U.S.) and the British Columbia (Canada) government to resolve disputes over Ross Dam and to maintain the environmental integrity of the Skagit Watershed. In addition, it created the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission (SEEC) to administer this collaborative partnership. Both governments established SEEC’s primary mission: (1) To conserve and protect wilderness and wildlife habitat, (2) To enhance recreational opportunities in the Skagit, and (3) To acquire mineral or timber rights consistent with conservation and recreational objectives. The letter argues that the proposed logging and mining proposed in the “donut hole” is inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the 1984 treaty. It will have significant impact on the wilderness, wildlife habitat, and fishery resources of the Upper Skagit River.
The company proposing to mine in an unprotected area of the Skagit Headwaters, Imperial Metals, was responsible for the infamous Mount Polley mine disaster of 2014, which spilled more than 2.6 billion gallons of toxic sludge into the Fraser River watershed, one of the biggest environmental disasters in Canadian history. The proposed mining activities including creating access roads, conducting surface exploration drilling with associated water supply and catchment sumps, and mechanical trenching over a five-year period of continued disturbance.
The risk of such a disaster in the Skagit, home to Puget Sound’s healthiest remaining runs of wild salmon and steelhead—vital food for Puget Sound orca whales as well as cherished resources for Native American nations and other local communities—is simply unacceptable.