Chilkat River named one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2019

Mining threatens salmon, culture and economy

Contact:

Jessie Thomas-Blate, American Rivers, (202) 347-7550

Dr. Gershon Cohen, Alaska Clean Water Advocacy, (907) 314-0228

Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named the Chilkat River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2019, citing the grave threat that mining poses to the river’s salmon, culture and economy. American Rivers and its partners called on the Japanese investment firm DOWA to back out of this harmful mining project.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that face a critical decision in the coming year,” said Jessie Thomas-Blate with American Rivers. “Now is the time to stop this mining project that could devastate the Chilkat River and an entire way of life.”

A Canadian-based company, Constantine Metals Resources, is securing permits to develop a copper-zinc mine just outside the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and the Tlingit Village of Klukwan. The deposit, known as the Palmer Project, would be a stone’s throw from the Klehini River, one of the Chilkat’s main tributaries. Based on experiences at similar mines, the extraction of copper-zinc-silver-gold-barite ore will likely generate sulfuric acid, which will mobilize heavy metals from mine waste and surface deposits. Given the high levels of rain and snowfall every year in the Chilkat Valley, it is inevitable that metals toxic to salmon will migrate into groundwater and surface waters. To make matters worse, the region is on a major seismic fault and experiences significant earthquakes on a regular basis; several of the largest earthquakes ever recorded were centered within a short distance of the Chilkat Valley. Any storage facility for millions of gallons of contaminated tailings and wastewater would be under constant threat of catastrophic failure.

A Japanese minerals investment firm, DOWA Holdings Company, has been backing the effort to develop this prospect for the past eight years. American Rivers and its partners called on the company to cancel their support for the Palmer Project and leave the Chilkat River and its salmon, eagles, bears and people intact for generations to come.

“The people of Klukwan— in Tlingit, the “Eternal Village”— have been stewards of the Chilkat River watershed for at least 2,000 years. Jilkaat (Chilkat) means a winter storage place for salmon. The Chilkat Indian Village is doing everything in its power to continue that stewardship today for our future generations, no matter what threats are presented,” said Kimberley Strong, Tribal President of the Chilkat Indian Village-Klukwan. “This river is our life. It is our food bowl. Its abundance is how our ancestors survived here for thousands of years; it is what still sustains us today. The public needs to know what the impacts of Constantine’s potential mine could be today, not tomorrow. Our future survival depends on the river’s health.”

“I’ve been a commercial fisherman in Haines for over 40 years. History tells us that when you put mines and salmon in the same place at the same time, the fish lose,” said J.R. Churchill, commercial fisherman and founder of the Haines Fisherman’s Alliance. “This is simple for me, this is where I live. If you’re not going to fight for that, what are you going to stand up for?”

“Given the toxicity of copper to salmon and the entire region’s dependence on those salmon for our food, economy and culture, it is unconscionable to site a mine literally a few miles from the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, the Tlingit Village of Klukwan and Haines. DOWA and Constantine Metals Resources are gambling a thousand years of our future for ten years of their profits. They should be ashamed to even propose such an idea,” said Dr. Gershon Cohen, local resident and project director at Alaska Clean Water Advocacy.

The river’s magnificent runs of king, sockeye, coho, pink and chum salmon attract the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world every fall in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. The Tlingits of the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan, who have lived along the Chilkat River for thousands of years, named the eagle gathering area on the Chilkat the “Council Grounds.” Klukwan is one of the longest continually inhabited places in North America. The Chilkat River’s salmon, eagles and bears are the cultural and economic backbone of the entire region. The value of the subsistence, sport and commercial harvests of salmon are rivaled in importance and economic impact only by the tens of thousands of tourists that come to the Chilkat River every year to fish, paddle rafts, kayaks and canoes, and photograph the river and its wildlife.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

This year, the Chilkat River is making its first appearance on this list. Other rivers in Alaska listed as most endangered in recent years include the Stikine River (2019), Rivers of Bristol Bay (2018, 2011) and Colville River (2018).

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2019

#1 Gila River, New Mexico
Gov. Grisham must choose a healthier, more cost-effective way to provide water to agriculture than by drying up the state’s last major free-flowing river.

#2 Hudson River, New York

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must consider effective, nature-based alternatives to storm-surge barriers that would choke off this biologically rich tidal estuary.

#3 Upper Mississippi River, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri

State and federal agencies must enforce laws that prohibit illegal levees, which increase flood risk for communities and degrade vital fish and wildlife habitat.

#4 Green-Duwamish River, Washington

Local leaders must produce a flood protection plan that safeguards communities and restores habitat for chinook salmon — fish that are essential to the diet of Puget Sound’s endangered orca whales.

#5 Willamette River, Oregon

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must immediately improve 13 dams to save wild chinook salmon and steelhead from going extinct.

#6 Chilkat River, Alaska

The Japanese investment firm, DOWA, must do the responsible thing and back out of a mining project that could decimate native salmon.

#7 South Fork Salmon River, Idaho

The U.S. Forest Service must safeguard endangered fish by denying a mining proposal that could pollute this tributary of the Wild and Scenic Salmon River.

#8 Buffalo National River, Arkansas

Gov. Hutchinson must demand closure of an industrial hog-farming facility that pollutes groundwater and threatens endangered species.

#9 Big Darby Creek, Ohio

Local leaders must use state-of-the-art science to craft a responsible development plan that protects this pristine stream.

#10 Stikine River, Alaska

The International Joint Commission of the United States and Canada must protect the river’s clean water, fish and wildlife, and indigenous communities by stopping harmful, polluting mines.

2019’s “River of the Year”: Cuyahoga River, Ohio

American Rivers celebrates the progress Cleveland has made in cleaning up the Cuyahoga River, fifty years since the river’s famous fire that sparked the nation’s environmental movement. 

ABOUT AMERICAN RIVERS

American Rivers believes every community in our country should have clean water and a healthy river. Since 1973, we have been protecting wild rivers, restoring damaged rivers and conserving clean water for people and nature. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., and offices across the country, we are the most effective river conservation organization in the United States, delivering solutions that will last for generations to