Author to speak on sacred headwaters, threatened salmon

Author and National Geographic Society Explorer for the Millenium Wade Davis is coming to Juneau today for a free talk on industrial development in the sacred headwaters of three important salmon rivers in British Columbia. Tribal leaders from the Tahltan First Nation, long residents of the area, will also speak.

“This notion of the sacred headwaters is inspired by the kind of marvelous accident of geography that three great salmon rivers – the Stikine, the Skeena and the Nass — all have their headwaters in the same valley, long important to the Tahltan First Nation,” Davis said in an interview Monday. “Each river has given birth to a great civilization of the coast.”

Proposed development in this area and in some other areas of British Columbia threatens all of the coast’s salmon, Davis said.

“The Southeast region (of Alaska)… it’s a salmon forest. And salmon are as important not just to the economy, but to your identity, psychologically and spiritually,” he said. “The obvious concern is toxic runoff eventually reaching the salmon rivers. The problem with these (mines’) tailings ponds is that they’re in some sense geological time bombs.”

Davis emphasizes that he is not against natural resources development; he has worked for the oil and timber industries.

“All of us use energy. All of us use minerals,” he said.

Some proposed industrial development in the area has “great promise, while some is of great concern,” he said.

Fishermen, hunters, First Nations, and others are encouraging the Canadian government to set aside the sacred headwaters and protect them from development, he said.

This struggle, said event organizers, has lessons for transboundary rivers, as well.

Davis, who has traveled sometimes to more than 40 countries a year, said he considers the valley of the sacred headwaters “the most remarkable place in the world.”

“Isolation was its saving grace, but now it could be its doom,” he said.

Davis will speak at 7 p.m. today at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center at 350 Whittier Street.

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