Parnell should make Taku River a priority

Posted: Monday, August 31, 2009

Thanks for the Juneau Empire article last week discussing the Taku River and its contribution to Juneau's sport fishing. Taku River salmon account for about 90 percent of our spring king catch, 25 percent of sport-caught kings during the rest of the season and one third of the local coho harvest. The Taku is the most productive river in Southeast. Its wild salmon support hundreds of jobs and provide millions of dollars in revenue to Southeast Alaska.

In a clear indicator of the importance of the Taku to Alaska, former Gov. Sarah Palin, on one of her last days in office, sent a formal request to the government of British Columbia urging the cleanup of highly toxic discharges from the Tulsequah Chief mine. For 50 years, the mine has been polluting the Tulsequah River with acid mine drainage found by Canadian regulatory agencies to be "acutely lethal" to aquatic organisms.

The owner, mining company Redfern Resources, is bankrupt and has essentially abandoned the Tulsequah Chief Mine. Redfern recently removed most of the equipment and a water treatment plant from the mine site in order to sell them to pay creditors, despite a specific request from Palin not to do this. The British Columbia government has largely ignored the problem, while Environment Canada has issued a series of cleanup orders but has done little to enforce them.

Alaska's Department of Natural Resources and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have vigilantly protected the Taku River's fisheries, but it is important that they keep the pressure on British Columbia and the rest of Canada to clean up this mess. Since the British Columbian government has so far ignored Palin's letter, I urge Gov. Sean Parnell to continue efforts to halt the pollution from the Tulsequah Chief Mine.

Alaska has managed the Taku River to protect water quality and healthy spawning habitat, which will ensure that the Taku's rich fisheries continue to benefit many generations of Southeast Alaska families and businesses. But we need to engage with British Columbia more. While the Alaska side of the Taku provides the majority of the rearing habitat for juvenile salmon, the British Columbia side has the majority of the spawning habitat.

I hope Parnell makes the Taku a priority. As Randy Bates, director of the Alaska Coastal Management Program, said in February about the Taku River, "There are certain areas that warrant just a little more protection."

Chris Zimmer


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