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Transboundary Tensions: B.C.’s New-Age Gold Rush Stirs Controversy Downstream in Alaska

Long-held perceptions of Canada as a country with strict environmental standards and B.C. as a province that values natural beauty are taking a near-fatal beating in Southeast Alaska, where many now regard Canadians as bad neighbours who are unilaterally making decisions that could threaten the region’s two major economic drivers — fishing and tourism.

Upstream, in northwest B.C., there is a new-style gold rush with an unprecedented number of applications for open-pit gold and copper mines, some made viable by construction of the Northwest Transmission Line and all requiring road access.

Canada is increasingly viewed as a “bad actor,” whose record — most recently illustrated by the Mount Polley mine tailings dam collapse — shows the province’s environmental regulations and oversight are not strong enough to protect downstream communities.

Alaskan politicians, tribes, fishing organizations and environmental groups have come together in a rare show of unity to condemn B.C.’s push to approve mines close to major transboundary salmon rivers, such as the Stikine, Taku and Unuk, which run from B.C. into Alaska. Tensions are running so high the groups are asking the International Joint Commission, designed to resolve Canada/U.S. water problems, to step in.

DeSmog Canada visits Alaska to investigate.

Photo: Mike Fay via Flickr

The original reporting in this series was made possible through the generous support of Wilburforce Foundation.

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