Updated: Apr 24
With potential mining targeting its headwaters, southeast Alaska’s Chilkat has made the American “Most Endangered Rivers” list for 2023. The Klehini, the major headwaters tributary of the Chilkat, is included in the listing. Advanced mineral exploration is ongoing in a spectacular alpine setting above the Klehini.
A fact sheet about the Chilkat and a press release about the listing are below.
The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan, which opposes mining as a clear threat to its namesake river, is not far downstream of the locale of the exploration activity. And just below Klukwan is the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, site of the largest seasonal congregation of Bald Eagles anywhere. Along with breathtaking scenery, extraordinary wildlife viewing, and its profound cultural significance, the Chilkat is a world class salmon system supporting all five Pacific salmon species. Embracing the upper end of the Alaska panhandle, the Chilkat courses its way through the Chilkat Valley – think cottonwoods festooned with eagles lining the river’s banks and soaring jagged and snow capped mountains its backdrop – to feed a vast estuary teeming with marine life near Haines.
Rivers Without Borders and our partners are doing what we can to keep the Chilkat wild and thriving. This listing, a very worthy but unfortunate distinction though it may be, brings timely attention to an outstanding North American river system well worth saving.
For Immediate Release: April 18, 2023
Chilkat and Klehini Rivers Named Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2023
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders, Alaska Campaign Director, firstname.lastname@example.org | 907-586-2166
David Moryc, American Rivers Senior Director of River Protections, email@example.com | 503-307-1137
Gershon Cohen, Alaska Clean Water Advocacy Project Director, firstname.lastname@example.org | 907-314-0228
American Rivers has named the Chilkat and Klehini Rivers among America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, pointing out the threats of a proposed copper and zinc mine that would likely result in contamination of nearby creeks that feed directly into the two rivers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must enforce the Clean Water Act to ensure appropriate permits are obtained for the Palmer Project, by the Canadian and Japanese consortium American Pacific Mining and Dowa Mining and Metals. Furthermore, in order to best care for the
watershed, Congress should establish co-management of the area’s federal lands with the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan.
“The Chilkat Valley is an incredibly unique habitat for all five species of wild salmon, bald eagles, brown bears, and people because the Chilkat and Klehini Rivers are pristine and productive. Developing this copper/zinc mine will result in a huge loss for the region, Alaska, the nation, and the rest of the world,” said Gershon Cohen, Project Director of Alaska Clean Water Advocacy.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of salmon swim from the Pacific Ocean into the Jilḵáat Aani Ḵa Héeni (Chilkat River watershed) to spawn. The Klehini is a main tributary of the Chilkat, and both flow through the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, which is critical habitat hosting the largest congregation of eagles in the world. Additionally, it is home to the Chilkat Tlingits and the people of Haines, Alaska, who depend on these waters for their food, economy, and culture. Public support will play a significant role in advocating for comanagement of the watershed with the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan, whose people have been caretakers of this land for thousands of years.
“Land utilization is fundamentally important to the people of the Chilkat Indian Village at Klukwan (Federally Recognized Tribe). Our ability to live off the land and continue to harvest the wild stocks of salmon, to hunt the bear, and gather the berries that grow in our traditional territory sustains us today, as it has since time immemorial. The natural riches of these lands and waters have allowed our people not only to survive, but to thrive, for untold generations. Endangering the Chilkat River ecosystem with a hard rock mine will have devastating effects on our Tribal people that rely on the Chilkat River and Chilkat Valley as our sustainable food source,” said Kimberley Strong, President, Chilkat Indian Village.
The Palmer Project is moving to the next stage of mining development where developers look to dig a mile long “exploratory” tunnel under the Saksaia Glacier. This is directly above the Klehini River and the excavation will create huge waste storage piles and a major wastewater discharge that will almost certainly contaminate the creeks and rivers downstream. This development would be extremely dangerous for the already fragile ecosystem of the Chilkat Valley.
Congress and the EPA need to uphold the Clean Water Act and ensure social and environmental justice is served. Both entities must act now to ensure that fundamental protections guaranteed by the CWA are not abandoned, and mandate that the mining consortium apply for a standard surface water discharge permit. This will ensure all applicable State and federal water quality standards are met.
“Wild salmon are under increasing threat from climate change and ocean conditions, which means we must do all we can to protect freshwater habitat. The Canadian and Japanese owners of this project have refused to engage with Haines or the CIV, have not applied for or received the proper permits related to water quality and clearly don’t care about the health and productivity of the Chilkat watershed,” said Alaska Director for Rivers Without Borders Chris Zimmer. “We can’t let short term mine profits for foreign companies threaten the long-term health of the Chilkat watershed and those who depend on it.”
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. 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.
Rivers in the region listed as most endangered in past years include the Chilkat River (2019), Stikine River (2019) and Rivers of Bristol Bay (2018).