Americans tend to pay little attention to British Columbia unless the snow is falling in the Powder Triangle or the Whistler bike park is open, and they pay even less attention to environmental issues there. But B.C. holds a lifetime’s worth of adventure potential, and some of its last, vast empty stretches are being torn apart to extract metals from the ground. Why should Americans care? Well, other than that every place in the world is connected to every other eventually, what happens in B.C. also happens in Alaska.
British Columbia is in the middle of a fast-tracked mining boom, and many of these huge mines (the $5.3 billion KSM is digging out the world’s largest gold deposit) are located upriver from Southeast Alaska and its astonishingly rich fishing grounds. This would be a problem even if Canada didn’t reject Alaska’s request for participation in the environmental assessment process, and it would be a problem even if accidents didn’t happen.
But they do. Despite assurances of the safety of its tailings reservoir, on August 4, 2014, a dam at Mt. Polley Mine burst, dumping 10 million meters of chemical-laden wastewater downstream. It was British Columbia’s worst environmental disaster. The dams for proposed and extant mines in the area are the same design.
In this short from Salmon Beyond Borders, filmmakers Ryan Peterson and Travis Rummel look at the issues surrounding the transboundary region (the aerials alone are worth viewing). Also here on AJ, you’ll find Rummel’s report on their descent of the wild Unuk River from the source to the sea, part of the research and filming they did for the film.