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A Proposed Alaska Mine Threatens Salmon

Learn about the Palmer Mine

    We provide our members with salmon from both the Chilkat and Chilkoot Rivers. These same rivers have sustained Tlingit communities since time immemorial.

    Jones Hotch, a Tlingit tribal leader from the nearby indigenous community of Klukwan, described the importance of the wild salmon habitat to High Country News. “You guys might have your Safeway,” Hotch said, gesturing his hand across the valley. “There’s ours all around here.”

    The Chilkat River is under threat by a proposed mining development upstream from Klukwan and Haines.

    The mine, known as the Palmer Project, worries locals and environmental activists who want to defend critical habitat, but are finding it difficult as the permitting process pushes onward.

    Illustration by Libby Geboy

    Shannon Donahue has lived in Haines since 2010 and is a Chilkat Watershed Organizer with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC). She wants to preserve the rich habitat of the region. “As soon as I got here, I felt at home,” she says.

    “The Chilkat Valley is arguably the most biologically diverse valley in all of Alaska because it is on the edge of a temperate rainforest, and the fjord goes so far inland it almost meets up with the subarctic ecosystem just north of here.”

    All that ecosystem diversity with glacially-fed waters offers ample habitat for wild salmon, according to Shannon. “The Chilkat is likely to be a refuge for species that are impacted by climate change in the future,” she says, but adds a warning. “It's a pretty resilient ecosystem, as long as we don't pollute it.” Shannon says the Chilkat River is not just a stronghold for wild Pacific salmon, but for all the species they impact.

    Shannon Donahue, Upper Lynn Canal Organizer for SEACC, has lived in Haines since 2010.

    The fall run of salmon extends into December on the Chilkat River and attracts the largest concentration of bald eagles on the planet. Drive north from Haines toward Klukwan and you will find the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, where visitors from every corner of the earth come to watch salmon and bald eagles play out a performance that has defined these waters for a very long time.

    How long they continue to gather depends on our ability to steward the valley in the interests of wild animals, the local population who depends on them for subsistence, and the commercial fishing industry which can provide economic opportunities for generations to come.

    Shannon Donahue knows that mineral resources will continue to tempt speculators and mining companies. “With mining projects, it's really hard to get a permanent win,” she says. “We really need to protect this place in any ways we can.”

    You can help us protect these important salmon-producing rivers that have sustained indigenous Tlingit peoples for thousands of years.