When I was just a couple years old, my parents took my brother and me on a trip up the Unuk River. We cruised grassy wetlands and took short breaks along the way to fish. Trout in hand, we traveled further upriver and spent the night in the woods.
This trip and others like it are part of my family lore. They are stories of wilderness, wildness, and nature’s absurd bounty and beauty. The Unuk is the centerpiece of the stunning Misty Fjords National Monument and one of Southeast’s top five king salmon producers; yet Canada is permitting mines at the head of the Unuk and other key salmon rivers in Southeast, putting Southeast at risk. Given that we’ve seen both the Mount Polley dam in BC and the Bento Rodrigues dam in Brazil have catastrophic failures in the past two years, that’s not a risk we can ignore.
Alaska Governor Bill Walker and BC Premier Christy Clark recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining how they will work together to protect transboundary waters. The problem the MOU is that it is non-binding. The MOU states, “This Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation shall have no legal effect… It may be amended at any time by agreement between the signatories and may be terminated by either upon written notice to the other.”
That’s like getting married with vows that say, “I will love you and honor you until death… well… actually, just until I change my mind.” If Alaska’s pristine beauty, bountiful fisheries, and cultural heritage are something we want to love and honor, we must protect them with the highest enforceable means. It’s not enough to have an MOU. The US Department of State needs to invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and refer Southeast’s transboundary mining concerns to receive federal review through the International Joint Commission.