Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Canada's mining boom spills into Alaskan waters.

Carrie James’ story ought to sound familiar: She grew up in a small town on the Alaskan coast, fishing for salmon the way her Haida and Tlingit ancestors had for generations. She taught her children, two boys and a girl, how to catch, smoke and put up the fish. And then, as with so many other salmon-based tribes, plans for upstream development began to threaten her way of life.
But unlike some Pacific Northwest tribes, which have lately negotiated with hydroelectric companies to repair some of the damage caused by dams — or tribes in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, which at least have the Environmental Protection Agency on their side in the fight over Pebble Mine  James has felt powerless in her effort to stop a handful of mines from being dug in the headwaters of rivers that feed her tribe and economy. That’s because the headwaters aren’t in Alaska. They’re in Canada.
Over the last decade, the Canadian government has expedited a mining boom in western British Columbia by rolling back one environmental regulation after another. The Navigable Waters Protection Act, for example, once protected more than a million Canadian rivers and 32,000 lakes. As of 2012, that number was down to just 66, leaving some of British Columbia’s wildest, richest and largest rivers exempt from environmental safeguards.
...Keep reading here. 

Cheap oil is saving Alaskan ecosystems -- for now.

Courtesy National Park Service

It’s hard to find a place more remote than Bettles, Alaska. The village of 15 people lies 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the Koyukuk River, accessible to the outside world only by an ice road, boat or plane. And 69-year-old mayor Gary Hanchett likes it that way. “I love the country,” he says in a slow, gravelly voice. “To this day I don’t see myself ever living south of the (Yukon).” 
But former Governor Sean Parnell targeted the region around Bettles for one of a handful of “mega-projects,” huge developments meant to create jobs and tap into Alaska’s untouched resources. In this case, the resource was copper, and the project a 220-mile long mining road that would cross more than 100 streams and rivers, countless acres of tundra and wetlands, and Gates of the Arctic National Park. It would also trundle right past Hanchett’s house, bringing exhaust fumes and possibly asbestos dust to a place where he usually smokes fish.
Hanchett has been doggedly fighting the proposed Ambler Road for more than two years. But the best news he’s gotten came on Jan. 22, when newly-elected Independent Governor Bill Walker unveiled his 2016 budget plan: All funding for the road had been cut. 
Similar controversial developments, including the plan to build a 735-foot-tall hydropower dam across the salmon-rich Susitna River, were also axed...
...Keep reading here. 

Unwelcome ungulates: Do mountain goats belong in Utah?

The La Sal Mountains rise from the slickrock canyons and dry mesas of the Colorado Plateau like a mirage, an island of alpine peaks in a sea of desert. Just 15 miles from the adventure tourism hub of Moab, the mountains are blissfully cool, even in summer, and nearly empty of people.
To Barb Smith, a 52-year-old Forest Service wildlife biologist with striking green eyes and a silvery braid, the upper La Sals are an ecological paradise, one of the few chunks of land in Utah that isn’t grazed, logged or scarred by off-road vehicles. Smith is also a botanist, and as she and a dozen or so volunteers climb above 11,000-foot Burro Pass, she rattles off the Latin names of flowers:Polygonum bistortoides, Tetraneuris grandiflora. There are so many, it’s hard to take a step without crushing one.
We pause on a wind-scoured slope to catch our breaths and everyone crowds around Smith, who has spotted a cute if unremarkable yellow button called the La Sal daisy. She explains how to identify the flower and mark its location on a GPS. “This kind of effort, this kind of documentation, is going to be really helpful,” she says. The volunteers hold out their smartphones to take pictures.
Read the rest of the story here.

How Native Americans shaped -- or more often, didn't shape -- the year's biggest environmental debates.

Flickr user Arbyreed

This September, hundreds of thousands of Native Americans began receiving checks in the mail. The money was the final installment of the Cobell settlement, which altogether paid out $3.4 billion in overdue royalties to compensate for more than a century of poorly managed mining on reservations. Two months later, Montana’s Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes moved a step closer to closing a deal that will make them the first in the nation to own a hydroelectric dam. 

Such stories stand out, because though Native Americans have deep stakes in some of the West’s most pointed environmental debates, their voices continue to be more often marginalized or outright ignored by state and federal lawmakers. The past year has been no exception. Last week, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, incensed Native activists when he undermined decades of progress toward sovereignty and told an Apache leader that Native Americans are “still wards of the federal government.”

As we head into 2015, here’s a look back at how Western tribes shaped — or tried to shape — some of the year’s biggest natural resource stories...
...Click here to keep reading. 
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