Whenever I take aerial photographs of the Chilkat Valley near Haines, Alaska, I am reminded of how intertwined people and wildlife are in this valley. I also find that places that seem big or far away when viewed from the ground look small, insignificant and close-by from the air. It gives meaning to the term, “getting the big picture” — both literally and figuratively. I find it a great way to develop a broader understanding of a story topic, and to put the issues into perspective.
It was for these reasons I wanted to see from the air, the area that is being explored by Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia and investment partner Dowa Metals & Mining Co., Ltd. of Japan.
The area that Constantine Metal Resources is exploring for an underground mine is known as the Palmer Deposit. The minerals that Constantine’s drilling explorations have found are primarily copper and zinc, with significant amounts of gold and silver. Exploratory drilling to refine the location and mineral amounts are the current focus of the company.
The mountain slope where the mine might be located is near Mile 40 of the Haines Highway. It is directly above Glacier Creek which drains into the nearby Klehini River, a tributary of the Chilkat River.
It is the interconnection of Glacier Creek, the Klehini River and Chilkat River that is the focus of my interest and the reason for my aerial photography flight. I wanted to get the lay of the land, in particular, how Glacier Creek is situated directly below the area of geologic exploration. I was also interested in seeing the distance from this area of Glacier Creek before it emptied into the Klehini River, and shortly thereafter, the Chilkat River.
It was obvious from the air why the potential mining site was of interest to Constantine Metal Resources and their partners. Close access to a paved highway (as seen in the above photo, highway is on the right) would allow for easy delivery of ore concentrate by truck to the nearby year-round deepwater port of Haines. According to Constantine Metal Resources’ website, the ore concentrate would then be shipped from Haines to Asian smelters. The steep slope of the terrain makes for easier extraction due to direct access to the ore-rich geologic zones of the mountain slope.
As I have previously written (“Exploration continues at Constantine Metal Resources’ Palmer Project”), the Palmer Deposit project will become an even bigger topic of discussion as Constantine Metal Resources continues to post encouraging results from their exploratory efforts. Mine development is a very slow process with many boxes in need of being checked off: exploratory research, planning, environmental studies, public comment and permit acquisition. All this takes many years, sometimes decades. But as Constantine Metal Resources broadens their exploration, the pace of the project will pick up; as will the interest and concerns of locals.
A mine has the potential to bring needed jobs to the Haines economy. The community’s economic boost from jobs, development and other mine support is tempting to some.
On the other end of the spectrum, anything that has the potential to impact a world-class salmon fishery will be of intense local resident concern. Both the Klehini River and Chilkat River are key salmon spawning rivers for Southeast Alaska. According to local public radio station KHNS, Haines has 180 skippers and crew who commercial fish. The Haines fisherman caught $11.5 million worth of fish, resulting in $326,000 in fish tax for the Haines borough. These numbers do not include the many local residents who depend on salmon for subsistence. Simply put, salmon are critical to the life blood of the community on many levels.
Anything that endangers the salmon spawning and rearing habitat, and watershed resources is simply unimaginable and unacceptable to many. Of particular concern is copper and other heavy metals in mine waste leaching into the Klehini and Chilkat River. Copper and heavy metals are toxic to salmon and bald eagles.
The Chilkat River chum salmon are the primary food source for one of the largest gatherings of bald eagles in the world. Each fall, bald eagles congregate in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, located only three miles downriver from the area of current exploration. At times more than 3,000 eagles have been recorded at the preserve during the fall chum salmon run.
It was these bald eagles that originally brought me to the Chilkat Valley, but like the many interconnected aspects of this valley, it became quickly apparent to me that without salmon, there would be no large groups of bald eagles. Without salmon, I doubt that the original Tlingit people would have had the presence they had in the valley.
In journalism, you always hear the term “follow the money.” In the case of the Chilkat Valley, I believe it might be more appropriate to say, “follow the salmon.”
That’s just what I did with my aerial flight. The eagle-eye view gave me a literal overview of the valley’s interconnections giving me a better perspective and understanding of the mine exploration area and its relation to the Chilkat Valley’s watershed.
- CONSTANTINE METAL RESOURCES LTD. – Palmer Project
- DOWA METALS & MINING CO. – Metals and mining overview
- HIGH COUNTRY NEWS – Could an Alaska mining project jeopardize Earth’s largest bald eagle gathering?
- TWIN LIONS PRODUCTIONS – Save Our Salmon and Culture (video)
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