Judith Lavoie

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Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. Lavoie covered environment and First Nations stories for the Victoria Times Colonist for more than 20 years and is now working as a freelancer. She previously worked on newspapers in New Brunswick, Cyprus, England and the Middle East. Lavoie has won four Webster awards and has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award and a Michener Award.

Alaskans to Commemorate Anniversary of Mount Polley Mine Disaster as Similar Accidents Predicted to Increase

One year after 24 million cubic metres of mine sludge and water swept into rivers and lakes below Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley mine in B.C., Southeast Alaskans will gather to commemorate the tailings pond breach and bless the Stikine River.

Those at the Aug. 2 gathering in Wrangell, where the salmon-rich Stikine runs into the ocean, will also be looking for ways to ensure there is no Mount Polley-style disaster in the B.C. headwaters of the Iskut River, a major tributary of the Stikine, where Imperial Metals has opened the Red Chris mine.

The ceremony will be hosted by Wrangell Cooperative Association, and tribal administrator Aaron Angerman said he hopes other Southeast Alaskan communities will follow suit and hold their own ceremonies.

I am frightened to think that what happened at Mount Polley could happen here in our backyard now that the Red Chris mine is operational — that the fish we’ve relied on traditionally for thousands of years could be contaminated or disappear, that the local commercial fishing industry could be decimated and that we could see the local businesses that rely on the industry close doors,” he said.

Alaska Fishing Community Spurred to Action by Mount Polley Spill

Wrangell, Alaska, wharf

Wrangell, Alaska — A fishing boat chugs across the water in front of the patio at Wrangell’s Stikine Inn, temporarily disrupting dinner conversation as residents of the tiny Southeast Alaska town tuck into heaped plates of rockfish and chips.

At the next table, where a group of friends are celebrating an 80th birthday, the talk is all about the next day’s fishing plans. The new salmon smoker is working well, there were more than 40 crabs in the pots yesterday and everyone wants to be out on the water before 9 a.m. tomorrow because there are king salmon to be caught.

Commercial and sports fishing fill the freezers and wallets of Wrangell residents but, out of mind for many of them, behind the shield of the Coast Mountains, lurks a threat that could annihilate the area’s fishing and tourism-based economy.

Will a Century-Old Treaty Protect Alaska's Salmon Rivers from B.C.'s Mining Boom?

Southeast Alaskans, anxious about B.C.'s mining boom along the Alaskan border, are pinning their hopes for stronger mine management on a treaty that dates back more than a century.

The International Joint Commission (IJC), operating under the Boundary Waters Treaty since 1909, is a body with six appointed members —three from Canada and three from the U.S. — used to resolve water or air conflicts between the two countries.

However, although the commission appears to be tailor-made to deal with the concern over B.C. mines in the headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s most important salmon rivers, politicians on both side of the border appear reluctant to hand over responsibility to a commission whose recommendations remain entirely independent of either party.

'It’s the New Wild West': Alaskans Leery As B.C. Pushes For 10 Mines in Transboundary Salmon Watersheds

Iskut

Long-held perceptions of Canada as a country with strict environmental standards and B.C. as a province that values natural beauty are taking a near-fatal beating in Southeast Alaska, where many now regard Canadians as bad neighbours who are unilaterally making decisions that could threaten the region’s two major economic drivers.

Fishing and tourism — each billion-dollar industries — are the lifeblood of Southeast Alaska, where glaciers sweep down into rivers home to five species of wild salmon and massive snow-covered peaks tower over fertile wetlands.

Tourism accounts for 10,900 jobs in the Alaska Panhandle and salmon fishing employs 7,300 people.

Air and water are the only ways into communities such as Juneau, the state capital, and almost seven million hectares, or three-quarters of Southeast Alaska, are within the Tongass National Forest, where industrial activity is limited.

But, upstream, in northwest B.C., there is a new-style gold rush with an unprecedented number of applications for open-pit gold and copper mines, some made viable by construction of the Northwest Transmission Line and all requiring road access.

Alaskans Ring Alarm Bells Over Potential for More Mount Polley Disasters As B.C. Pushes Forward With New Mines

Worried Alaskans who fear lucrative fisheries and tourism industries are at risk from lax B.C. oversight of mine safety are meeting with state officials next week to ask the U.S. State Department to push for more input on mine development along the border of northwest B.C. and southeast Alaska.

We are calling for an equal seat at the table. We want equal representation on the part of Americans and Alaskans when it comes to how these watersheds are developed,” said Heather Hardcastle, a commercial salmon fisher based in Juneau.

We take all the risks and the costs and get none of the benefits.”

Hardcastle is a member of a coalition of Alaskan mayors, First Nations, businessmen and fishers who were horrified by the Mount Polley tailings pond collapse last August. Their concerns were exacerbated by last week’s provincial government report that found a weak foundation and design were responsible for the failure that saw an estimated 25 million cubic metres of waste water and toxic sludge flood from the copper and gold mine’s tailings pond into rivers and lakes.

Chemicals Released During Fracking Could Harm Reproductive Health: University of Missouri Study

Fracking pollutes water

Chemicals released into the air and water during fracking operations may result in human health problems ranging from birth defects to decreased semen quality, a U.S study has found.

University of Missouri researcher Susan Nagel and colleagues from the Institute for Health and the Environment and the Center for Environmental Health conducted the most extensive review to date of research on fracking by-products and effects on human reproductive and environmental health. They concluded that exposure to chemicals used in fracking may be harmful to human health.

The paper, Reproductive and Developmental Effects of Chemicals Associated with Unconventional Oil and Natural Gas Operations, published in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health recommends further study.

We examined more than 150 peer-reviewed studies reporting on the effects of chemicals used in unconventional oil and gas operations and found evidence to suggest there is cause for concern for human health,” Nagel said.

Jumbo Glacier Ski Resort Threatens Grizzlies in Southern B.C., Into U.S.: Scientists

Grizzly bear

Grizzly bears in the Central Purcell Mountains are more vulnerable than shown in 15-year-old research being used by proponents of Jumbo Glacier Resort and, if the resort is built, it could threaten grizzly populations through southern B.C and into the U.S, says one of Canada’s leading grizzly bear experts.

Michael Proctor, who has studied grizzly bears in the Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges in southeastern B.C. for almost 20 years and whose work is regularly published in scientific journals, recently completed two ecological analyses of the Purcell grizzly population and found, based on data-driven population surveys, that bear populations are about 50 per cent smaller than previous estimates.

In 1999, government scientists estimated the area to be at 93 per cent of carrying capacity for grizzlies, but Proctor’s research, completed more than a decade later, found grizzly capacity to be at 54 per cent. The capacity is the population an environment can sustain.

Salish Sea Orca Whales Not Mating, Socializing in Polluted Soundscape

orca whales, salish sea, kinder morgan, coal export terminals

Vessel noise is already hindering endangered southern resident killer whales from communicating and finding fish and the noise bombardment will get worse if proposals for coal terminals and pipelines in B.C and Washington State are approved, said scientists and environmentalists at a conference looking at the health of the Salish Sea.

“Ships dominate the soundscape of Puget Sound,” said Scott Veirs, Beam Reach Marine Sciences and Sustainability School program coordinator and professor, speaking at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.

Veirs and his students take underwater sound recordings off Lime Kiln Park on San Juan Island, an area where the killer whales are known to spend time, and then model the echo-location and communication consequences for the resident killer whales. The resident killer whale population has dropped this year to 80 animals in three pods, the lowest number in more than a decade.

U.S. Officials Search For Answers On Bitumen Spills As Canada Eyes Enbridge, Kinder Morgan Oil Pipelines

EPA sampling during Enbridge bitumen spill

U.S officials are struggling to figure out how bitumen from the Alberta oilsands will behave if there is a spill either from a pipeline or into the Salish Sea, the fragile ocean environment between Canada and the U.S.

As the U.S. debates the future of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Alberta oil to the Gulf Coast, and Canada looks at Kinder Morgan's proposed twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project, there is a growing urgency to find out how diluted bitumen behaves if there is a spill, said scientists, policy makers and environmentalists gathered in Seattle for the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference this week.

“Does it float or not float? That's the question,” said Gary Shigenaka, marine biologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hazardous materials response division, flashing a picture of thick, black bitumen extracted from the oilsands.

NOAA is studying the behaviour of bitumen and the diluent with which it is mixed to make the peanut-butter like substance flow through pipelines, but, so far, there are few concrete answers, Shigenaka said.

Studies show that although diluted bitumen — dilbit — initially floats in water, it sinks when it is mixed with sediment, which would happen in high turbulence or in areas such as a river estuary, Shigenaka said.

Fears about the behaviour of bitumen in water have been growing since the 2010 spill of about 3.2 million litres (843,000 gallons) of thick crude into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. It was the first spill of diluted bitumen from Alberta into a waterway, and agencies struggled to cope with a substance that released toxic fumes from the diluent and then sank as the bitumen mixed with river sediment.