Guest Post from Ken Farquharson, former SEEC Commissioner

A writer asked what BC can do to save our whales. The orcas prime food is chinook salmon. The federal government has recently taken steps to provide more chinook to the orcas through closure of some local recreational fisheries. Washington State has established the Puget Sound Partnership with the objective of reducing pollution in Puget Sound which is affecting the orcas and also doing what it can to increase production of chinook. The Governor, by Executive Order on March 14 this year, invited BC and other entities to participate in work to save the orcas, so far there is no report that BC has taken any action, yet there are important actions it could take.

The major producer of chinook in Puget Sound is the lower Skagit River and much has been invested in developing this capability. In the headwaters of the Skagit, surrounded by Manning and Skagit Valley provincial parks is an area of Crown land containing an undeveloped mineral deposit known as Giant Copper. Washington State and other downstream entities are very concerned that if this is developed the resulting levels of dissolved copper in the Skagit River would annul their work, as even low copper concentrations will kill young salmon, as occurred with the copper mine at Jordan River. This property is regarded as a ticking environmental time bomb because studies show it would be developed as an open pit mine on the steep Silverdaisy Mountain with waste dumps on the side of the mountain and tailings ponds in the valleys.

This concern was a factor in the establishment of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission when the Canada/US Treaty was signed in 1984 to resolve the dispute over the proposed raising of Ross Dam and the flooding of the Skagit Valley in BC. The Commission was mandated with “conserving wilderness and wildlife habitat” in the Skagit drainage upstream of Ross Dam and “to acquire mineral and timber rights” consistent with that objective. The Commission, with the encouragement of the previous and present provincial governments, has been working for three years to negotiate a settlement with Imperial Metals, the owner, to acquire the Giant Copper claims and thus allow the province to include this scenic area in one or other of the parks. This rate of progress is too slow, the immediate evidence of the crisis within the orcas clearly merits faster action towards ensuring their long term survival.

BC should immediately join Washington State in an active recovery program for the orcas, including working with the Commission to secure purchase of the Giant Copper claims, and investing in increased production of chinook in the rivers of Georgia Strait.

Ken Farquharson, former Skagit Commissioner