About the Chilkat
The Chilkat watershed is a large glacial river system draining 1,400 square miles from the Chilkat glacier in British Columbia to a delta near Haines, Alaska. Chilkat means “salmon storehouse” in the Tlingit language, and true to its name the Chilkat watershed sustains high value rearing and spawning areas for all five species of Pacific salmon. Wild salmon spawning and rearing takes place primarily in Alaska, where late salmon runs from October to February attract thousands of bald eagles. Unusual upwellings in the river keep the Chilkat ice free longer than other rivers in the region, allowing eagles access to its salmon bounty. The world’s largest concentration of bald eagles is located in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, designated as a State critical habitat area covering 48,000 acres of river bottomland of the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers.
Threats to Conservation
Constantine Metals is exploring the Palmer Project, which it terms “North America’s next major massive sulfide find", in the upper reaches of the Chilkat watershed. Sulfide deposits are associated with acid mine drainage, and an acid producing mine, upstream from the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, could threaten wild salmon spawning and rearing habitat in the Chilkat watershed.
Salmon habitat in the watershed is also threatened by jet boat tours in the Bald Eagle Preserve. Fully loaded 30 passenger commercial jet boats with twin 150 horsepower engines are allowed to run over occupied salmon habitat, when research has shown that even a single pass from a much smaller, less powerful boat can cause salmon egg mortality. A long-term impact on salmon eggs, rearing juvenile salmon, and salmon spawning and rearing habitat could be expected in the absence of stricter protections.
The state of Alaska has proposed a major upgrade of the Haines highway, including the portion in the Bald Eagle Preserve. Critics argue that very little upgrade is needed for this relatively low use road to the B.C. border, especially when the proposed construction would significantly impact the habitat of eagles as well as that of salmon on which the eagles feed.