Wild Border Watersheds

Watershed: Taku

Photo Credit: Chris Miller

Photo Credit: Wild Salmon Center

Photo Credit: Ric Careless

Photo Credit: David MacKinnon

Photo Credit: Chris Miller

About the Taku

The Taku is the largest totally intact watershed on the Pacific coast of North America, and is the wild heart of the British Columbia – Alaska transboundary region. Most of the 19,254 square km watershed lies in British Columbia, with its array of headwaters sprawled across the northwest corner of the province. These remote and little known tributaries come together to form the main stem Taku, which pours across the Alaska border before emptying into the Pacific near Juneau. Relative to conservation potential, the Taku is unsurpassed, being completely intact and virtually pristine. As wild salmon stocks decline elsewhere, the Taku’s exceptional habitat hosts robust populations of all five Pacific salmon species. The Taku is the number one salmon producing river for southeast Alaska, and one of Canada’s biggest salmon systems. Wolves, grizzly and black bears, wolverine, and lynx also live out their natural predator-prey cycles within the watershed, along with globally significant populations of moose, mountain goats, sheep, and Woodland caribou. As climate change stresses intensify, the Taku watershed is sufficiently vast, interconnected, and diverse - with all its native flora and fauna present and thriving - to be a perfect biological refugia.

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In July 2011, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) and the government of British Columbia completed the Atlin Taku Land Use Plan, a management plan that covers the entire Canadian side of the Taku watershed. The agreement establishes a system of decision making for land use management, and sets aside some of the region for conservation. In Alaska, the lower section of the Taku flows through the Tongass National Forest and has been found eligible for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System because of its outstanding fish and wildlife, scenic and geological values.

Threats to Conservation

The Atlin Taku Land Use Plan is a notable conservation achievement. However, concerns remain that it leaves the Tulsequah Valley open to mining. The Tulsequah Valley is just up river from the confluence of the Taku and Tulsequah rivers, and right above the Taku’s best salmon habitat, a maze of winding streams and backwaters vital to rearing salmon. Virtually all of some two million salmon leaving or returning to the Taku each year must pass in the vicinity of the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine.

The Tulsequah Chief would be sited right on the Tulsequah River, at a location where there was small historic mining up until 1957. Key concerns about the proposed new mine include: impacts from access by road or barge, toxic acid mine drainage from mining activity contaminating the Tulsequah River and the main stem Taku, and the certainty that construction of the access road and the Tulsequah Chief would lead to further industrial development upstream from the richest salmon-rearing habitat in the entire watershed. In November 2012, the TRTFN formally opposed the Tulsequah Chief project by consensus in a Joint Clan Forum. On December 17, 2013, Ecojustice filed a petition on behalf of the TRTFN in the Supreme Court of British Columbia calling on the Province to void Chieftain Metals’ Environmental Assessment Certificate for the Tulsequah Chief project.

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