A Subsistence/Traditional Ecological Knowledge Workshop was held in Anchorage this past week to discuss potential environmental and social issues associated with the proposed Donlin Gold gold mine located 12 miles north of Crooked Creek on the Kuskokwim River.
The purpose of the meeting was to foster dialogue and shared learning between local Kuskokwim experts and the analysts sorting through the plethora of data and associated materials submitted by Donlin Gold LLC since Donlin Gold submitted a permit application with hopes of proceeding with their proposed pan of operations.
Although the title of the workshop was what it was, Alaska Native People tend not like the terms subsistence or traditional ecological knowledge. According to many, the act of subsisting is too complex for one word. Similarly, traditional knowledge or traditional ecological knowledge is something that cannot easily be defined because it’s a way of life and the knowledge and wisdom acquired from experience or passed down through the generations is threaded through every aspect of life. According to Larry Merculieff, an Aleut elder, traditional knowledge cannot realistically be melded into western scientific knowledge; western science and traditional knowledge must be engaged side by side with equal parity.
However, in order to incorporate local knowledge into the comprehensive environmental study, the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency overseeing the Environmental Impact Statement process (EIS), brought local experts, many of who are involved in the federal Regional Advisory Councils or ADF&G Advisory Committees into Anchorage to meet with the Corps’ analysts who are drafting the document’s fisheries, wildlife and subsistence resource component sections.
Numerous members of the Central Kuskokwim Advisory Committee, Lower Kuskokwim AC, Kuskokwim Salmon Management Working Group, Western Interior RAC, Y-K Delta RAC, McGrath RAC, Bethel residents, Southcentral RAC and members of the Knik and Tyonek tribes participated in the workshop. The last three groups of contributors participated because the proposed natural gas pipeline would begin at Beluga Point in Cook Inlet and climb up and over the Alaska Range paralleling, and occasionally crossing, the Iditarod Trail. In all, seventeen local experts shared their knowledge with the project analysts, most of which are scientists in the biological and social sciences fields.
At the broadest scale, potential impacts are considered for three components: the mine site itself, the transportation and pipeline corridors. Examples of general topics discussed included potential impacts associated with the barging of fuel, equipment and materials to the proposed port site at Junjuk Creek (an alternate option for a port at Birch Tree Crossing was also discussed), the potential for introduced plants associated with the pipeline construction and increased hunter/sportsmen access that would create competition for subsistence resources with residents from Nicolai, the mine access road from Junjuk Creek (or Birch Tree Crossing) to the mine site and how it could impede subsistence activities to the nearby residents, the potential introduction of mercury into the air and waters of the region and its effects on subsistence resources and human health.
As mentioned, various alternatives to the original proposal are also being considered within the EIS process and were also discussed during the workshop.
Examples of More Specific Issues Discussed
Barging and Fish Interactions
- Are there key areas of concern about barging activities along the river?
- Where or how are fish distributed across the river channel in these areas?
- With regard to subsistence harvest, what species, times, and locations are important at this site?
- Are areas of concern located in the main channel, side channels, back-water areas, or a tributary.
Types of Environmental or Cultural Effects On Subsistence Resources Scrutinized
- Reductions in Subsistence Resources
- Habitat loss and environmental pollution.
- Noise and human activity altering fish passage.
- Reduced Subsistence Access
- Restricted access to formerly used harvest areas.
- Increased Competition
- Increased competition over fish and wildlife resources.
- Other Possible Effects
- Income and cultural effects (e.g., increased income to purchase equipment and gasoline, employment/absence from home, changes in food preference, non-natives added to the local communities).
The draft EIS is expected to be out in mid 2015.
Additional information can be found on the official Corps of Engineers web site at http://donlingoldeis.com/Default.aspx