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Canada protects vast wilderness region.

A region of magnificent wildlands on the Canada-Alaska border will be preserved as a park rather than opened to mining, the government of British Columbia declared in June.

"This is one of the most spectacular wilderness areas in the world, and today B.C. is living up to its global responsibility to keep it that way," British Columbian Premier Michael Harcourt said in announcing the decision.

By protecting the area surrounding the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers, Harcourt ended a Canadian company's plans to build an enormous copper mine there. NPCA and other groups fought the plans for five years, warning that mining could devastate the area.

The new Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park, which spans 2.3 million acres, borders Canada's Kluane National Park and Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay national parks in Alaska. Together the parks total nearly 21 million acres, constituting the largest protected area in the world.

The Tatshenshini, often called North America's wildest river, and the Alsek, into which it flows, form the heart of an extraordinary region of mountains and glaciers. The area holds one of North America's most significant grizzly bear populations, as well as the rare glacier bear, a variety of black bear whose fur is sometimes a steely blue. Wolves, Dall sheep, bald eagles, and moose all inhabit the region, and the rivers provide one of the continent's largest salmon runs.

Geddes Resources Ltd. planned to excavate Windy Craggy Mountain on the Tatshenshini to create the world's largest open-pit copper mine. The greatest danger the plan posed was run-off of sulfuric acid. Research showed the ore at the site to be up to seven times as acidic as most copper ore.

Geddes planned to build a giant dam to contain the mine waste. But studies by the Canadian government called the proposal "based on novel and as yet unproven assumptions, methods, and techniques" found "the area has registered some of the largest earthquakes in the history of the planet" and that if the dam was breached, "destruction of fish habitat would be essentially permanent"; and concluded "the risk of serious environmental damage is high. "

The Alsek joins with the Tatshenshini below the mine site to flow into Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and from there into the Gulf of Alaska. Along with Glacier Bay, the mine plan threatened Alaskan fisheries worth $50 million to $60 million a year, as well as the region's wildlife, the burgeoning white-water rafting industry, and the hunting and gathering lifestyle of the Yakutat Tlingit, who inhabit the area.

The United Nations declared Glacier Bay a World Heritage Site in December, increasing the pressure on to allow the mine.

Canada's final decision was "critically important...for this rare and pristine region and all its citizens," said Vice President Al Gore, who as a senator introduced a resolution to Congress calling for protection of the area.

British Columbia is recommending that the adjacent Canadian and U.S. parks be managed together as a world wilderness reserve.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:along Canada-Alaska border
Publication:National Parks
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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