Resurrection Creek restoration offers hope
For resource development-environmental conservation partnerships that set aside differences for the greater good North of 60 Mining News – August 27, 2021
Last updated 8/26/2021 at 1:16pm
HOPE, Alaska – An Alaska partnership between Trout Unlimited and Kinross Gold Corp. demonstrates that cooperation and collaboration are more powerful than conflict and polarization when it comes to conserving the environment while also producing the minerals and metals the world needs and wants.
This strength-in-partnerships strategy is on full display in Alaska's historic Hope gold mining district, where Trout Unlimited, Kinross, Hope Mining Company, U.S. Forest Service, and others are working together to restore fish habitat in the historically mined Resurrection Creek.
"None of this would have been possible without the collaboration of a number of people, spanning from government, not-for-profit, and the mining sectors," said Trout Unlimited Director of Law and Policy Government Affairs Austin Williams during an Aug. 13 gathering on the banks of Resurrection Creek.
For its part, Kinross has committed $540,000 to restore fish habitat over a 2.2-mile stretch of Resurrection Creek over the next three years, which will be the second phase of a project USFS began in 2005.
"It's exciting to have partners like Trout Unlimited and Kinross at the table for a project like this because it opens up the door to resources that help us get the work done on the ground that would probably not be possible," said Angela Coleman, hydrologist for the Chugach National Forest where Resurrection Creek is found. "It will have pretty beneficial, lasting effects on the landscape for future generations."
It seems likely that we will see similar benefits for future generations as Trout Unlimited and Kinross extend their partnership across Alaska.
"This is the first project under our Alaska Abandoned Mine Restoration Initiative," said Kinross Alaska External Affairs Manager Anna Atchison. "To our knowledge, this is the first partnership of its kind in the state and we are very honored to be part of it."
Mining in Resurrection Creek goes back to at least 1886, when some of Alaska's earliest prospectors found gold in this stream on the Kenai Peninsula. This stream that wends its way to the Turnagain Arm near the historic mining town of Hope has another golden treasure – an abundance of salmon and trout.
"Hope has a pretty rich history. You were one of the original mining towns in this state – back to the late 1800s – and yet you also have a rich fish history that is associated with the bounty that comes through the streams," Sen. Lisa Murkowski said during the Aug. 13 event celebrating past and future restoration of Resurrection Creek.
Placer gold mining that dates back a century before modern regulations and practices, however, left behind a straight and narrow channel running swiftly between mine tailings; bereft of the bends, pools, and other features that fish need to navigate and spawn. As a result, salmon stopped running to the upper reaches of the gold-bearing stream.
A habitat restoration project launched by the U.S. Forest Service in partnership with Hope Mining Company during 2005, however, resulted in an almost immediate return of salmon.
This effort, known as phase-I of the Resurrection Creek restoration project, reconnected the historic floodplain, stream channels, and adjacent wetlands; constructed new pools, side channels, and ponds; installed logs and other habitat features; and re-vegetated the connected wetland areas along a 1.5-mile stretch of the mined stream.
By 2007, only a year after this initial phase of restoration was complete, the numbers of adult chinook (king) salmon had increased by six-fold, and this population continues to rise.
In addition to the prized kings, pink and chum salmon have returned in astonishing numbers. From 2005 to 2015, the adult pink salmon population has increased by more than 15 times and chums by about 10 times.
Seeing this rebound in salmon is particularly gratifying for David Schmid, USFS regional forester for Alaska, who carried out habitat surveys in Resurrection Creek more than 35 years ago.
"One of the cool things about being a fisheries biologist and being able to do this kind of work is when you can see the almost immediate effects of the project," he said. "Salmon were returning right after some of that work happened. I don't ever remember seeing a chinook salmon, a king salmon, in this system and yet they are here today."
Big project, partnership
Given the stellar success of the phase-1 restoration, USFS was excited to restore prime fish habitat in other sections of Resurrection Creek.
An area lying immediately downstream of the initial phase of restoration desperately needed fish habitat restored due to hydraulic placer mining techniques employed roughly 100 years ago. This section of the creek, however, crosses through active gold mining claims held by the Hope Mining Company.
In another example of what can be accomplished through partnerships, USFS and Hope Mining established a 2.2-mile-long stream restoration corridor that lies alongside ongoing modern gold mining.
This essential coordination opened the door for restoring 74 acres of habitat in the lower and more accessible reaches of Resurrection Creek.
Continuing the Resurrection Creek restoration partnership started by USFS and Hope Mining was a natural fit for Trout Unlimited and Kinross Alaska, organizations that have found common ground in their desire to restore Alaska streams and the wherewithal to achieve that shared goal.
"These are big projects, they cost a lot of money, and we wouldn't be able to do those without partners that are present here today," said Schmid.
With the backing of Kinross and Trout Unlimited, the second phase of the roughly $12.5 million Resurrection Creek restoration project is slated to get fully underway next summer and is expected to be completed by 2025.
Sen. Murkowski, who would like to see the same spirit of partnership that is enabling this project reflected amongst the oft party-line divided lawmakers in Washington, D.C., urged more resource development-environmental restoration collaborations in Alaska.
"Let's not let this be the first and last project where we are coming together. As these resource-based industries, as these conservation-minded Alaskans and non-Alaskans alike are coming together to do good for our state, for our families, and really, for our environment," she implored.
Fort Knox Alaska General Manager Jeremy Brans assured Alaska's senior senator and the rest of the crowd gathered to celebrate the second phase of the Resurrection Creek restoration project that Kinross' partnership with Trout Unlimited goes beyond Hope.
"The restoration of Resurrection Creek is the first, and not the last, project that we are working on with Trout Unlimited under the Alaska Abandoned Mine Restoration Initiative," he said.
This initiative is seeking out areas in Alaska that were mined before modern regulations and practices, and the streams were not reclaimed.
This type of restoration is nothing new for Kinross, which carried out award-winning stream restoration in the historically mined Fish Creek draining the Fort Knox gold mine property near Fairbanks, Alaska.
Gold mining on Fish Creek began shortly after Italian prospector Felix Pedro first discovered gold in the Fairbanks area in 1902. Less than a month after discovering gold on the creek that now bears his name, Pedro staked the discovery claim on Fish Creek downstream from what is now the Fort Knox ore body. Since that time, the creek had been drifted, dredged, and mined with hydraulic giants, dozers, scrapers, and draglines.
Working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the team at Fort Knox took it upon themselves to repair the damage done to fish habitat from the historical gold mining in Fish Creek. This project restored a robust Arctic Grayling population within Fish Creek and created wetlands that support both fish and wildlife habitats. This work reversed the waterway's listing as an impaired water body, something that Kinross and Trout Unlimited hope to emulate with the projects under the Alaska Abandoned Mine Restoration Initiative.
"For the two of us, it's personal," Kinross' Atchison said while standing alongside Trout Unlimited's Williams on the banks of Resurrection Creek.
It is also personal for Yupik Elder Elizabeth Sunnyboy, who offered a blessing for the Resurrection Creek restoration project.
"When I walked down from the road back there and saw the water, I was home," Sunnyboy said while standing on the banks of Resurrection Creek. "Water is my medicine. The trees and the land are my medicine. So, I thank everybody, especially the Hope people, to allow us to step on your land."
Sunnyboy's appreciation underscores the importance of resource development-conservation partnerships that set aside differences for the greater good.