Chris Hill has a deep desire for social justice and a passion for the outdoors. She has been an avid adventurer since she was young, engaging in backpacking, climbing, and snowboarding around the world. Chris’ love for fly fishing started with her first lesson on the Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska, in 2012. Her passion has since taken her all over the world, from the remote rivers of Alaska, to the tropical waters of Belize, to the small streams in Shenandoah National Park.
As an environmental lobbyist for the past decade and currently a Campaign Director at Sierra Club, Chris’ desire for a just, equitable, and sustainable future, one in which all people benefit from clean air, clean water, and have access to the outdoors, is rooted in community-based organizing. Chris got her start as a grassroots organizer in Appalachia, working to stop mountaintop removal coal mining and advance just transition.
Growing up in Maryland, Chris’ family had two golden retrievers, Fluffy and Dasher. These pups were a part of her childhood and instilled a love for the companionship of dogs. As an adult, Chris moved off to college, then law school, and starting her career, she traveled a lot. With this lifestyle, she didn’t imagine being able to have a dog again. That changed in 2020. Chris and Greg decided to postpone their wedding to 2021 due to the pandemic and safety concerns. They learned that a nearby friend had one more golden pup available out of a litter of twelve. Since the wedding was on hold and they didn’t have much going on, Chris and Greg decided to go see the puppies. They fell in love with Sammy and had to say yes – and instead of getting married, they got a puppy!
The headwaters of the Chilkat River emerge from the Chilkat Glacier in British Columbia on a 52-mile journey through Southeast Alaska into the Chilkat Valley, which is the traditional lands of the Tlingit people and includes the communities of Klukwan and Haines.
The river provides critical spawning habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon, eulachon, and trout, and it’s Southeast Alaska’s top wild coho salmon run. In addition, the watershed hosts the world’s largest annual congregation of bald eagles. The geology of the river creates a warm reservoir of groundwater that freezes much later in the year. This allows for salmon to spawn later and longer, which is why the bald eagles come to feast on the dead salmon. The watershed is home to mountain goats, wolves, brown and black bears, moose, coyotes, lynx, otters, shore birds, ect. All of this combined makes the river valley one of the most biologically diverse regions in Alaska.
It’s a beautiful example of how nature works. Everything works in sync, in a cycle: the salmon, the bears, the eagles, the forest, the people.
Constantine Metal Resources, a Canadian company, is seeking to establish a mining operation along a tributary river of the Chilkat River. The proposed mining project promises a short-term boon in the form of job opportunities to an area that has been hit hard by the pandemic. Yet, the long-term impacts of the mine could be severe.
The acid waste produced by the mining operation would be exacerbated by the geology and climate of the river valley, increasing the likelihood and impact of leaching acidic wastewater to the watershed. And while the mining project might last 10-15 years, the cleanup could be indefinite, continuing to threaten the world’s largest seasonal bald eagle gathering, Southeast’s top wild coho run, and drinking water of residents from Klukwan and Haines, communities that rely heavily on the river’s abundance of wild salmon for subsistence, economy, and way of life. On top of this, the area is prone to earthquakes and the impacts of climate change. Seismic activity, severe storms, and other natural events that are common in the region and will likely increase in coming decades as climate patterns shift, could have further impacts on wastewater storage and mining operations.
Yet, the communities along the Chilkat River are divided. Like many communities around the world, they are faced with a choice: Will they opt for a short-term gain with potentially catastrophic long-term effects, or will they choose to reimagine community needs and economic stability and protect a river that shapes their way of life?
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