The Imuruk Basin Subsistence Protection Project
A Canadian based mining company’s proposal to develop a vertically integrated mine located 37 miles north of Nome at the base of the Kigluaik Mountains is directly threatening the subsistence resources that Alaska Native Tribes have depended on for millennia. The “Graphite Creek” Project, named after one of the many small salmon bearing creeks that drain the mountain range, would involve the processing and manufacture of high grade coated spherical graphite primarily for lithium-ion electric batteries, to capitalize on a potential supply crunch from China and a growing appetite for electric vehicles.
Since 2012, as part of Graphite Creek mining exploration activities, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has allowed the company to divert up to 130,000 gallons of water per day from several creeks and ponds without requiring the company to obtain a permit. Concerned about the impacts of such water withdrawals on fish and wildlife habitat, the Tribes formed the Imuruck Basin Inter Tribal Watershed Council (IBITWC) to address these and other water and subsistence related issues.
Between 2018 and 2020, the IBITWC took a number of actions in order to protect Tribal subsistence resources. These actions included sending a letter to the Nome Office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) requesting that they amend the Habitat Permit to ensure adequate flows for salmon in the Creeks affected by the TWUAs, pointing out that the ADF&G Permit and the TWUAs decision require the agency to take action to limit potential impacts to salmon and other species that may occur under the TWUAs decision.
ADF&G responded that it believes the activities of the mining company “will not impact the fish in Hot Springs Creek.” However, this conclusion was reached without collecting any data on the Creek nor visiting the site. During a hearing last fall, Sen. Don Olson stated that “If the community does not want this mine, it should not go through.” The IBITWC, therefore, requested that Sen. Olson take whatever measures he can to encourage the DNR, ADF&G and/or the Mining Company to work with the Tribes to protect salmon habitat in the Creeks in order to preserve vital subsistence resources. NBITWC continues to closely monitor this project and coordinate the response by the Tribes.