Vancouver-based mining company receives go-ahead to expand near Alaska eagle preserve

Constantine Metal Resources Ltd has been given the green light from a U.S. federal agency to explore for copper, zinc, gold upstream of an Alaska bald eagle preserve which sees the world's largest gathering of bald eagles in early winter.

Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. gets green light to explore for copper, zinc, and gold from U.S. agency

A bald eagle feeds on a salmon carcass in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve outside Haines, Alaska. The preserve is about 10 miles downstream from a copper and zinc prospect that could someday be developed into a hard rock mine. (Cheryl McRoberts/American Bald Eagle Foundation via AP)

The Canadian company exploring for copper, zinc and gold upstream of a southeast Alaska bald eagle preserve has received permission from a U.S. federal agency to expand.

Vancouver, B.C.-based Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. is exploring upstream of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve outside Haines. 

The preserve sees the world's largest gathering of bald eagles in early winter. Up to 4,000 of the raptors fly in to feed on salmon that spawn, die and collect along the Chilkat River after other waterways have frozen.

Mine critics say it's unreasonable to allow a mine — and the threat of contaminated wastewater spill or other consequences — so close to the Chilkat.

Mine officials have spent millions on the project but say it's too soon to determine whether the prospect will be developed.

Constantine has financial backing from Japan's Dowa Metals & Mining Co. for the prospect about 35 miles northwest of Haines.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) received 173 comment letters and analyzed concerns regarding exploration's effects on water quality, fish, wildlife and other resources.

Move may lead to 'full mining project': critic

The extended exploration plan proposes up to about four kilometers of additional road to stage equipment and facilities. The proposed road, according to the BLM, will give Constantine access to as many as 40 new exploration drill sites.

Darwin Green, vice-president of exploration, in May said a decision on production, and the possible configuration of a mine, is years off. Alaska's stringent regulations and laws would protect the environment if a mine is built, he said.

Gershon Cohen, an environmental activist in Haines, said the BLM decision reflects a piecemeal approach to oversight — allowing small expansions without looking at overall "down-the-road consequences."

"We know where this is leading," Cohen said Friday. "They want to make these changes and make these expansions to lead to the development of a full mining project."

 Agencies should be taking a broader approach to the consequences of a hard rock mine above such an important salmon river before years of momentum are built up in favour of development, Cohen said.