The Surface Versus Subsurface Divide

Ecological Reserves

Ecological Reserves

The most significant protection of environmentally sensitive areas in BC is granted to ecological reserves, in which mineral prospecting and road building is explicitly prohibited.161 Unfortunately, 50% of such reserves are in poor to very poor condition, or in fair condition and in need of restoration.162


BC’s parks, protected areas, watersheds, important habitats and sensitive ecological areas are not adequately protected from mining activities.

Recommended Solutions

Prohibit mining activities in parks, conservancies and other protected areas

[Tags: Parks; Protected Areas; No-Go Zones]

As explained above, BC’s laws still allow mining activities in many types of “protected” areas. In contrast, absolute prohibition of mining activities in parks is provided in other jurisdictions. For example, in Ontario, staking of mining claims, development of mineral interests and working of mines are explicitly prohibited from provincial parks and conservation areas.163 Mining in national parks is also explicitly prohibited under Canada’s national parks legislation.

In Sweden, no mineral exploration may be undertaken in national parks.164 In the Philippines, mining applications are prohibited in parks, old growth or virgin forests, proclaimed watershed forest reserves, wilderness areas, mangrove forests, mossy forests, national parks, provincial and municipal forest parks, greenbelts, game refuges and bird sanctuaries as defined by law.165 Under the Ecuadorian Constitution, mining activities are forbidden in protected areas. Mining will only be permitted in exceptional cases at the substantiated request of the President and after a declaration of national interest issued by the National Assembly, which can, if it deems it advisable, convene a referendum on the issue.166

Prohibit mining activities in drinking water source areas

[Tags: Water; No-Go Zones]

Nova Scotia explicitly prohibits exploration in municipal water supply watershed lands unless the proponent has first obtained the necessary approvals from the provincial environment ministry.167 Under proposed amendments to the Quebec mining legislation, eskers with drinking water potential will also be declared off-limits for mining.168 No similar legislation is present in BC.

Prohibit mining activities in important watercourses and wetlands

[Tags: Water; Wetlands; No-Go Zones]

BC’s Water Protection Act, which applies to all watersheds in the province,169 seeks to “foster [the] sustainable use of BC’s water resources in continuation of the objectives of conserving and protecting the environment”.170 However, unless they happen to fall within one of the protected areas described above, mining activities are not explicitly prohibited in watershed areas.  This is particularly important since the Canadian federal government has amended legislation and policy to enable mines to destroy water bodies.  The proposed use of lakes for mining tailing ponds have created major controversies and have been opposed by First Nations such as the Tse Keh Nay, who successfully opposed the proposed use of Amazay Lake for tailings from Kemess North,171 and the Tsilhqot’in who have been battling against the proposed destruction of Fish Lake for the proposed Prosperity and New Prosperity Mines.172

In contrast, mining is explicitly prohibited in some important watercourses in other jurisdictions. For example, in Nova Scotia, no mining is permitted in protected water areas.173 In the US, specific protection is provided to wild rivers: minerals located in the bed or bank or situated within one-quarter mile of the bank of any river designated a wild river are withdrawn from mining activities.174 This US federal law protects not only the watercourse and also ensures that an adequate buffer is maintained to support the natural migration of the watercourse.

In Colombia, the Mining Code prohibits mining in certain protected moors and wetlands.175 This legislative provision was recently relied upon by the Colombian Minister of Mines to prevent the development of an open-pit gold mine in a sensitive high-altitude wetland that supplied freshwater to more than a million people in nearby communities.176

Prohibit mining activities in migratory bird sanctuaries

[Tags: Birds; Wildlife; No-Go Zones]

Canada’s Migratory Birds Convention Act prohibits persons or vessels from depositing harmful substances into waters frequented by migratory birds.177 In Quebec, mineral claim staking cannot be carried out on land designated as a migratory bird sanctuary under the Migratory Birds Convention Act without prior authorization of the Minister.178 Similarly, under Philippine mining legislation, mining applications cannot be made for “game refuge and bird sanctuaries as defined by law”.179 No similar protection of these important habitats is explicitly provided under BC’s mining legislation.

Prohibit mining activities in ecologically sensitive areas

[Tags: Environment; Ecology; No-Go Zones]

Some lands, due to unique environmental sensitivities or lack of current technical capacity, are impossible to reclaim after intrusive mining activities. In BC, many environmentally sensitive areas are protected as ecological reserves in which mineral prospecting and road building are explicitly prohibited.180 Many other jurisdictions also recognize the importance of protecting ecologically sensitive areas from mining activities through stronger legal provisions.

For example, in Alaska citizens can petition to have certain lands designated as unsuitable for surface coal mining: lands will be designated as such if the regulatory authority determines that reclamation is not feasible.181 In Minnesota, the regulatory authority must develop procedures to identify areas, or types of areas, that cannot be reclaimed from mining activities with existing techniques. In such cases, permits will not be issued in these areas until such time that the authority determines technology is available to satisfy reclamation laws.182 In Montana, the regulatory authority can rely on past mining experiences in determining whether substantial deposition of sediment in streambeds, subsidence, landslides, or water pollution cannot feasibly be prevented. If this determination is made, the regulatory authority must withdraw such areas from mining activities.183

Create continuous network of protected areas in which mining activities are prohibited

[Tags: Protected Areas; Network; Connected; No-Go Zones]

The Whitehorse Mining Initiative recognized that “protected area networks are essential contributors to environmental health, biological diversity, and ecological processes, as well as being a fundamental part of the sustainable balance of society, economy, and environment”.184 This principle highlights the importance of maintaining linkages between protected areas to provide adequate habitat and migration corridors.

The importance of protected area networks for contributing to cultural integrity, environmental health, landscape and biological diversity, and ecological processes has been recognized by the Innu Nation.185 The importance of networks of protected areas was also recognized in an assessment of Canadian national parks where it was found that “to successfully fulfill their mandate, national parks must be nested within a larger, sustainably-managed landscape, including a network of protected areas”.186 In Ontario, the objectives of land-use planning include the protection of ecological systems in the Far North in an interconnected network of protected areas designated in community based land-use plans.187

The European Union is in the process of establishing Natura 2000, a biological network for the preservation of biodiversity throughout the European Union. Under this framework, member states are required to avoid damaging activities that could significantly disturb protected species or their habitats.188  A number of countries, including Sweden, have already prohibited mining in the Natura 2000 areas.189

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