Miners poised to flex muscles at protected areas conference

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

DWANE WILKIN

Mining companies hope to gain more control over the selection of future parkland in the Arctic.

An industry spokeman said this week that the companies will oppose any attempts to exclude large tracts of land in the mineral-rich Kitikmeot region from exploration and development.

The mining companies will also have a chance to influence the Northwest Territory’s first protected-area’s strategy.

“We believe mining is pretty well the only industry in Nunavut that has the potential to provide sustainable development and meaningful jobs for people,” said Mike Vaydik general manager of the NWT Chamber of Mines.

“We don’t have a lot of options.”

Stephen Kakfwi, the GNWT’s minister for resources and economic development, can also expect an earful from miners about opening up debate on northern-development issues to southern-based environmental groups.

Mining companies riled up

A document prepared this winter for the territorial Parks Department has many mining companies riled up.

The GNWT document says the Kitikmeot region is high on the government’s list of potential parks, wildlife areas, sanctuaries and wildlife reserves.

The document, Protected Areas Strategy For the Northwest Territories: Terms of Reference, began circulating last October as part the GNWT’s commitment to establish a territorial-wide protected-areas strategy.

Companies were especially upset by the report’s assertion that “the degree of activity in the Slave Geological Province (demonstrated) a clear need… to give particular emphasis to designating protected areas in that region.”

The Slave Geological Province is a vast sweep of land roughly bounded by Bathhurst Inlet to the north, Yellowknife in the south and Great Bear Lake in the west.

Spent millions of dollars

Millions of dollars have been already been spent on staking and mineral exploration in this region, Vaydik said, so industry deserves at least some say about which parts are going to be off-limits to mining.

“The mining industry does agree that some areas need protection,” said Vaydik, “but we want them based on some sort of scientific and sustainable development principles that don’t mean that we’re going to be fighting this battle forever.

“Our concern really is that this strategy is being driven by a southern agenda that really doesn’t take into account northerners.”

The World Wildlife Fund, a national environmental organization, took legal action last year to block regulatory approval for BHP’s diamond-mining project at Lac de Gras.

The environmental group withdrew the court action in January after the federal and territorial governments promised to produce and implement a protected-areas strategy in the Northwest Territories by the year 2000.

Mining companies and other stakeholders will get a chance to make their concerns known when Kakfwi meets with them in Inuvik next month to establish a framework for developing the strategy.

Forestry, fishing and tourism industry representatives, aboriginal organizations and several environmental groups have also been invited to attend. The GNWT has committed itself to completing the protected-areas strategy by 1998.

“We’re trying to provide a framework document that will help when each of the individual claimant groups does there land-use planning and which is NWT-wide,” Robin Reilly, territorial director of parks and tourism said.

Reilly said he expects the protected-areas strategy will eventually contain new legal components as well, “if having gone through the work, it’s clear there are some things that are desired but simply no appropriate tools for.”

Overlap with Nunavut

Questions will almost certainly be raised about the overlap in legal and regulatory jurisdictions. The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, for instance, already provides for land-use planning while recognizing existing mineral leases.

“The Slave Geological Province is going to be very difficult,” Reilly conceded. “Virtually the whole area has one form of mineral claim on it or another. As well there is a whole aboriginal claim to be settled – at least in the southern parts of that area.”

Selection of sites for conservation will likely take into consideration the cultural significance of land in the region as well as scientific and environmental principles, Reilly said.

The first step will be to begin “mapping” the Northwest Territories’ distinct natural environments using satellite-based remote-sensing technology.

“It wouldn’t have been possible to do this 10 years ago, but because of remote sensing and the quality of that information, you can do a lot of the preliminary work without having to actually walk around in the field,” Reilly said.

The federal government has said it is prepared to change existing environmental review procedures so that the impact of any future projects on protected areas is taken into consideration.

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