Establishing Healthy Mines

Written by: Haley

I recently had the opportunity to participate in two events focused on Mine Reclamation – one organized by the Canadian Land Reclamation Association (Whitehorse, Yukon) and one put on by the BC Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation (Vancouver, BC). These events touched upon some interesting topics and offered tours of a couple of mining reclamation sites. Repairing ecosystems is near and dear to my heart, so I was thrilled to learn more about this important process (and to return for a visit to my old stompin’ grounds in the Yukon)!

Planning for Success

Faro-mine-pit-09.2013One key topic of discussion was the importance of establishing a plant list suitable for the harsh and heavily impacted environment that usually remains after mining. However, establishing a standardized list often isn’t a very workable solution since each project has unique goals and challenges. Dave Polster presented on methods to encourage natural establishment of plant communities and shared evidence that seeding with grasses, which is a common practice on many reclamation sites, can actually inhibit the development of natural forest cover for long periods of time. We know as growers that using the most appropriate native material and species is one of the best ways to achieve this, and that timing is critical to the process. In the case of remote mines, there is a need for long-term planning that includes enough time and resources, as well as the expertise and facility capacity to collect seed, propagate, and grow starter plants to a size suitable for direct planting at the most appropriate time of year.

Mining Tours

Sechelt Mine Tour (Sechelt, BC)I was privileged to tour two mines as part of these events that represented very different situations. The Faro lead/zinc mine which has been closed since 1998, and the Sechelt Sand and Gravel Mine which is currently in operation and has an estimated 15 year mine life remaining. It was interesting to see how contrasting the issues can be on different mining sites.

The Faro mine is a good example of the issues which result when there is little or no reclamation planning.  The company that operated here has since become insolvent and reclamation will now have to be accomplished by the Yukon Government.  This site is impacted by extreme climatic conditions and has many significant water quality issues with potential to impact important fish-bearing watersheds and drinking water supplies. There is a great deal of work to be done on this site to return it to anything even remotely close to its original conditions.

The Sechelt Sand and Gravel Mine is in stark contrast, in part because it involves private property owners (one being the Sechelt First Nation), and is immediately adjacent to the town of Sechelt. The goals of reclamation here are also quite different and determined by the owners on their respective lands, dictated in part by the proximity of residential, business and recreational areas, and toxic pollutants are much less of an issue. Some reclamation is being done each year on this site, one goal being for reclamation to keep pace with new mining development, and this has led to numerous awards and approval at the local community level.

Something I heard repeated time and again is that successful reclamation projects help to build the “social license” for allowing mining development, and N.A.T.S Nursery is proud and excited to be a part of helping to improve those successes.