Gaping Holes in Fish Habitat Safety Net – Watchdog Has Little Confidence Proposed Projects Will Achieve “No Net Loss” of Fish Habitat

Ramsey Hart

Canada Program Coordinator, 2008-2014

In recent reviews of two proposed BC mining projects, MiningWatch Canada has found significant flaws in plans to compensate for fish habitat that would be lost if the mines go into operation. Both the Mt. Milligan and Prosperity projects will negatively affect fish habitats and the proponents will be required to compensate for these impacts by creating or improving fish habitat elsewhere.

Reviewing the proponents’ plans, MiningWatch is left with little confidence that the proposed compensation will do the job. MiningWatch fears that if approved these projects will worsen the DFO’s already poor record of achieving its stated policy objective of “no net loss” of fish habitat.

Detailed comments have been submitted to the Environmental Assessment bodies for both projects and are available on the MiningWatch web site.

The impacts of Taseko Mines Ltd.’s proposed Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine on local fisheries resources would be considerable and include:

  • Draining of the productive and beautiful Fish Lake (Teztan Biny);
  • Destruction of Little Fish Lake and more than five km of Upper Fish Creek for the tailings impoundment;
  • Destruction of 2 km of Middle Fish Creek for the open pit.

Taseko Mines Limited, the project proponent, has committed to creating an artificial reservoir to make up for the lost habitat. An assessment by fisheries biologist Dr. David Levy has concluded that this new reservoir is unlikely to provide adequate habitat to make up for what will be lost. Furthermore, the proposal does not account for some areas of lost stream habitat nor does it consider the long delays for the new reservoir to become established and productive. Dr. Levy concluded that the reservoir would have to be 4 to 5 times larger than proposed in order to meet the goal of “no net loss”.

The Mt. Milligan Mine, proposed by Terrane Metals Limited, will eliminate King Richard Creek and part of Alpine Creek from the Rainbow Creek and Nation River watersheds. To compensate, Terrane Metals proposes to improve or create habitat in other areas. The proposed compensation package does not include an adequate area of improved habitat; it relies on habitat to be restored 20 or more years in the future; and it relies on improvements that may not be permanent – the placement of logs in streams – despite the permanent loss of habitat from mine development.

Despite these flaws the plan has been accepted and the project approved by the federal Minister of Environment. In their response to our comments on the plan, the DFO admitted that habitat compensation measures are “transitory” but accepted them as replacement for permanently lost habitats.

Ramsey Hart, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, said, “While we have fundamental concerns about the notion of compensating for lost habitat – especially at the scale of entire lakes – these plans don’t even measure up to the DFO’s narrow technical objective of ‘no net loss’.”

These habitat compensation plans address the direct physical destruction of fish habitat but do not consider the potential impacts on fish living in the rivers below the projects. A Canada-wide analysis of impacts of metal mines on fish by Environment Canada has found that on average mines that discharge to surface waters have significant negative effects on downstream fish and fish habitat.1 A recent review of Taseko’s environmental impact study by U.S.-based Stratus Consulting2 has raised questions about the reliability of the company’s conclusion regarding the performance of its waste management facility and suggests there is a serious risk of downstream contamination by acid mine drainage.

The destruction of fish habitat is also a significant concern for First Nations at both proposed projects. Member communities of the Tsilhqot’in National Government have been unanimous in their opposition to the destruction of Fish Lake by the Prosperity project, and Nak’azdli – one of the directly affected First Nations – is opposing the Mt. Milligan project.

Contact: Ramsey Hart, Canada Program Coordinator, (613) 614-9937 ramsey(at)miningwatch.ca

1. National Assessment of Phase 1 Data of Metal Mining Environmental Effects Monitoring Program. Environment Canada 2007. http://www.ec.gc.ca/esee-eem/default.asp?lang=En&n=3D80AB10-1

2. Comments on Taseko Mines Ltd. Hydrometeorology Plan for the Proposed Prosperity Copper-Gold Project. Stratus Consulting, Nov. 9, 2009. http://www.raventrust.com/media/fishlake/Final_rpt_Status_on_hydrology_11.09.09.pdf