Wildlife advocate sounds alarm on new mining project in Manitoba’s north

A wildlife advocate is sounding the alarm after the Manitoba government approved a mining project in the province’s north.

NiCAN Limited, has been given the green light, and $300,000, from the province for mineral exploration in Grass River Provincial Park near Snow Lake.

Eric Reder, wilderness and water campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, said the provincial park is home to Boreal Caribou, a protected species, which he says is extremely sensitive.

“They’re not deer that are running through my yard. Caribou leave disturbances. In some instances they’ve been seen to move five kilometres away from a disturbance, and not utilize that area anymore,” he said.

Reder noted that this particular area is one of the few places in Manitoba where Caribou collar data is available, showing exactly what the mammals are up to. That collar data, he said, shows there will likely be some pregnant females in the area that will be disrupted by the drilling operations.

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Minister of Economic Development, Investment, Trade and Natural Resources, Jamie Moses, said the aim is to have a “balanced approach when it comes to mining and mineral development in Manitoba.”

“We understand that, specifically with this project, (NiCAN’s) permit (is) for fly-in only drilling programs. To be clear, there will be no bulldozers and heavy equipment, and no roads and trails proposed.”

Moses said the government is “very aware of the caribou population,” and added that there will be “precautions in place, particularly around caribou, to make sure the exploratory site won’t interfere with their populations.”

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He said an example of this, is that mining activities must stop if a caribou is seen within a certain area of the exploration site.

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Reder said the federal Species at Risk Act states 65 per cent of the mammal’s range must remain intact.

“That has to be met,” he said, adding an action plan would help achieve that — but Manitoba doesn’t have one even though it should.

In 2012, Reder said the Federal Recovery Strategy noted each caribou range needed a protection plan, and provincial governments were given five years to pull those together.

“The previous government signed another agreement with the federal government in 2022 saying that this caribou range that we’re talking about right now, that plan was going to be done by March 2023, and all the other plans were going to be done by March 2024,” Reder said. “(But we) don’t have any plans. There are no draft plans for any caribou in the province, and yet they’re allowing the disruption of their habitat,” he said.

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Moses said the NDPs, “are focused on caribou conservation and recovery needs, and staff are working on a provincial Action Plan that will provide the necessary context and guidance for these plans.”

Reder said the NiCAN mineral exploration claim plays into a frustrating trend that exists because mining in provincial parks is still legal.

“There were 659 claims when we investigated in September inside provincial parks. Now we have 681 claims as of one week ago when our mapper was pulling out this data. So we’ve seen an increase in mining claims under the new government,” he said.

Reder said 70 per cent of Manitobans have voiced that they don’t want industrial activity in parks.

“The government has an opportunity to move on this,” Reder said, referencing the withdrawal of mining claims from the Seal River Watershed region.

He said he would also like to see the government publicize mineral exploration permits, as well as that provincial park and wildlife biologist staff have been consulted.

“The second piece, is that the previous government moved fisheries and wildlife biologists from the environment branch (of government) into the mines branch,” Reder said. He would like to see that decision reversed.

“We listen to all stakeholders across the province and welcome having those conversations,” Moses said, adding he has already met with a variety of groups and takes their points seriously. “We’ll continue to listen to Manitobans when it comes to protecting all of our natural resources.”

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