MAC: Mines and Communities

Environmentalists Take Federal Government To Court To Protect Bc Caribou Herd

Published by MAC on 2006-08-24
Source: CP National News

Environmentalists take federal government to court to protect BC caribou herd


24th August 2006

VANCOUVER (CP) - Environmental groups opposing the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine have initiated a legal challenge against the federal government saying the project could wipe out a protected caribou herd.

The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday, will ask the Federal Court of Canada to ensure the federal government upholds its legal duty to protect the East Atlin caribou herd.

Redfern Resources of Vancouver wants to reopen the Tulsequah Chief mine - 1,100 kilometres northwest of Vancouver near the B.C.-Alaska border - to extract copper, gold and other metals.

The project involves construction of a 160-kilometre road in the Taku watershed, in what is one of the largest roadless areas in North America.

It has been denounced by the likes of Robert Kennedy Jr.

The Liberal federal fisheries minister said last year there were no serious environmental objections to reopening an old mine in northern B.C.

Environmentalists were outraged Geoff Regan had approved the project.

"The project would include construction of a 160-kilometre access road into a pristine, rich and sensitive ecological area, with devastating impacts on local wildlife including a herd of caribou that are supposed to be protected under the federal Species at Risk Act," said David MacKinnon, executive director of the Transboundary Watershed Alliance in a news release.

The Sierra Legal Defence Fund, on behalf of the Transboundary Watershed Alliance, is targeting Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in the suit.

They want federal authorizations for construction of the mine and road denied until the federal government fulfils what they see as its legal duties under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

"The responsible authorities have confirmed that they intend to issue approvals and authorizations without ensuring that identified mitigation measures are enforceable and implemented or ensuring that measures are taken to protect listed wildlife species," the suit says.

In particular, the lawsuit asks the courts to ensure the federal government upholds its legal duty to protect the East Atlin caribou herd.

The 800-1,000-head herd roams the BC-Yukon border region. It is part of the Northern Mountain population of Woodland Caribou listed as a species of special concern under the act.

"Canadian Wildlife Service, Yukon Government and independent scientists all agree that the impacts from this project would be devastating on the caribou," MacKinnon said.

"Moose and grizzly bear populations will also suffer. By approving this project, our federal government has failed miserably to protect the Taku's wildlife populations and environment," MacKinnon said.

The groups say the federal government ignored federal laws by not implementing measures to protect the herd, but also the advice of both independent and government scientists in coming to its own "politically motivated" approval of the project in 2005.

"We are asking for the court to rule that no federal authorizations be issued until the glaring problems with the federal approval of this project have been remedied," said Sierra Legal Defence Fund lawyer Randy Christensen.

The suit would not be the first to target the highly contentious mine.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada in an unsuccessful bid to stop it.

At the time of the project's approval, Regan said there had been eight years of environmental assessments on the project.

MacKinnon disagrees.

"We were really dissatisfied with the federal conclusion. They were basically suggesting that building a 160-kilometre road into the heart of an incredible roadless wilderness area populated by caribou, mountain goats and grizzly bears and all kinds of wildlife would have no significant environmental effects," MacKinnon said.

"It appeared Canadian officials had simply decided they were going to approve this project regardless of what the evidence suggested."

Former NDP fisheries critic Peter Stoffer said last year the mine will endanger a salmon fishery which supports hundreds of fishermen in both the United States and Canada, many of them aboriginal.

He said the Fisheries Department is not fulfilling its mandate to protect fish habitat.

Fisheries Department spokeswoman Sue Farlinger has said concerns about the caribou were resolved through a wildlife management plan, but she did not have details.

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