All animals deserve a chance, but miners deserve a better one – by Russell Noble (Canadian Mining Journal – February, March 2013)

Russell Noble is the editor of the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication.

“Migrating” and “Mating” are getting to be two of the more overused excuses for slowing the mining process and I’m getting a little tired of hearing how the caribou won’t be able to find their way home because there’s now an open pit mine on the trail, or how whales and other sea creatures won’t be able to concentrate on making babies because huge ore carriers are making too much noise overhead.

It seems to me that ‘excuses’ are getting in the way of mining more than the creatures themselves and from my experiences with wildlife, animals tend to adapt to their surroundings by going around or avoiding obstacles in their path.

I don’t think the caribou or the whales are so stupid as to stop in their tracks, so to speak, and simply die, or not reproduce, because there’s a mine or a ship in their way. In fact, I think if the caribou or whale ‘whisperers’ actually knew what these creatures were thinking, they’d probably hear “It’s no big deal, I’ll just walk or swim around.”

Regardless, more and more mining projects seem to be getting trapped by permit stipulations thanks to environmentalists, or even worse, naturalists crusaders who seem to know what’s best for wildlife. Granted, the creatures are being displaced somewhat by some mining operations but on the whole, they’re not being slaughtered like the buffalo were when the railways went through in the 1800s.

There’s a big difference between “shooing” and “shooting” and I think the mining projects that are proposed for areas where fish and animals have traditionally called home will adapt and survive. They won’t be intentionally killed because man has moved into their neighbourhood.

In fact, if nothing else, man’s presence often brings more attention to their living conditions and on many remote sites I’ve visited, mining companies have gone above and beyond by diverting routes and building roadway underpasses specifically with the fish and animals in mind. Some have even built more fences than found at Guantanamo Bay to protect the “good” animals.

At great expense to the miners (and not government(s) or other “caring” organizations), I’ve seen streams and rivers deepened and widened, I’ve seen entire waterways moved to shorten spawning distances, and I’ve seen roadway underpasses engineered and built with only the animals in mind.

And the latter, in most cases, is done so on the initiative of the mining company because they don’t want to risk the safety of the animals (and their employees) by having accidents.

Being hit by a caribou or even worse, a charging moose, can have devastating results and I can attest to the fact that a moose bolting out of roadside brush and across the road in front of a vehicle is a pretty scary and dangerous thing.

It’s a white-knuckle experience that makes most drivers stick cautiously to the middle of the road where possible to give the animal, and themselves, a fighting chance.

And that’s what miners and Mother Nature’s other creatures deserve…a chance to survive.

Problem is, I think the balance of survival is getting a little once-sided in that some groups of people are losing sight of the fact natural resources, not natural inhabitants, are what Canada’s economy thrives on and unless those disrupting the permitting process come to grips with the fact that our “original” animals will survive, then they too will find themselves out in the woods looking for a new life.

All animals deserve a chance and like it or not, humans deserve a better one. CMJ