Moonscape to greenbelt: Conference celebrates regreening – by Jonathan Migneault (Sudbury Northern Life – June 9, 2015)

Sudbury world-renowned for its remediation program

Researchers from as far away as Russia and Norway will gather in Sudbury for the sixth Mining and Environment International Conference at Laurentian University June 20-25.

“The goal this year is to really celebrate the successes of the Sudbury regreening program,” said Graeme Spiers, an associate professor with Laurentian’s faculty of the environment, and one of the conference organizers. “Sudbury is recognized globally for this. The citizens of Sudbury should be really proud of what the city has done.”

The “Sudbury Method,” as some have termed the city’s regreening effort, which began in 1978, has served as a model for jurisdictions around the world to remediate environments damaged by mining, smelting and other industrial activities.

Spiers said after he spoke at a conference in Moscow around five years ago, to describe Sudbury’s regreening program, the industrial city of Norilsk, in northern Siberia, started its own environmental remediation program.

Like Sudbury, Norilsk is a major centre for nickel and copper mining.

“Norilsk was not a very pretty place,” Spiers said. “But there are areas in Norilsk now where they are growing willows, they are growing grasses, they have gardens, which developed from someone seeing what happened in Sudbury.”

Russian researchers Sergey and Galina Kopstik will give a presentation at the conference on Tuesday, June 23, to discuss remediation in northern Russia and the challenges they have faced with their efforts.

Brit Salbu, an environmental chemistry professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, will also give a presentation that morning on the environmental impact of uranium mining in central Asia.

Efforts to reclaim uranium mines in Elliot Lake have served as an example for that part of the world, Spiers said.

But while Sudbury’s regreening program has served as a model to be replicated around the world, local remediation is far from over, said Laurentian biology professor Peter Beckett, who has also helped organize the conference.

Sudbury has come a long way since the 1970s, but Beckett said the regreening effort has just reached the halfway point.

While more accessible areas have been remediated, more remote forests and ecosystems in the region have not yet returned to their state before industrialization.

But Beckett still considers the regreening program a success, as work continues to return the natural landscape surrounding Sudbury to a point where it is self-sustaining.

“These days, Sudbury has some of the cleanest air in the whole province,” Beckett said.
The program’s success, he added, comes down to a commitment from the mining companies, and the community at large to improve the local environment.

Institutions like Laurentian were able to take a leadership role and speak out against damaging mining practices.

“You had independent people who could actually say things,” Beckett said.

One of the conference’s goals, Beckett said, is to foster a new generation of scientists committed to Sudbury’s regreening program and similar projects around the world.

The five-day conference will feature more than 100 presentations, and students will preside over half of them.

Since the conference started in 1995 – it occurs every four years – all profits have gone towards an endowment fund to support bursaries for Laurentian students.

This year conference organizers will present four graduate scholarships, and two undergraduate scholarships at a gala event.

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