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Posted: May 9, 2020

Mining policies in transboundary watersheds must improve

Letter to the Editor

Nearly two dozen North American scientists and policy experts recently commented on the dangerous ecological shortfalls resulting from B.C. mining practices in the scientific journal Science. As hunters and anglers with a focus on clean waters and intact wilderness and wildlife, we’re deeply concerned.

The article points out the significant damages and risks posed by mining practices to downstream communities, particularly those in transboundary watersheds shared by B.C. and U.S states like Montana, Alaska, Idaho and Washington.

The article implores, “rather than a race to the bottom, we urge our governments to honour their mutual obligations to protect our shared transboundary waters, as codified in the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.” We couldn’t agree more with this reasonable request.

We ask our elected officials to use their influence to ensure that mining policy in transboundary watersheds protects water quality, riparian habitat and human health; these mining policies should have parity across the international border.

Without this common sense approach, we fear that, indeed, U.S. and Canadian mining policy will move in the opposite direction in a “race to the bottom” negatively impacting everything from human health and drinking water to your favourite hunting and fishing haunts.

Canadian and American governments both have the responsibility to protect our shared environment, including the water, air and wildlife. The article refers to several shortfalls in the mining assessment process. Perhaps we’ve been too lax in assuming we can take the government’s fulfillment of its responsibility for granted?

The term “government capture” describes the condition when a government allows industry to design or strongly influence law and operating rules. This is a shortsighted approach to managing our shared environment and can lead to huge environmental and financial burdens on the public. We would like to see mine assessments founded upon independent, transparent and peer-reviewed science and incorporated downstream to fully capture the transboundary environmental concerns.

Bad rules make for bad results. Water gets polluted, local waters and wildlife habitat get degraded, and citizens and taxpayers pick up the cost of reclamation, remediation and mitigation that can cost into the many millions of dollars and last for decades or centuries.

This isn’t what sportsmen want, and this isn’t what society wants. On both sides of the border, we need to address the shortcomings of mining policy. This can start now with voice of concerned citizens coming together on this important issue.

We’re asking our local, regional and national leaders to take steps to improve mining policy to ensure the protection of water, riparian habitat, and human health for all transboundary watersheds. We don’t expect the problems to be solved overnight. But a good-faith collaboration between the U.S. and Canada must begin now, and good data, transparency and the public good must outweigh narrower self-interests.

For those interested in reading the Science commentary, please follow this link.

Bill Hanlon, (Sparwood) Co-Chair of the BC Chapter and a member on the board of directors of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers;

Ryan Busse (Montana), North American Board Chair for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

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