Twelve environmental groups are calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to save Fish Lake, BC, home to 80,000 rainbow trout and sacred to the Tsilhqot’in First Nations. The groups are urging the federal government to heed the findings of its environmental assessment review panel and reject a proposed gold and copper mine that would destroy Fish Lake.
Despite First Nations opposition, Taseko Mines Ltd. plans to drain Fish Lake in central B.C. in order to access a gold and copper deposit and make room for a waste rock dump and toxic tailings. The proposed “Prosperity” open-pit mine is on the traditional lands of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, a member of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, which won a court case recognizing its rights to the area.
The B.C. government issued a 25-year-mining lease to Taseko in June of this year. The following month, a federal environmental review panel reported that Taseko’s proposed mine would have significant adverse effects on the environment -- including to fish stocks and grizzly populations-- and on First Nations rights and title.
“We’re calling on the federal cabinet and Prime Minister Harper to respect the federal panel report which highlights the multiple adverse effects of this proposal, including impacts on First Nations rights and title,” said Larry Innes, Executive Director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative. “Failure to honour these findings will not only harm the land and people of the region, they will harm relations between industry and other communities in the future by seriously undermining public confidence in the review process.”
The Harper government has stalled a decision on Taseko’s application. If the mine gets federal cabinet approval, it would be the first time the government has ever overruled negative findings from a Canadian Environmental Assessment Act review.
“It boggles my mind that we would even consider the destruction of a world-class fishing lake that is of great significance to an indigenous community, and is surrounded by cultural sites including First Nations burial grounds,” said Sierra Club BC Executive Director George Heyman. “We must close the legislative loopholes that allow destruction of Canada’s freshwater bodies for toxic tailings.”
Changes to the federal Fisheries Act allow metal mining corporations to use Canadian destroy lakes in order to dispose of the millions of tones of waste rock and tailings they generate. Fish Lake would be Canada’s fifth pristine natural water body authorized for destruction under this loophole if cabinet ignores the findings of the environmental assessment review panel.
Groups supporting the Tsilhqot’in National Government and urging Prime Minister Harper to save Fish Lake include the Canadian Boreal Initiative, Sierra Club BC, West Coast Environmental Law, ForestEthics, Pembina Institute, Wilderness Committee, Greenpeace, BC Spaces for Nature, Georgia Straight Alliance, Sierra Club Canada, Wildsight and the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance.