Take action: Record Ridge mine needs an environmental assessment

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Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

From May 15 to June 14, the public can have a say about Wildsight’s request for an environmental assessment on the proposed Record Ridge industrial mineral mine, near Rossland, B.C.

Want to skip the reading and take action right away? Submit your feedback via the EAO’s website here

Just outside of Rossland, B.C., on a rocky outcrop of iron- and magnesium-rich rock called Record Ridge, lives a small population of mountain holly ferns. This fern has adapted to thrive in these mineral-rich soils, as well as very specific climatic conditions, and has only been found in four locations in all of Canada. As such, it’s listed as threatened, with federal documents citing mineral exploration as the greatest threat to the species’ survival — the same rocks that produce the mineral-rich soils necessary for these ferns to survive are also prized by mine exploration operations. 

The Record Ridge mountain holly fern population is under threat from a proposal put forward by WHY Resources for a magnesium mine, which is currently under provincial review. 

A Mountain Holly Fern, or Polystichum scopulinum, grows near the Record Ridge Trail approximately 8 kilometres outside Rossland, BC. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

On June 21, 2023, Wildsight submitted a petition to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) arguing that the Record Ridge mountain holly fern population faces imminent threats to its survival and recovery from this proposed mine. We called upon Minister Steven Guilbeault to fulfil his duty and submit an emergency order recommendation under the Species at Risk Act. More information on this petition is available in our earlier blog post. The ministry responded saying the ECCC and the Canadian Wildlife Services would not undertake an investigation because the proposed mine is still under consideration by the province. While this was a disappointing outcome, we didn’t stop there.

Earlier this year, Wildsight submitted a letter to the BC Environmental Assessment Office citing the certain damage that Record Ridge mining operations would have on the mountain holly fern, as well as several technical issues with the application. In B.C., quarries are able to harvest more ore than mines without needing to go through the environmental assessment process. In an attempt to take advantage of this, WHY Resources has applied for permits as a quarry, despite their targeted mineral not being listed as a ‘quarriable material’ under B.C. law. 

Furthermore, even quarries need environmental assessments if they want to collect more than 250,000 tonnes of material a year. WHY Resources originally proposed mining 249,000 tonnes a year, but dropped that to 200,000 after the province questioned why the company was so close to the cutoff. In addition, WHY Resources has applied for a two year permit, despite their website claiming the mine could sustain anywhere from 20 to 172 years of operation. This is a common practice in mining; companies begin as ‘small projects’, allowing them to bypass environmental regulations and simplifying the initial permitting process. Once there is already an open pit, it is easier for them to get permits to expand, and the operation will increase its size and scope. This loophole violates the intention of the Environmental Assessment Act, which is to make sure that mining projects are well planned and cause as little damage to the environment as possible. 

Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

This pattern of deceptive practices coupled with the presence of a threatened species within the mine footprint spurred us at Wildsight to request that the province perform a full environmental assessment on the proposed Record Ridge mine site; last week, we received a response. In it, Assistant Deputy Minister Chris Trumpy informed us that Wildsight’s application had been accepted, and the issues brought up in it would be investigated. Wildsight’s letter and the government response can be viewed here.

This interaction is promising, and indicates that the provincial government likely also has major concerns about the project and its impacts, but, unlike other provinces, B.C. lacks the legal framework to reject mineral exploration permits on discretionary grounds. Where other provinces could refuse to issue, or cancel, a mining permit if it’s found not to be in the ‘public interest’ (a definition which includes environmental and community concerns), B.C. must issue exploration permits so long as they meet basic conditions. So while it is difficult for the province to reject exploration claims, if there are strong opposing arguments against mine construction and operation there is still a possibility for the public to make a difference by voicing concerns.

A public comment period on Wildsight’s request for an environmental assessment has been set for May 15 to June 14, 2024. We encourage anyone with concerns about open pit mining in vulnerable habitats to submit comments here. Your comments will be taken into account by the provincial government and may help to force this mining operation to at least identify the environmental damage it will do through an environmental assessment. While it’s too early to tell, our hope is that this vulnerable habitat, and the species that rely on it, will be protected — or, at the very least, that they’ll escape the current threat.

For more info and ideas of what to discuss in your comments, we encourage you to read our letter, check out the Save Record Ridge website here, and read The Narwhal’s deep dive into the mountain holly fern issue here.

On Record Ridge near the town of Rossland, British Columbia, the perfect conditions exist for a very particular plant called the mountain holly fern to…Read more