Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Melting glaciers: between salmon and mining claims

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A melting glacier in northern British Columbia is opening new rivers and lakes that will provide future habitats for species such as salmon.

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As glaciers melt , new lands and rivers appear in the transboundary region shared by northern British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska. These emerging rivers open the door to future salmon habitats, as well as mining claims, reveals a study published in the journal Science (New window) (in English).

Researchers say these emerging territories could provide an opportunity to offset significant loss of habitat for Pacific salmon.

The study is a collaboration between researchers at Simon Fraser University (SFU), hereditary chiefs of the Gitanyow First Nation, the University of Montana Flathead Lake Biological Station and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.

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Researchers Jonathan Moore of Simon Fraser University and Mark Connor of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation stand on the banks of the Tulsequah River.

For Tara Marsden, director of sustainability for the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs and co-author of the study, the emerging research is bittersweet.

On the one hand, melting glaciers are clear and worrying evidence of climate change, and on the other hand, these findings may indicate a glimmer of hope for salmon.

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Salmon are adapting to man-made climate change and we are trying to do everything we can to ensure their success.

A quote from Tara Marsden, Director of Sustainability for the Hereditary Chiefs des Gitanyow and co-author of the study

However, this same sector is already attracting the interest of mining companies.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">The ice sheet currently covers areas of the Canadian Golden Triangle – an area of ​​northern British Columbia so named because it contains some of the richest gold deposits in the world.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Lead author Jonathan Moore, a professor of aquatic ecology and conservation at SFU, has studied glacier retreat and salmon for years. This study is its first that directly examines the intersection between mining, climate change and aquatic ecosystems.

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A sockeye salmon in the Taku watershed, British Columbia.

Researchers found that in 25 of 114 watersheds, at least the half of the future salmon habitat was near mining claims.

In total, about half of future salmon habitat has high or medium mineral potential, which the study authors consider an indicator of potential future mining pressure.

The study includes a number of recommendations aimed at addressing what the researchers describe as critical policy gaps regarding mineral claims.

The duty to consult Indigenous stakeholders has been part of Canadian constitutional law since 1982.

Yet the regime of open access mining titles, which allow mining companies to enter, access the land and begin the process of #x27;recording a claim in the region, does not require consultation with First Nations in British Columbia and many areas of the Yukon.

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An abandoned mine on the banks of the Tulsequah River, in British Columbia.

Last September, the British Columbia Supreme Court ordered the province to update its Mineral Tenure Act over the next year and a half to include consultation with Indigenous stakeholders.

Environmental laws generally focus on the current value of land rather than its future, says Jonathan Moore, and that needs to change.

This study reveals the need to carefully examine environmental laws and ensure that they protect not only the habitats of today, but also those of tomorrow.

A quote from Jonathan Moore, professor of aquatic ecology and conservation at SFU and lead author of the study

Tara Marsden n&#x27 ;is not totally opposed to mining in the region, but says any development should be done carefully and in partnership with First Nations to minimize potential impacts.

Given the importance of salmon for many communities and the significant decline recorded, she believes that the protection of these new habitats should be a priority.

With information from Caitrin Pilkington

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