Fish Lake (Teztan Biny), saved - for now - from a proposed mine

What a Week for BC’s Environment!


Before I get into listing off several significant recent successes for the growing
legions battling to save our precious environment and farmland in BC, I want to provide a disclaimer – right up front – because I believe it is essential to this

There is no such thing as an absolute “victory” in environmental campaigning –
especially these days. Such is the rapacious appetite for our resources from
corporations both near and far that we make a serious mistake ever planting the
flag, declaring victory, packing up and going home. If you count yourself as a
serious member of the fight for our environment and public resources, then you must
acknowledge that defending these values is a way of life – a state of mind – and
commit yourself to it for the long haul. Corporations have no “off switch” –
especially when billions are at stake.

That said, sometimes it is important to pause ever so briefly to acknowledge the
dedication and sacrifices that yield those elusive environmental “victories” (in the
temporary sense, as noted). I am rather fond of champagne, and permit myself more
occasions to enjoy it than just the annual rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.” If you
agree – or have some other preferred method of celebration – then I suggest right
now is as good a moment as any to indulge.

Why, you ask?

Two lengthy and hard-fought campaigns have recently produced laudable “wins” that
deserve recognition and rejoicing: The first is for the protection of Fish Lake, in
the Tsilqot’in territory west of Williams Lake, from the proposed Prosperity Gold
and Copper Mine; the second is for several important pieces of farmland in the Lower
Mainland, threatened by commercial development and highway construction respectively
(more on those in a moment).

As for Fish Lake, months of tense speculation – awaiting the Federal Environment
Minster’s official decision following an Environmental Assessment Federal Review
Panel that recommended against the proposal – were put to an end this week, as the
ministry issued the following statement:

The Government of Canada today announced decisions on two gold-copper mine project
proposals in British Columbia. The proposal for the Mount Milligan mine, near
Prince George, has been granted federal authorizations to proceed. However, the
Prosperity mine project as proposed, near Williams Lake, cannot be granted federal
authorizations to proceed due to concerns about the significant adverse
environmental effects of the project.
(emphasis mine)

“The Government has considered both projects carefully, particularly their
environmental impacts,” said Environment Minister, Jim Prentice. “We believe in
balancing resource stewardship with economic development. The Mount Milligan
project has been designed in a way that minimizes impacts to the environment, while
the significant adverse environmental effects of the Prosperity project cannot be
justified as it is currently proposed.”…

…In making its decision, the Government of Canada took into consideration the
conclusions of the report of the Federal Review Panel, and agreed with the Panel’s
conclusions about the environmental impacts of the project.

Re: my earlier disclaimer, pay careful attention here to the words “as proposed”
which leave the door open to a redesign and re-submission of this proposal at a
later date. Which is why anyone who cares about this lake, home to 85,000 rainbow
trout, and the people and critters who depend on it, would be foolish to declare
victory and call it a day. This project is worth something on the order of $20
Billion, which is a lot of reasons for the proponent, Taseko Mines, not to give up
easily – and for us to remain on guard.

And yet, the significance of this “win” should not be underestimated. Chief Marilyn
Baptiste of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, in whose traditional territory Fish Lake
(or Teztan Biny) is located, should be congratulated for her courageous stance,
which included
some very bold words
to both the federal government and project proponent as to how far
she and her people were prepared to go to stop this insane project. And, for the
time being, it seems to have paid off.

This decision from the ministry also sets an important precedent, as it well knows –
which likely contributed to the several month delay on its decision. You see, Fish
Lake was only one of some 20 viable fish-bearing lakes across the country that have
been earmarked for wanton destruction by mining operations, all to save these
companies the expense of building their own tailing ponds and impoundment lots. In
this case, the plan was to drain the lake, convert it into a rock impoundment area,
mine beneath it and around it for gold and copper – and create a new man-made lake,
with the Orwellian moniker of “Prosperity Lake”, to replace it. At a time when the
very same Ministry of Environment acknowledges that less than half of our fresh
water in Canada is of “fair to good quality”, this sort of proposal can only be
properly termed insane. Thus, getting the government to implicitly recognize this
fact is important not just for Fish Lake, but for all of Canada.

So it is for these reasons that we should all take a moment to salute the monumental
achievement of Chief Baptiste, her people, and all the environmentally-minded
citizens around BC and across Canada who banded together in support to help make
this historic decision a reality.

Just as our federal environment ministry warns of our diminishing water quality, so
does our provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Lands warn of our increasingly
imperilled food security. We in BC only produce 48% of our total food locally, and
just 43% of our vegetables, down from 86% in 1970!
The ministry tells us we need to
add over 200,000 acres of arable farmland in the Fraser Valley just to be able to
feed ourselves into the future, which is why destroying any of our existing agricultural land – some of the best in the world – for highways, residences, or industry, is
also simply insane.

To this end, we can thank the tireless farmland defenders in the Lower Mainland who
went to bat for and recently secured the protection of two important pieces of
agricultural land in the region – Maple Ridge’s 200-acre Pelton Estate Farm from
proposed commercial development; and the historic Hudson’s Bay Farm in Langley from highway paving. In both cases, citizens persuaded the Agricultural Land Commission
to reject applications to remove these pieces of land from the protection of the
ALR; in the case of the Hudson’s Bay Farm it was the first time the ALC has rejected
a proposal for highway building under the Campbell regime.

This from the Farmland Defence League’s Donna Passmore on these two historic

Both proposals were hard fought by farmland & food security advocates across the
province. On the Pelton Estates issue, Diana Williams, Chair of the Pitt Polder
Preservation Society and her team deserve to take a few deep bows. Thanks, also
to Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Michael Sather, novelist Annette Lebox, Matt Laity,
as well as Councillors Candace Gordon and Craig Speirs.

The hard fight to protect Langley’s historic Hudson’s Bay Farm was waged by the
Mufford, Davis & Smith families, all of whom have been working that land for more
than 100 years. Doug McFee, Sonya Paterson, Dean Holcombe, Jacob DeRaadt, Allan
Robinson, Bays Blackhall, federal deputy Green Leader Adriane Carr, Heather
Pritchard (Farm Folk/City Folk), Lynn Perrin (Abbotsford Director, Farmland
Defence League of BC), Cathleen Vecchiato (Langley Co-Chair, Farmland Defence
League of BC), federal Langley NDP Candidate Piotr Majkowski, Judi Tyabji, and
literally hundreds of other people. Special recognition goes to Langley Township
Mayor Rick Green, who fought hard to protect this land and ensure that the people
of Langley had a say in the matters. And special thanks to BC NDP Agriculture
Critic Lana Popham, who threw her support behind the families living and working on
Hudson’s Bay Farm.

Two other noteworthy recent developments – not in the “victory” category (even of
the temporary variety), but significant nonetheless:

1. Last week the Cohen Commission on disappearing Fraser River sockeye – under
pressure from the conservationist coalition presenting to the Inquiry – ordered BC’s
salmon farming industry to disclose more of the disease data they’ve been hiding.
It’s only 21 farms out of 120 total tenures, but there may be more to follow. To the
salmon farmers: If there’s nothing wrong with your operations and you have nothing
to hide, then release it ALL, voluntarily! Otherwise, follow the example of your corporate masters in Oslo and quit pretending everything’s hunky-dory (the global CEOs of the two biggest Norwegian fish farm operators in Canada long ago admitted their farms cause problems for wild fish).

2. Under intense pressure at public hearings last week, Delta Council refrained from
rezoning a controversial 500-acre piece of farmland, known as the Southlands, to
allow for proposed residential development. Much more work needs to be done here to
get that farmland permanently protected and back to producing food for the region
like it once did, but the community’s unwavering defence of the land is heartening
to say the least.

So, pour yourselves a glass of scotch, bubbly, fruit juice, whatever you fancy, take
a moment away from your tireless work protecting our environment – and pat
yourselves and your colleagues on the back for the sacrifices you all make, and for
those rare moments, such as we saw this past week, when they produce a glimmer of
hope amid the bad news with which we’re so often inundated…

Then get back at it – there’s much work to be done!


About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

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