Report from the Edge of BC’s Copper Rush


From – Jan 13, 2011

By Christopher Pollon

The province’s northwest is slated for a mining boom. A visitor to
those remote parts finds ambition and dread, natural wonders and
billions at stake. Part one of two.

Way up above the headwaters of the Iskut River, in an
alpine meadow bursting with August wildflowers, eight demon-horned rams
appear suddenly.

The two parties — two humans and eight Stone’s sheep — all freeze on the spot, eyes locked. Paul Colangelo, a wildlife photographer hoping for just this luck, drops to the ground, crawling over a ridge and out of sight.

The Stone’s sheep he pursues are the
charismatic mega-fauna of Todagin Mountain in the upper Stikine River
watershed (see map below). Elite hunters
from all over the globe come here every year, about 1,700 kilometres
north of Vancouver, paying upwards of $30,000 for the opportunity to
take down a single ram, a cull considered sustainable in these parts
because the sheep are more abundant here than anywhere else.

They are equally numerous directly to the
northeast, which also happens to be the site of Imperial Metal
Corporation’s ongoing summer drill program at its proposed Red Chris
open pit copper/gold mine. The company has five drilling teams working
all out, and word in the valley is they are finding more gold the deeper
they drill; but as with everything I hear about mining ventures this
summer spent exploring B.C.’s northwest, it’s hard to separate fact from
cash-lubricated fiction.

While Colangelo chases sheep, I climb to
the summit to scan the valley below (see video, below): three
cigar-shaped, impossibly-blue lakes connected by the braided, meandering
Iskut seem to encompass the entire valley bottom. Skirting their edge
is the single-track Stewart Cassiar Highway; out of sight to the east,
not far from where I stand, are the collective headwaters of the Nass,
Stikine and Skeena rivers.

I’m returning to this area after a year’s
absence, during which time the optimism has returned to the northwest
mining and exploration community, thanks to a massive provincial and
federal infrastructure subsidy that will see
the electrical grid extended into this remote corner of B.C. Cheap
grid power promises to make economical many of the low-grade copper
deposits that have been known about for many decades, but “sterilized”
due to remote geography.

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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.