Photo: Long-awaited victory protects B.C.'s Fish Lake

Credit: Tsilhqot’in National Government

By Anna LeGresley

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In November, a 15-year fight to protect one of British Columbia's lakes came to a close when the federal government rejected a mining proposal that would have destroyed this important natural resource. Fish Lake, known as Teztan Biny by the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, is located near Williams Lake in the B.C. Interior and is home to many species of wildlife, including grizzly bears and a unique species of rainbow trout.

The mining company, Taseko, was proposing to drain the lake, dam tributary creeks, and dispose of mine waste in the drained lake. If the application had been approved, the environmental and social impacts would have been massive and irrevocable (especially for First Nations). When thousands of concerned citizens – including supporters of the David Suzuki Foundation and other environmental groups, First Nations, and scientists – spoke out against the proposal, they were heard by the members of a special federal review panel tasked with examining the project. As a result, Fish Lake will remain protected from the devastating effects of mining.

First proposed by Taseko Mines Limited in 1993, this controversial project (called the Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine) was met with an overwhelmingly negative response by the public and government regulatory bodies. During a formal provincial environmental assessment in 1995, the provincial Ministry of Environment, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, environmental groups, and First Nations communities urged Taseko Mines to come up with alternatives to destroying Fish Lake. Government regulators even went as far as to say the loss of the lake would not be tolerated.

Due to a drop in world copper prices in the late '90s, Taseko Mines put the project on hold before all of the environmental and social impacts could be resolved. In 2007, following a resurgence in world metal prices, Taseko resurrected the plan to destroy Fish Lake, despite previous concerns expressed by government regulators, the informed public, and First Nations. Shockingly, in 2010, the B.C. Environment Minister decided to allow the project to proceed as proposed. At the time, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office had concluded that the project was not likely to result in any significant adverse effect, with the exception of the loss of Fish Lake and Little Fish Lake. Essentially, the provincial government decided the economic benefits of the plan outweighed the environmental and social impacts.

Luckily, the fight to protect Fish Lake did not end with this heartbreaking decision. Instead of viewing the environmental and cultural effects of the Prosperity Mine as minor, the federal review panel considered the permanent impacts on wildlife and First Nations' cultural heritage to be staggering and unacceptable. This decision, along with the very vocal protests of thousands of Canadians and information made available from environmental groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation, Mining Watch, the Sierra Club of Canada, and the Council of Canadians, convinced the federal government that it had no option but to reject the Prosperity Mine proposal.

This victory shows the power that people have when they band together and speak up about environmental issues. While this success should be applauded, the fight to protect Canada's lakes and rivers from the perils of mining is ongoing. Regulatory loopholes continue to allow mining companies across Canada to propose using our pristine lakes as toxic mine waste dumps, and federal government policy supports this madness. With the help of you, our supporters, the David Suzuki Foundation will continue to stand up for North America's lakes and rivers and ensure more protection for these essential freshwater resources.

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