As the global population grows and humanity’s footprint continues to expand at a rapid rate, loss of biodiversity is a local and global concern. At New Gold, we work to minimize our impact on natural areas where possible and take active measures to protect and support at-risk species. On the lands that are affected by mining, restoration practices are applied to create a habitat conducive to natural biodiversity.
Description of Impacts
Mining activities alter landscapes and the ecosystems within them. Where mines are developed in places with existing pressures on biodiversity, the additional impacts of the mine can also lead to unforeseen cumulative impacts to the local landscape and the species that depend on it.
We have taken significant steps to conserve or enhance biodiversity at New Gold sites and have implemented the Towards Sustainable Mining Biodiversity Management Protocol, which requires the establishment of Biodiversity Management Plans across our operations. Detailed environmental baseline studies have been carried out to understand the presence and distribution of high priority species, as well as the habitats they depend on, at each site. Using this knowledge, our activities are designed to minimize disturbance to these areas. All proposed exploration and/or site works are assessed to ensure that areas that support migratory birds, at-risk species, and/or have cultural heritage value are considered and addressed. Where we have identified at-risk species at our sites, we’ve put management plans and/or procedures in place to ensure adequate management of these species.
New Gold also supports conservation efforts through donations to environmental organizations. We have provided donations to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to assist in its work to maintain Canada’s biodiversity in areas where it may be under threat.
The Rainy River Mine covers 18,658 hectares in Northwestern Ontario. This area has historically seen logging and agricultural activities, as well as ongoing mineral exploration, with abandoned farmlands returning to scrub and successional forest communities.
Three bird species around the Rainy River Mine are listed as threatened by Canadian authorities. A Species-at-Risk Management Plan has been developed in compliance with the Endangered Species Act permit granted by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. This permit defines and describes steps we must take to ensure that listed species see an overall benefit from the operation through habitat conservation and/or the creation of suitable new habitat.
The Blackwater project covers approximately 105,300 hectares in central British Columbia. A portion of Blackwater’s mine footprint overlaps potential caribou habitat. While no caribou have occupied the area for the past 30 years based on telemetry data, New Gold has worked closely with local First Nations to ensure that any assessment of caribou impacts is aligned with traditional knowledge keepers. Blackwater is currently discussing the assessment of potential caribou impacts and mitigations with regulators and First Nations as part of the Environmental Assessment process.
The Blackwater project is also near a population of White Bark Pine trees listed on Schedule 1 of the Canadian Species at Risk Act. Blackwater has established a White Bark Pine Management Plan to minimize impacts to this population, which covers approximately 1,000 hectares around Mount Davidson. This plan includes seed collection and propagation trials with a view to replicate the species in future mine reclamation.
Seven other federally listed species have been identified as occurring or as potentially occurring in the Blackwater project area. Six are bird species and one is an amphibian species. While the presence of all these species has not been confirmed, many are associated with water bodies that are protected by stringent environmental management plans.
Located approximately 10 km west of Kamloops, the operation is in the rain shadow of the British Columbia Coastal Mountains. The area is very dry, with around 280 mm of rainfall annually. The mine site is 701 metres above sea level and lies within an area of hilly country mainly used for grazing. Despite a high level of previous disturbance from historical mining activities, we have surveyed and monitored the site for its ability to maintain species richness as shown in baseline studies, through all stages of development and through to eventual closure.
Biodiversity and conservation initiatives at New Afton have included grassland and wetland recovery projects, and habitat enhancement for a variety of bird, bat, and amphibian species. Several are run in conjunction with local First Nations and graduate students at Thompson Rivers University.
New Afton’s initiatives are also intended to raise awareness of biodiversity within the industry, the company and society at large. A large wetland restoration project on the site’s privately-owned lands north of Trans-Canada Highway 1, which was prone to desiccation and cattle disturbance, was completed in 2013 as a means repair its functionality and sustainability. A second phase of this project included the construction of eight small ponds at four sites (two ponds per site) in conjunction with the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Master of Science (MSc) in Environmental Science program, studying the Great Basin Spadefoot. In 2014, three of the four sites had spadefoot and western toad recruitment and had successful spadefoot breeding (breeding cycle completed with metamorphs exiting the ponds). The MSc project provides unique insight into spadefoot behaviour, assists the conservation of spadefoot habitat in British Columbia and provides new information to assist with effective management of spadefoot populations and habitat at the mine site during and after the mine life.
Since 2014, New Afton has also financially supported Earth Rangers in their promotion of conservation activities in elementary schools around Kamloops. Earth Rangers is a Canadian kids’ conservation organization, dedicated to educating children and families about biodiversity and empowering them to become directly involved in protecting animals and their habitats.
From 2014 to 2016 we ran a pilot study to establish a long-term biodiversity monitoring program involving DNA Barcoding (analysis of a segment of mitochondrial DNA to distinguish animal species), to quantify differences between disturbed, undisturbed and reclaimed areas of the site, to quantify the species diversity and abundance of key ecosystems and to provide guidance to biodiversity management and measure the success of current site remediation efforts. More details on this study can be found at http://magazine.cim.org/en/environment/bugs-in-the-backyard.
In 2016, New Afton completed a project to provide habitat for bats in an unused bunker. A “bat gate” has been installed to allow bats to enter, but limit predator and human access to the artificial cave. The entire structure has been covered with overburden to insulate the cave from cold winters. It is planned that the habitat will become the focus of future studies by university students, providing unique education experiences and valuable information on the success of the project.
The Mesquite Mine is located in the desert environment of the Imperial Valley in southern California. The mine is sensitive to the flora and fauna of the region. Local flora includes a native species called Fairy Duster which is considered sensitive and is protected under the California Native Plant Protection Act. Within the active operating areas, it is salvaged and transplanted into reclaimed areas. Local fauna includes the desert tortoise which is a federally listed threatened and endangered species. The entire property is protected by specially designed tortoise fencing. Since 1985, about 15 tortoises have been safely relocated from the mine site. Surveys are conducted prior to new disturbance of additional areas.
Cerro San Pedro
The Cerro San Pedro operation is located within the boundaries of the central plateau and the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental. The area is characterized by alluvial valleys and low hills. Vegetation is predominantly thorny bush composed mainly of shrubs, agaves, yucca or palms, and cactus – the typical species seen in arid and semi-arid regions of Mexico. Since this vegetation does not support large fauna, only birds and small mammals such as coyotes, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, kangaroo rats, voles, and reptiles such as rattlesnakes are found. As part of Cerro San Pedro’s biodiversity program, native flora and fauna are monitored to verify, among other parameters, the survival of transplanted plants, the relocation of slow moving animal species, plant production and reforestation and the potential effects of changes of land use due to the mine’s activities. During the operating period to date, 90% of rescued plants have survived.
Through its closure’s efforts, Cerro San Pedro has reforested 393 hectares of land in the nearby community of Monte Caldera. The Reforestation Campaign involved employees joining forces with the communities to fulfill our commitment to protect the environment. During the mine life, Cerro San produced more than 700,000 plants in our nurseries. Of the plants in our inventory, more than 120,000 were cacti, which are protected by Mexican Official Standards.
Peak Gold Mines is located in western New South Wales in gently undulating, semi-arid country that was extensively cleared and mined in the late 19th and early 20th century. Peak Mines has assumed responsibility for rehabilitating the historic mine sites on our leases and has completed rehabilitation of some of these sites. The initial Environmental Impact Assessment found no evidence of critical habitat for threatened species on-site. At Peak, we have been committed to continuous improvement and environmental best practice in managing potential habitat. According to the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, threats to endangered species come from introduced herbivores and predators. Therefore, Peak has established a Land Management Plan and has taken measures to control goat, rabbit, fox and cat populations are carried out on all sites. We maintained fences to exclude livestock from neighbouring properties, and land clearing is only carried out when absolutely necessary and after an inspection by the environmental department. The Land Management Plan also includes weed control, erosion control, and bushfire prevention.
In early 2011, a Kultarr, classified as an endangered species in New South Wales, was found within the Peak site. After consulting a threatened-species expert and doing a habitat assessment, it was found that the likely Kultarr habitat was located away from any mining activities. In the following two years an awareness campaign recruited local school children in seeking out the Kultarr, a small, endangered marsupial. After staff ran seminars at schools and community events, 17 Kultarr sightings were reported – the first verified sightings in many years. The awareness program was recognized with an Environmental Achievement Award at the Cobar Business Awards.