Mining and the environment
New topic added to Northern forum

Kirsten Larsen
Northern News Services

NNSL (Dec 07/98) - Northern mining projects and the relationship to environmental management was a hot new topic in the annual Northern Geo-Science Forum last month.

The environmental topic is a new addition to the Northern forum which provides a platform for researchers and departments to present their projects and new studies to the public.

The forum, held in Yellowknife, devoted a session to the research being conducted on caribou populations around mining industry.

Francois Messier, a director for the Independent Environmental Monitoring Agency and a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Saskatchewan, came up to talk about his research on caribou herds on the Baffin Islands.

His research with the agency includes monitoring the impacts of the mining industry and road infrastructure on the caribou population in the Baffin Islands. Messier is also involved in gathering and incorporating traditional knowledge of the caribou into his studies.

Messier shared his studies with the audience attending the Caribou Research and Mineral Industry Session Nov. 26. He expressed concern about the present process being used to monitor caribou in the area.

He said monitoring is being done in isolated studies in areas surrounding mining industry and other developed areas, but the way to efficiently monitor caribou populations is to monitor herds over a more encompassing and larger land mass.

"Caribou use a vast range (of land) and can not be monitored on a local scale," said Messier. "The only way to address it is to have a partnership program, but there is none in place."

The partnership program Messier is referring to would involve co-ordinating funding from mining industries linked to each other through the migration patterns of caribou herds. The funding would go towards a monitoring program able to monitor the herd's movement patterns, health, food availability, and hunting pressures over a vast area.

"It can't be a responsibility of the government," said Messier. "It has to be co-funded and it can't just be one mine funding it all."

A presentation following Messier's explained new methods being used to track caribou herds across vast land areas. Ann Gunn, peary caribou specialist with Renewable Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, who is heading the study, explained the method to the audience.

Technology is key to tracking the caribou by using a device that sends signals to satellites. The device is a specialized collar worn by select caribou travelling in the herds.

The signals picked up by the satellites are monitored to track the exact movement of the herds across the land.