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Uranium permits issued on calving grounds

Christine Grimard
Northern News Services
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

KIVALLIQ - Conservation groups are up in arms after uranium exploration permits have been issued for areas regarded as caribou calving grounds.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Monte Hummel, president of World Wildlife Fund Canada, expressed concerns over uranium exploration permits issued for caribou calving grounds. Those permits are being issued against the recommendations of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, a group working on behalf of local hunters and trappers to ensure the continued health of the herds. - photo courtesy of World Wildlife Fund Canada

Monte Hummel, president of World Wildlife Fund Canada, presented his concerns at meetings in Baker Lake earlier this month.

"I find it really outrageous that governments are so pro-mining, they're issuing permits on calving grounds," said Hummel.

Carl McLean, director of operations for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), confirmed the are being issued on calving grounds outside of protected areas.

While caribou protection measures must be applied to these areas, the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, a group that works to protect the herds, has recommended no permits be issued on these grounds.

Ross Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the board said the group's main concerns stem from a lack of information on current caribou numbers.

Thompson noted no surveys have been conducted on caribou populations in the area since 1994.

"Until we get that, we don't think there should be an incremental release of leases on the calving, post-calving, and watering grounds," said Thompson.

"What tends to be brought forward are the jobs, the jobs, the jobs.

"As long as the caribou are there, they're taking advantage that they'll always be there."

McLean agrees with Thompson that more information needs to be collected to protect the herds.

"One issue everyone recognizes is there's very little data available."

McLean noted that INAC had provided funding for more survey initiatives.

Hummel says that permits should not be issued on these grounds until this lack of information is resolved.

"The sequencing is kind of backwards in our view," said Hummel.

He referred to a situation in Lutsel K'e where investments in uranium exploration were wasted, after further development was denied by an NWT regulatory agency over similar concerns.

"It's not good for the companies, it's not good for the communities," said Hummel.

The company involved in that case is still hopeful the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs will trump the ruling made by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board.

Joe Kaludjak, vice-president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association, addressed the threat these conservation issues hold on businesses.

He said those companies are well aware of the land use plan, that the KIA reserves the right to stop activity.

He said the Keewatin Land Use plan gives KIA enough provisions to protect the caribou.

"Through the Keewatin land use plan, we can stop exploration going through the site," said Kaludjak, noting the KIA employs six to seven people at a time who survey the caribou.

"I think we can protect caribou better than those guys," said Kaludjak, referring to the caribou management board. "Because we can stop exploration if we have to."

McLean noted that many companies, including Areva Resources - which could begin construction of a mine in the area as early as 2012 - are working with INAC to address conservation concerns.

Baker Lake, Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay and Arviat hamlets have all passed motions supporting uranium development.

In conjunction with the meetings held in Baker Lake, this will fulfill the two clauses of the land use plan giving a green light to continue uranium development in the area.

KIA is still waiting for motions from the remaining Kivalliq communities, however uranium exploration in the areas is ongoing.