Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut July 02, 2014 - 7:25 am

Nunavut government asks about wildlife deaths along Meadowbank road

Five caribou hit and killed by grader in 2013

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
An Arctic hare sits along the all-weather road that connects Baker Lake to the Meadowbank mine site. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
An Arctic hare sits along the all-weather road that connects Baker Lake to the Meadowbank mine site. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

The Government of Nunavut has asked Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. for more information about how the company monitors wildlife deaths around its Meadowbank gold mine and the all-weather road that connects the mine to nearby Baker Lake.

That’s after five caribou were killed last year along the 110-kilometre road that runs between Meadowbank and Baker Lake.

The GN has also noticed an increase in caribou harvesting close to the road since the mine opened.

One morning in March 2013, a grader hit and killed five caribou along the all-weather road.

The incident occurred at about 2 a.m. in heavy fog conditions, Agnico Eagle said in its 2013 wildlife monitoring report.

The grader operator reported the incident, while the caribou carcasses were skinned and the meat was provided to the Hamlet of Baker Lake.

As part of the impact predictions that Agnico Eagle made before Meadowbank started up, the company said caribou or muskoxen would not be killed or injured by vehicle collision. And the company estimated that animals would die at a rate of about one per species each year.

No caribou were killed on the Meadowbank mine site in 2013.

Still, “given the unfortunate death of five caribou in one incident, protocols have been developed to minimize risk of future vehicle-related mortalities due to poor visibility conditions (e.g., night-time, dense fog, white-out or blizzard),” Agnico Eagle said in its most recent annual report.

As part of the Nunavut Impact Review’s Board monitoring program, earlier this year the agency invited different stakeholders to review the Meadowbank gold mine’s 2013 annual report.

As a result, the GN says it wants more information on those mitigation measures along the 110-km roadway.

In its submitted comments, the GN asked Agnico Eagle to explain how it can ensure only a moderate number of caribou are hunted close to the road.

The annual report showed that caribou harvests within five km of the road have more than doubled since the road was constructed in 2008.

In March 2007, Agnico Eagle launched a harvest study with the Baker Lake hunters and trappers organization to monitor and document the impact of the new road on harvest rates.

Between 1996 and 2001, 18 per cent of local caribou harvests were estimated to be within five km of the road.

But that study shows that in between 2007 and 2012, the percentage of caribou kills in the same proximity rose to more than 40 per cent of Baker Lake’s total harvest.

In 2013, the total number of caribou harvested (182 animals) within five km of the road was less than in previous years, although the number represents 43 per cent of all harvests recorded by those who participated in the study.

That exceeds the threshold levels initially set out by Agnico Eagle, and suggests the company should do more, the GN said.

The GN also recommended that the Meadowbank project look at harvest levels within 15 km of the all-weather road to get a better understanding of the road’s impact on the local caribou harvest.

Agnico Eagle has until July 28 to address the GN comments.

Since the road first started construction in 2007, 24 caribou have been killed along it. Twenty-one large mammals, 31 small mammals and 30 birds have also become road kill during that time.

Wildlife mortality on the mine site has been much lower; since 2007, 12 wolves and two wolverines have been killed at Meadowbank.

Workers there have noted an increase in wolverines around dorm and kitchen facilities since Meadowbank went into production.

Although mine staff have made efforts to keep the animals away, one wolverine was killed in 2013 when it posed a threat to the safety of workers.

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