Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut July 19, 2012 - 9:40 am

Mary River railway could do big damage to caribou: GN

“These impacts could adversely impact the viability of the population”

SAMANTHA DAWSON
This image from Baffinland's environmental impact statement show the railroad locomotives and ore-carrying hoppers the company proposes for its 150-kilometre railway between the mine site and Steensby Inlet.
This image from Baffinland's environmental impact statement show the railroad locomotives and ore-carrying hoppers the company proposes for its 150-kilometre railway between the mine site and Steensby Inlet.

The Mary River iron mine project could harm wildlife, including North Baffin caribou, and a detailed mitigation plan for the herd must be developed, Peter Hale, the Government of Nunavut’s manager of wildlife research, told the Nunavut Impact Review Board July 18

“The Government of Nunavut’s conclusion is that the effects of the project could be significant on the North Baffin caribou herd,” Hale said during final public hearings on an environmental impact statement submitted by Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.

Though the GN’s official perspective on the project is defined as recognition of economic benefits to Nunavummiut, “the effects on the people and the environment must be addressed by [Baffinland] and should not be underestimated by regulators,” the GN presentation stated. 

“Although Baffinland has undertaken substantial analysis of the data available, the GN does not support its impacts assessment and prediction with respect to the North Baffin caribou herd,” Hale said, of proposed mitigation measures.

The GN believes a “greater level of caution is required to manage and address any potential effects on caribou in the North Baffin region than those currently proposed,” Hale said.

Hale said the GN has indentified the following areas of uncertainty, with respect to caribou, in Baffinland’s EIS:

• an overall lack of long-term scientific data to compliment traditional knowledge;

• the future of the herd’s productivity and mortality rates, given that some caribou will be displaced during project construction;

• the effect of the project on calving grounds;

• over-estimation of the quality of habitat available to caribou;

•  cumulative effects of stressors such as train traffic.

“We are also of the view that these impacts could adversely impact the viability of the population,” Hale said.

The GN suggested Baffinland start a working group on terrestrial monitoring to oversee an “adaptive management plan” for the herd.

Given the decline of caribou in the region, “every reasonable step should be taken to avoid caribou mortality and injury as a result of train and vehicular traffic,” Hale said.

Hale said Baffinland’s claim that the project will have “no significant impact” on polar bears is not fully supported, and he recommended precautionary measures to protect bears.

The GN recommended a plan for wolves that takes wolf dens into consideration.

When asked if the herd is declining, Hale said there is scientific evidence that the current population is very low.

“These are the types of questions that we need to address in the technical working group,” Hale said, adding “there’s no question, based on scientific and local knowledge, that the population is far smaller than it was, say, in the 1990s.”

The GN is glad to now be a part of the terrestrial working group and will “want to contribute in a meaningful manner,” Hale said.

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