British Columbia

B.C. environmentalists to appeal to UN

Environmentalists say a natural treasure in the United States is threatened by proposed coal and gold mining in southeastern B.C., and they'll ask United Nations environmental experts later this week to put some pressure on the province to stop the developments.

Environmentalists say a natural treasure in the United States is threatened by proposed coal and gold mining in southeastern B.C., and they'll ask United Nations environmental experts later this week to put some pressure on the province to stop the developments.

The UN environmental experts are currently in Montana gathering information about the potential damage B.C. mining proposals could inflict upon Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in that state, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve.

The group will then come to B.C. later in the week to see the Flathead River area of southeastern B.C., which hugs the Alberta, British Columbia and Montana borders, and where the B.C. government has approved gold mining exploration and a coal mine development has been proposed.

"Just as we would be very upset if the Americans were planning mining near the border of headwater streams of a river that entered our province, the Americans are justifiably very concerned about this," said Sarah Cox, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club of B.C.

Cox said hers and two other Canadian environmental groups, Wildsight and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, will address the UNESCO experts on Friday in Fernie, B.C.

"It's a bit of a black eye for B.C. to be approving things that jeopardize a world heritage site," she said. "I'll be talking about why this area is important to British Columbians and why British Columbians want to see the lower one-third of the valley protected as a national park."

Canadian and American conservation groups petitioned the UN to investigate the potential threat to the area and last June, the World Heritage Committee voted to send the UNESCO mission to the Flathead area in Canada and to Montana.

The Flathead area has the greatest diversity and concentration of carnivores on the continent, including many species that are threatened elsewhere such as lynx, grizzly, wolverine and grey wolf, say conservationists.

Last year, the B.C. government granted a gold drilling permit to Max Resources Corp., of Vancouver.

B.C. Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom said the UNESCO experts will see that B.C.'s development plans are not hurting the environment.

The province did grant the permit to Max Resources Corp., but that doesn't immediately mean they can open a gold mine in the area, he said.

It gives them the right to go and drill some exploratory holes.

"That's what's taking place, so minimal impact," Lekstrom said.

The Flathead Valley area has been the site of human and industrial activity for the past century, but still retains its pristine environment, said Lekstrom.

"We're looking forward to the (UNESCO) findings. They actually, I'm sure, look after their environment, but I think we have as good a track record as anybody," he said.

Max Resources spokesman Leonard MacMillan said the gold drilling permit the company has is about 30 kilometres outside of the Flathead Valley.

He said Max Resources is aware of the UNESCO visit to the area, but is confident the officials will find that B.C. has strict mining regulations, MacMillan said.

"We're not mining anyway," he said. "We're just looking."

The B.C. environmentalists are furious that the provincial government has refused to release documents on the gold exploration permit they've granted.

 They say they were told they would have to request the documents using Freedom of Information legislation — a long and sometimes costly process.

Lekstrom said that under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, some private information cannot be made public.

Cline Mining Corp., of Ottawa, has a proposal before the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office to open a coal mine in the area.

Cox cited U.S. government reports that say pollutants from a coal strip mine in B.C. would reach the U.S. biosphere area within 24 hours.

But Lekstrom said the company has had mining tenure in the area for decades, but has yet to develop a mine there.

"I don't think we would allow anybody to dump their slag into the river."

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