Parks society would like to see composite organism have more protection from gold exploration

The provincial branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is raising concerns about gold exploration where rare boreal felt lichen grow.

Eagleridge International is searching for gold on the Avalon

Felt lichen when dry, round red apothecia still visible. (Submitted by Travis Heckford)

The provincial branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is raising concerns over an area of the Avalon Peninsula where rare boreal felt lichen grow — and where Eagleridge International has permission to explore for gold.

"Because it's globally rare, and here it's kind of abundant, we kind of have to do our due diligence in protecting this piece," said Travis Heckford, a director of the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of CPAWS. 

Boreal felt lichen is one of two cyano-lichens in the genus erioderma on the island portion of the province. Historically, it has grown in forests across Sweden, Norway, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

But due to land-use changes like forestry, roads and mineral development, Heckford said that the species has mostly disappeared from Europe and other parts of Canada. 

Boreal felt lichen with round red apothecia. (Tegan Padgett/Submitted)

Heckford said the Eagleridge gold exploration project is short-sighted, with the development happening in the middle of three protected land areas within the Avalon forest eco-region: the Salmonier Nature Park, Hawke Hill Ecological Reserve and Avalon Wilderness Reserve. 

"For a company to go in there and say 'we're just doing exploration work right now,' but in the long term if you do find what you're looking for … then they're going to create a mine," Heckford said. 

"Here you have three protected areas in the surrounding vicinity of Eagleridge operations and they risk disturbing populations that are outside of those protected areas."

What happens?

If the lichen gets destroyed, bio-diversity will go with it and its evolutionary trajectory will end, said Heckford, who added the loss of the species would become a stain on our conservation record.

A wet boreal felt lichen with a tack for scale. (Patrick Lauriault/Submitted)

"It's really a shame, especially nowadays when we have so many tools at our disposal to apply conservation efforts," he said. 

Surveys completed in the area in 2004 found three individual growths of the species erioderma. A buffer was set at 30 metres to avoid disruption of the species, but a research team from Memorial University did their own survey and found five individual growths of the species in three hours.

Heckford wants to see another survey take place, with updated surveying techniques. 

"The ones that Eagleridge used during that time, although they were acceptable methods and standards at the time, now we have new methods we can use and protocols to increase our detectability of boreal felt lichen," he said.

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With files from Newfoundland Morning