Nunavut government, Kivalliq Wildlife Board team up to take closer look at caribou

Nunavut’s Department of Environment and the Kivalliq Wildlife Board are teaming up to take a closer look at the impacts the road for Meliadine Mine near Rankin Inlet is having on migrating caribou.

Impacts of Meliadine Mine road on migrating caribou will be the subject under scrutiny

Migrating caribou near Meliadine Mine will be the subject for a new working group between the Nunavut government and the Kivalliq Wildlife Board. Dustin Ilnik took this shot of a herd near Rankin Inlet, Nunavut in 2017. (Submitted by Dustin Ilnik)

Nunavut's Department of Environment and the Kivalliq Wildlife Board (KWB) are teaming up to take a closer look at the impacts the road for Meliadine Mine near Rankin Inlet is having on migrating caribou. 

Mitch Campbell, a wildlife biologist with the government in Arviat, Nunavut, told CBC News the partnership program is still being developed. 

The goal is "to get a sense of the impacts and then how we might be able to work with the different stakeholders to try and figure out ways of mitigating those impacts," Campbell said. 

Agnico Eagle, which owns and operates the gold mine, has faced recurring criticism from the government, communities and Inuit organizations on their analysis of impacts to caribou from their mining operations. 

For example, the Nunavut government and the Kivalliq Inuit Association (KIA) raised concerns about Agnico's caribou monitoring and data analysis in the company's 2019's annual report. 

The company changed their proposed plans to run two pipelines from Meliadine to Melvin Bay, over 30 kilometres away, after community outcry about impacts to caribou. 

Protestors set up a blockade outside of Meliadine Mine in March 2020 to protest the mine's operations during COVID-19. (Submitted by Marvin Dion)

And at a roundtable meeting held last month to discuss burying those pipelines, Agnico presented a scientific analysis of the mining road's impact on caribou that the government, the KWB and the KIA have roundly criticized. 

Campbell said Agnico's latest analysis presented at that meeting contradicted the impacts on caribou that community members across the Kivalliq have observed. 

"This is one of the reasons why the [government of Nunavut] is moving forward with a partner program with the Kivalliq Wildlife Board," he said. 

"So that we can get a better sense of how to fix those flaws with that original report." 

Work done by the new partnership will be provided to all stakeholders in order to inform mitigation efforts moving forward, he added. 

Data sharing tensions

But the Kivalliq Wildlife Board and the government of Nunavut have not always seen eye-to-eye on sharing data. 

Clayton Tartak, research coordinator with the board, said that the government has refused to share information to the Nunavut Impact Review Board's (NIRB) public registry in the past. 

Tartak told CBC News that at technical hearings about Meadowbank's mining road held in Baker Lake in 2019, the government refused to provide two studies it had done on impacts of the road to migrating caribou. 

"That's concerning," Tartak said. 

"The Baker Lake hunters and trappers organization [HTO] asked in 2019 that those reports be shared to the impact review board and to date that hasn't happened."

Agnico Eagle's Meliadine gold mine is 25 kilometres north of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. (Submitted by Agnico Eagle)

Interested parties up-to-date: government

Casey Lessard, communications manager with Nunavut's Department of Environment, told CBC in an email that the government has "kept interested parties up-to-date on their research." 

Lessard provided links to two documents — two versions of the same report on seasonal caribou migration around the Meadowbank mine and associated road.  

The first document, a draft report, was uploaded to the NIRB registry in 2017. 

The second document was completed in July 2020, Lessard said — nearly a year after the NIRB's technical hearing during which the Baker Lake HTO asked that the report be uploaded to the NIRB registry. 

Lessard said the second, final document has been uploaded to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board's website.