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Province approves controversial Fraser River gravel mining project

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Rosenau said the province has ignored  research that demonstrates gravel mining will damage the sturgeon population. Sturgeon are a federally listed species at risk, though the lower Fraser sturgeon stock, which would be affected by this project, have been left off this list.

Photo of Marvin Rosenau of the BCIT Rivers Institute by Katelyn Verstraten

"The province and federal government both made public statements and commitments to protect the sturgeon and ensure its recovery. This is a slap in the face," said John Werring, Senior Science Advisor to the David Suzuki Foundation. "If it was an absolute necessity to do this to save lives, I would understand."

"They know this is only to provide gravel to someone who wants to buy it (for commercial interests)."

Hope said that his band has already lost between 12 and 15 per cent of their reserve land to erosion from the river. The proposed gravel extraction will help mitigate erosion and flood concerns, he said, although conservationists told the Vancouver Observer that this claim is scientifically unsound.

"Come walk with us"

“It’s about the safety and security of our reserve lands and our community, and erosion and flooding go hand in hand,”  Hope said. “That’s the number one priority for us – not economic gain...We accept that we may not make too much money on this.

The Seabird band is a part of the Stó:lō Tribal Council, Stó:lō meaning people of the river. There are around 950 members of the Seabird band, said Hope, nearly two-thirds of which live on reserve land.

Gravel mining on the Heart of the Fraser has been a contentious debate that has raged for decades.

Recent data compiled by members of the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society suggests that juvenile white sturgeon numbers are dramatically declining.

“We accept that there is criticism out there,”  Hope said. “We accept that people have different ideas than we do. We’d like to reach out to those people... As Chief says, come walk with us.”

The B.C. government offered approval for the Seabird Island Band to remove gravel until March 15, 2015, subject to conditions including: 

  • An on-site monitoring program to identify and track impacts.
  • Monitoring and compensation for any salmon populations impacted, though the province says salmon populations will not be significantly impacted. 
  • A revised design of the excavation area and the establishment of mitigation measures have addressed concerns regarding impacts to sturgeon.

Hope said that proponents had a "comprehensive sturgeon monitoring program" and were willing to work with the ministry to meet the conditions.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said the approval "doesn’t set a precedent" and that "decisions are made on a case-by-case basis." 

"This is absolute nonsense," Roseneau said. "If they are going to allow mining in such a sensitive area as this location, the province will allow mining anywhere." He said in addition to sturgeon, juvenile chinook that rear in the area will have their habitat destroyed if the project is approved by the federal government. 

With files from Katelyn Verstraten

Photo below by Andrew S. Wright

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