A coalition of United States and Canadian conservation groups formally asked the U.S. government today to use a federal statute, which includes the threat of trade sanctions, to pressure Canada to stop a controversial mining project proposed for British Columbia’s Taku River. The petition alleges that the Tulsequah Chief mine, and a 95-mile access road that would slash through untouched (and unprotected) wilderness, would harm essential habitat for woodland caribou and grizzly bears, species protected by the 1942 Convention on Nature and Wild Life Preservation in the Western Hemisphere.
The petition cites the 1971 Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act. That law requires the U.S. Department of the Interior to determine whether another country’s actions “diminish the effectiveness” of international environmental protection agreements. If the agency deems this to be the case, it must “certify” the offending nation. The next step can be the imposition of trade sanctions. Such certifications have been issued in situations involving whaling and the use of driftnets on the high seas. Certification led to trade sanctions against Taiwan in 1994 for trading in body parts of endangered rhinoceroses and tigers.
“The Pelly certification process provides an opportunity for the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and ultimately the President, to bring pressure to bear on Canada for failing to take measures to protect the Taku River watershed and its protected wildlife,” said Eric Jorgensen, a lawyer for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. “We hope action from the Secretary will lead to a referral to the International Joint Commission and, in the end, to rejection of the proposed project.”
The petition was filed today by The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, American Rivers, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and several Canadian conservation groups belonging to the Transboundary Watershed Alliance (TWA) including Taku Wilderness Association, Yukon Conservation Society and Sierra Legal Defense Fund.
“The Tulsequah Chief mine is precisely the type of action that will drive Canadian and cross-border wildlife species into oblivion,” said Bill Snape, Vice President for Law and Litigation for Defenders of Wildlife. “The woodland caribou has already nearly disappeared from the U.S., and Canada lacks any endangered species law to protect it or other imperiled wildlife and habitat.”
“Our concerns that the grizzly bear and caribou populations in the Taku will be irreversibly harmed if the mining project that is being promoted by Redcorp Ventures Inc. and the province of British Columbia goes forward have been ignored up to this point,” said Don Weir of the Taku Wilderness Association. “It is our hope that the filing of the Pelly petition will draw international attention to these vulnerable wildlife populations and will focus on the fact that the government of Canada is not adequately caring for these vulnerable species.”
“It is unusual for Canadians to petition the U.S. government for protection of Canadian wilderness and wildlife, but we are left with few other options,” said Margot Venton, a Sierra Legal staff lawyer. “B.C.’s environmental legislation locks our clients out of the process and the environmental assessments have ignored crucial information provided by conservationists. Our governments appear hell-bent on approving the mine, regardless of the cost.”
An environmental assessment of the project conducted jointly by the Province of British Columbia and the federal government of Canada in 1997 found that the project would not have significant environmental impacts. At that point in the process, the Canadian federal government had the option of initiating a federal panel review on the environmental impacts that this controversial mining project would have on the region but chose not to take that action. Native groups opposed the finding and went to court to challenge this assessment and, in June, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the assessment was invalid since it was done without relevant information about the potential effects of the mine.
“This intact, wild watershed is bigger than two Yellowstone National Parks,” Bart Koehler, spokesman for The Wilderness Society. “And it is still free of roads, mines, and other large-scale developments. It should remain wild and free. We must protect this great North American treasure.”