The recent explosion in the number of mining claims in Quebec represents a direct threat to the protection of biodiversity, says the Society for Nature and Parks. These industry permits would block several protected area projects, in addition to covering thousands of square kilometers of caribou habitat.
According to data compiled by the Society for Nature and Parks of Quebec (SNAP Quebec) and obtained by The dutythe 65% increase in the number of mining claims in Quebec in the last two years is not without consequences for projects to protect important ecosystems in different regions of the province.
The organization assesses, based in particular on the maps of natural environment protection projects and those of exploration titles, that 32 projects would simply be blocked because of the precedence of the rights of the mining industry on these territories, which represent a total area of 28,441 km2.
These projects are located in different regions of the province, we note, while the Legault government is conducting provincial public consultations with the aim of promoting “harmonious development of mining activity”.
For example, exploration titles encroach on a protected area project for the Cascapedia River, which notably runs through part of the territory of Gaspésie. The Legault government had however promised in June 2022 to “put in reserve” this territory of 347 km2.
Other mining titles intersect territories targeted to increase the protection of well-known natural environments in Quebec, including the Magpie River region, on the North Shore, and the head of the Saint-Jean River, a salmon river in the Gaspé.
In the Lanaudière region, three protected area projects identified by the Ministry of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks are today partly under exploration permit. In Gaspésie, 25% of the territory of ZEC des Anses is covered by mining titles.
There are also hundreds of claims in the watershed of the Moisie River, a protected salmon river located a few kilometers from Sept-Îles. The permits cover areas of interest for the protection of the Innu heritage, including sacred natural sites and traditional portage routes.
Caribou or mines?
In Gaspésie, the Vallières-de-Saint-Réal sector is covered in part by mining titles, while experts have already identified it as an area to be protected to reduce the risk of extinction of the last thirty caribou in the region. But that’s not all, since there are mining titles to the south, north and east of Parc national de la Gaspésie, directly in deer habitat.
The data that will be published Thursday by SNAP Quebec also show that 7617 km2 of woodland caribou habitats identified as priority sectors to preserve are now targeted for potential mining exploration projects. According to the body, this raises questions about the protective measures that are supposed to be announced as part of the “strategy” promised next month by the Legault government.
Added to this are at least 1250 km2 of calving habitats for migratory caribou, a species that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recommended to be classified as “endangered”, as early as 2017. Six years later, these habitats are still not protected by Quebec. It should be noted that the areas compiled by SNAP Québec do not take into account potential mining projects found on the migratory routes of this deer.
“Claims and mining exploration activities have very real impacts on natural environments. If the government wishes to progress towards the target of 30% protection of the territory by the end of its mandate, it must break the impasse and reform the mining regime,” says Alice de Swarte, Senior Director at SNAP Québec.
The organization initially suggests that the Minister of Natural Resources and Forests, Maïté Blanchette Vézina, use section 82 of the Mining Act. This allows him to suspend mining works “for purposes of public utility”. It is added that article 304 of this same legislation could also make it possible to exempt territories from the designation of new permits.
“A revision of the Mining Act should subsequently provide for the abolition of the obligation to compensate claim holders, in addition to putting an end to mining precedence,” adds SNAP Quebec.
On Tuesday, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forests indicated that the number of exploration titles has increased by 65% in just two years in Quebec. These currently cover 160,000 km2 of territory. However, barely 20% of permits are the subject of exploration work, admitted Ms. Blanchette Vézina.
On Wednesday, the Minister of Economy and Energy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, also argued that it would “perhaps” be desirable to establish mechanisms to tighten the conditions that make it possible to maintain the rights of mining exploration. Currently, the validity period of an exploration permit is two years. The holder may renew his title indefinitely, provided he satisfies the conditions set out in the Mining Act, in particular the carrying out of exploration work, the nature and amounts of which are determined by regulation.