Mineral exploration OK’d on Lake Winnipegosis island after preserve status expires

Source: CBC News 

Written by: Bryce Hoye

Photo: The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is concerned islands on Lake Winnipegosis are at risk of being mined if they aren’t declared provincial parks soon. (iStockphoto)

‘We are concerned that our new government is setting a disturbing precedent,’ CPAWS says

A local conservation group doesn’t like what it’s seeing after the Pallister government approved mining exploration of an island that remained protected from development until last week.

“We are concerned that our new government is setting a disturbing precedent for the pursuit of developments that pose high risks to the health of Manitoba’s fisheries and Lake Winnipeg, as well as relations with First Nations who haven’t been sufficiently consulted,” said Ron Thiessen, president of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s (CPAWS) Manitoba chapter.

In a letter to CPAWS on Tuesday, the province said preserve status on Pemmican Island “was allowed to expire” last Wednesday “to allow for mineral exploration on the island.”

“Parks and Protected Spaces Branch is working collaboratively with Mines Branch to ensure minimal impact on the island and its associated habitat,” the statement from the province reads.

Pemmican Island is one of a network of nine islands in the north basin of Lake Winnipegosis. In 2001, the province granted temporary preserve status to the islands, which provide important wildlife habitat to several species, including migratory birds such as Caspian terns and ring-billed gulls.

CPAWS was hoping the province would vote to divvy up the islands into three provincial parks — previously the Goose Island, Grand Island and Pemmican Island park reserves — thereby protecting them from development indefinitely.

Reserve status for the Goose, Grand and Pemmican islands expired Wednesday. (Government of Manitoba)

The province has reinstated park reserve status on Goose Island and Grand Island for the next six months so that further consultation can take place with stakeholders and communities in the area.

“Parks and Protected Spaces Branch still maintains an interest in pursuing the protection of Pemmican Island once the mineral exploration has been completed, which is anticipated in three to five years,” the province wrote in a statement.

‘Parks and mines don’t mix’

But Thiessen says it’s hard to understand how the province can claim to be in favour of protecting an island like Pemmican if it’s simultaneously OK with giving mining companies the go-ahead to search for minerals.

“Manitobans would like to know how the province reconciles stated intentions for future protection of a 0.22 square kilometre island, while at the same time letting protections on that island expire to allow for the potential of a mine,” Thiessen said.

“Parks and mines don’t mix, especially on an island the size of less than the combined area of four football fields. Manitobans, tourists and wildlife will not use Pemmican Island if it has the loud sights and sounds of a mining operation.”

Zinc and nickel found

Klyne Exploration currently holds a mining claim for Pemmican Island which is set to expire in 2018. Previous exploratory drilling has shown zinc and nickel in Pemmican Island and the surrounding lake bed.

The chief of nearby Sapotaweyak Cree Nation told CBC News last week he is against any development on the islands.

“There’s very nice, pristine spring water [in the area] that you can just basically get a cup and just drink it. That’s how clean it is,” Chief Nelson Genaille, who is also president of the board for the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee of Manitoba, told CBC News last week.

“We need to protect this area.”

The province says traditional trapping, hunting and fishing rights of First Nations won’t be impacted by the mining exploration.

The province needs to hold public consultations by law before it can declare a parcel of land a provincial park and is obligated to consult with affected First Nation communities.