‘We need to protect’ Lake Winnipegosis islands from mining, chief says

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)

A network of islands at the north end of Lake Winnipegosis could be vulnerable to mining if the province doesn’t do more to protect the land, a local conservation group says — particularly now that the islands’ temporary park reserve status has expired.

“Any industrial development on these islands would pose an unsettling risk to the health of our waters, including Canada’s 12th largest lake, one of the world’s few eco-certified freshwater fisheries on Waterhen Lake and to Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, who are downstream of these sites,” said Ron Thiessen, president of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).

In 2001, the province created the Goose Islands, Grand Island and Pemmican Island park reserves, restricting logging, mining, oil, gas and hydroelectric development on nine islands in the area.

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

But the temporary park reserve status expired on Wednesday, which has conservationists concerned it could be open season on the islands for mining companies.

CPAWS wanted the Pallister government to divide and designate the islands into three separate provincial parks, thereby protecting important wildlife habitat, or renew the park reserve status for another five years.

“If they were established as provincial parks … they would serve to provide ecosystem protection representation in an under-represented region in the province,” he said.

“We’re certainly concerned that any kind of mining activity may affect the water of Lake Winnipegosis, that would ultimately lead to Lake Winnipeg and exacerbate the issues facing the lake currently.”

‘Finding the right balance’

Klyne Exploration holds the rights to a mining claim that surrounds Pemmican Island, located about three kilometres from Lake Winnipegosis’s western shores.

Resource exploration over the years has revealed nickel and zinc ore deposits in the island and surrounding lake bed, Thiessen said.

‘There’s very nice, pristine spring water [on Pemmican Island] that you can just basically get a cup and just drink it. That’s how clean it is.’– Nelson Genaille, Sapotaweyak Cree Nation chief 

“Mining exploration in its own right is quite environmentally damaging,” Thiessen said.

“The fact that there has been recent exploration of Pemmican Island and the surrounding lake area is an indication that both the company and Manitoba government is considering the prospect of a mine there.”

Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said the province has considered what to do about the islands and plans to share its “future intentions” with First Nations in the area next week.

“Our government is interested in finding the right balance between protecting our natural areas with the need for mineral exploration and the sustainable growth of Manitoba’s economy,” Cox said in a statement.

“We are committed to ensure that any new development would be carefully planned to be compatible with each site’s natural and cultural values.”

‘Pristine spring water’

Sapotaweyak and Chemawawin Cree nations are located on the western and eastern shores of Lake Winnipegosis near the islands.

Sapotaweyak Chief Nelson Genaille said he hasn’t yet received any notification from the province, but he’s against any development, mining or otherwise, on the islands. He’s in favour of turning the islands into provincial parks.

“There’s very nice, pristine spring water [on Pemmican Island] that you can just basically get a cup and just drink it. That’s how clean it is,” said Genaille, who is also president of the board for the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee of Manitoba.

“We need to protect this area.”

By law, there has to be a public consultation before a park can be established. The province also has an obligation to meaningfully consult with affected First Nations, Thiessen said.

Thiessen said he wants the province to clarify whether the islands remain protected in some way now that the reserve status has lapsed.

“It’s key that these areas remain in interim protection while they are being proposed as provincial parks as to ensure developments don’t interfere with the potential for conservation,” Thiessen said.