South Nahanni Watershed: Some Good News – At Least for Now
In a letter submitted to the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board (MVEIRB) Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd. has requested a pause of work on the Howard’s Pass Access Road Widening application. This is very good news, widening of the road would accommodate up to 100 trucks per day of ore and supplies through headwaters of the South Nahanni Watershed.
To give you an idea of the location and landscape the current gravel road runs 79 km in the NWT beginning at the Nahanni Range Road and ending at Howard’s Pass at the Yukon-NWT border. It crosses 32 headwater streams, passes the divide between the Flat and Little Nahanni Rivers, then runs along the Little Nahanni northwest toward the Yukon. CPAWS-NWT participated in the scoping for an environmental assessment in 2015 with concerns that a widened road would significantly impact broad ranging wildlife such as mountain caribou and grizzly bear, pose risk to water quality, increase harvest and disrupt visitor experience in the National Park Reserves.
To prepare for our further engagement in the now delayed environmental assessment we had compiled some thoughts:
In its current form the Howard’s Pass road allows public use and is an access point for harvesting caribou, moose and sheep. This activity is unregulated and mostly unmonitored, in fact licensed harvesters are not required to report their effort or success when they have been in the area. The widening project would most likely escalate any current access management issues related to wildlife and stimulate a serious cumulative impact scenario as new industrial developments would likely be induced by the improved road. Trusting that regulatory mitigations will protect wildlife along a road in such a remote area is a difficult idea to rationalize. For example and comparison consider that for several years the “private” ice roads to the NWT’s diamond mines have facilitated very easy access to barren ground caribou for legal and illegal harvest, the herds are now in severe decline due to several cumulative factors. Despite the seriousness of this situation massive enforcement capacity issues exist and investment in caribou monitoring and management requires a significant public dollar investment that is currently lacking. The GNWT who is the responsible authority is under resourced and under prepared to take on its own responsibilities for another road expansion, especially in a remote mountain environment such as the South Nahanni Watershed.
Another reality is the matter of development proponents who find logic in looking for economic paths of least resistance when planning their projects. In the context of roads in mountain geographies this usually includes valleys and corridors that are also important seasonal habitats and migratory routes for wildlife such as mountain caribou. This is true of the Howard’s Pass road, its alignment runs through valleys and corridors, and the road improvement would most likely stimulate greater interest in developing in the headwaters adjacent to Nahanni and Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserves. Including in areas identified as caribou calving and post calving habitat.
Project delay or not an important question lingers.
If the road proposal comes to reality will mountain caribou persist as a cornerstone of the South Nahanni ecosystem and continue to be a source of sustainable harvest into the future? It is difficult to believe that this could be true.
The project delay is good news though at least for now…..
Letter from Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd.