Surface mining on eastern slopes is one of the biggest problems our generation faces, says rancher

The Blades family of Nanton, Alberta. has been linked with Cabin Ridge Mountain for a century.

Named after the family’s original cabin, the mountain overlooks essential summer pastures at Rocking P Ranch. It has remained constant as generations have nurtured a deep love and sense of responsibility for this landscape, and endured the hardships and joys that herding inevitably brings.

A year after hearing about the Cabin Ridge mining project, a metallurgical surface coal mine, Mac and Renie Blades and their family continue to fight the project and other proposed surface mines on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

“It’s just amazing that they can think of making a coal mine over there and taking that mountain off,” Mac Blades said, speaking at a media event at Rocking P Cabin last week.

The Blades family and other proposed mine-affected ranchers have gathered under Mount Cabin Ridge to share the beauty of the Mount Livingstone Range and provide insight into what is at stake, not just for their families, but for all Albertans.

“This is one of the biggest issues our generation will face, and I think we’ve seen it very clearly in the diversity and scale of the outcry,” says Rachel Herbert of Trail’s End Beef in Nanton, in Alberta.

“We saw people from all walks of life, from all walks of life. People understand the scope, extent and magnitude of the repercussions if we disturb our sources here. ”

Renie Blades says it is “important monument” to them that their family was able to settle near Cabin Ridge. “If the coal mines remove our summer grass it will make a difference to our ranch so it touches us personally with our business but more than that we are so connected to this environment and this land. You can’t spend time here and not love this country. ”

This sentiment was echoed by the younger generation of Rocking P Ranch. “It’s our story; we really want this to be our future, ”says Reata Schlosser, granddaughter of Mac and Renie, who shared childhood memories playing Macleay Creek, named after her great-great-grandfather.

“This story of our family being on this earth and what it has given us and the life it has given me and the work ethic it has taught me can never be replaced.”

The next generation of the Blades family talks about what the land around Cabin Ridge means to them. Photo: Piper Whelan

Just a day after the event, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) announced that its review panel had rejected Benga Mining Limited’s provincial application for another controversial mine project, the Grassy Mountain Coal Project near Blairmore. The AER cited “significant adverse environmental effects on surface water quality, westslope cutthroat trout and their habitat, whitebark pine, rough fescue meadows, and community plant species and biodiversity. Resulting from this project as part of its decision.

Although critics of surface coal mines in Alberta are celebrating the AER’s decision, several other contentious mines, including the Cabin Ridge project, are still in the approval process.

Report reveals long-term impacts on water

To build the proposed mines, nearly six billion cubic meters of coal overburden must be removed to access the coal seam, says Brad Stelfox, a landscape environmentalist with the Alces Group, a consulting firm that studies the issues. land and resource use. This would amount to disrupting an area of ​​about 700 square kilometers in total.

Stelfox was the lead author of a report on the potential impact of coal mining upstream of the Oldman River watershed. Commissioned by the Livingstone Landowners Group, the research simulated the eight proposed coal mines and predicted the effects over five decades.

“We have certainty about the quality and quantity of water, biodiversity and some extensive land use practices like cattle grazing that can maintain this natural capital,” he says. “I think what we’re being asked to do is trade that for short-term gain.”

In addition to the potential negative impacts on downstream water quality and quantity, the report predicts consequences for small streams and riparian areas around proposed mine sites, with mines expected to use up to 40% of all water. water in these areas.

Based on Teck Resources’ mines in the Elk Valley of British Columbia, the report predicts that only a quarter of Alberta’s proposed mines would be reclaimed in 50 years. The reclamation would not return the land to its original appearance. Its function as a source of the main river basins would also be modified.

Stelfox states that while mining companies such as Teck Resources are working hard to develop technologies to remove selenium from contaminated bodies of water, “I don’t think they have been well tested in what I would call significant space and time, over many generations and very wet years and very dry years.

“The coal industry looks like they think they’ve solved this problem, and maybe they’ve made some progress, but they’re asking everyone to take it for granted that they can eliminate selenium… and this is a huge risk. ”

Pastoralists who depend on pastures in the proposed mining areas are unwilling to take these risks. Laura Laing of Plateau Cattle Company in Nanton, whose Mount Livingstone grazing subdivision adjoins that of Rocking P Ranch, emphasizes the need for policy makers to see this landscape for themselves.

“We’ve heard them say that doesn’t happen in pristine landscapes. We’ve heard them say that this doesn’t happen in large watersheds, and we’d like to say it isn’t, ”she said.

“I have the impression that the tide is turning a bit”

A year after the provincial government repealed the 1976 coal policy, allowing these mines to go through the approval process, these ranchers are heartened by the response of Albertans after the fight to bring this issue to the attention of the government. public.

“We feel like we’ve made some significant progress if we think back to where we started last year, where it happened without the public knowing,” says Laing, who, with his husband John Smith and the Blades family, challenges the province in court to overturn the original coal policy without consultation.

Due to the province’s retreat on coal over the winter, Herbert finds that many Albertans don’t realize these mines are still in the process of being approved.

“I also think the government’s deflection tactics have been quite effective. A lot of people said, “Oh, I thought it was all over, I thought exploration was paused and everything was back and protected again.” We are still a long way from any kind of meaningful protection, ”she said.

On the morning of the event, Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced that the federal government would now conduct environmental reviews of any proposed new coal project, regardless of size, that could lead to contamination. selenium. This includes the proposed metallurgical coal projects in the eastern slopes. Wilkinson said the effect of selenium on fish and their habitat makes this matter a matter of federal jurisdiction.

“I feel like the tide is turning a bit, which is good because it’s been a battle, so if it makes starting mines harder and more stringent due to the increased attention to contamination water is a good thing. says singer-songwriter Corb Lund, whose criticism of the province’s actions regarding coal mining has helped bring Albertans to the attention of this issue.

“A year ago it was overwhelming and we just felt lost,” says Renie Blades. “With the federal government involved, so far that’s good news, and the Coal Panel is doing a good job. They try to meet people and get a good reaction from the audience and report back. We just feel like it’s moving in the right direction, and we’re hopeful. We hope we can save this beautiful country.

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