Feds say Agnico Eagle has failed to protect caribou at Nunavut gold mine as promised

Caribou near the Meadowbank Gold Mine in Nunavut. An order issued by the federal government last month details the company’s repeated failures over the last decade and a half to implement caribou protection measures at the mine site, comply with an ecological management plan, and accurately and appropriately report activities. (The Canadian Press)

Company ordered to comply with its permits to operate, or face penalties

The federal government says Agnico Eagle Mines is not doing what it has promised to protect migrating caribou at the Meadowbank gold mine in Nunavut.

An order issued last month by Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) says the company has failed “on multiple occasions” to meet its obligations under its project certificates for the mine, and under the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act.

The order requires the company to comply with its permits to operate or face potential penalties.

“[Agnico Eagle Mines] has failed to close roads as required while migrating caribou are passing,” the order, written by CIRNAC resource management officer Kyle Amsel, states.

The 13-page order document details the company’s repeated failures over the last decade and a half to implement caribou protection measures at the mine site, comply with an ecological management plan, and accurately and appropriately report activities.

The federal order follows concerns raised by the Nunavut government. Last fall, the territory’s Environment department wrote to CIRNAC asking for an investigation.

“This is the fourth consecutive year in which the GN has presented evidence of [Agnico Eagle’s] failure to implement the road closure provisions of the TEMP [Terrestrial Environment Management Plan],” reads a letter sent by Jimmy Noble Jr., Nunavut’s deputy minister of Environment, to regulators in October 2022.

The Oct. 17 letter, addressed to officials at CIRNAC and the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB), states that the company’s promised caribou protection measures, outlined in the TEMP, were “an important factor in the GN’s review of this project.” It asked federal inspectors to investigate.

The road to the Meadowbank Mine in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut. western Nunavut. (Eye on the Arctic)

A company spokesperson told CBC News at the time that the company had fulfilled all of its obligations, and would keep talking to authorities “to find a common understanding of this issue.”

In an email to CBC News on Wednesday, Agnico Eagle spokesperson Natalie Frackleton said the company is reviewing the CIRNAC order issued last month and “the allegations it contains.”

She also said the company is reviewing items “that have already been addressed by the company as part of the formal annual report review,” but did not provide specifics.

“The company remains confident that it is taking the necessary measures to protect caribou. We will communicate directly with the appropriate stakeholders and will not comment further publicly at this time,” Frackleton wrote.

Focus on roads at mine site

The concerns about Agnico Eagle’s caribou protection efforts have largely focused on two roads at the mine complex near Baker Lake, Nunavut: the Meadowbank all-weather access road, and the Whale Tail haul road, which connects an open pit mine to processing facilities.

Production began at the Whale Tail pit in 2019, the same year production ceased at the Meadowbank mine. The operation at Whale Tail continues to use processing facilities at the Meadowbank site, with the two sites connected by a 64-kilometre haul road.

The Nunavut government has said the company’s TEMP for the Whale Tail mine expansion project includes a requirement to automatically close the road to traffic if a dozen or more caribou were seen within a kilometre and a half of the road during migration times. Those include the periods from April 1 to May 25, and from Sept. 16 to Dec. 7.

Amsel’s CIRNAC order questions some of the company’s decisions around road closures, and the accuracy and thoroughness of its record-keeping and reporting over the years. For example, Amsel points to the company’s 2018 annual report on wildlife monitoring which included discrepancies in data collection “which caused misleading statistical analysis.”

The same 2018 report included a list of internal company correspondence that “appears to denote daily instances of road closures,” but includes minimal or no data.

The correspondence “appears to have been compiled at random,” Amsel wrote, saying the data “has little value upon review to determine compliance with the TEMP.”

Amsel also refers to the company’s 2019 wildlife monitoring summary report, which asserted that more migrating caribou had been observed that year from the all-weather access road than in any other year since surveys began. Amsel calls the statement “factually incorrect and misleading,” and points to higher survey numbers years earlier.

Also in 2019, the company reported 94 full days of road closure but Amsel states that on 82 of those days the company “did not respect the road closure and allowed such things as convoys, daily rides, food truck etc.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Nunavut flips stance on caribou protection again, now supports development ban on calving grounds, CBC News

Finland: Miners hunting for metals to battery cars threaten Finland’s Sámi reindeer herders’ homeland, Yle News

Greenland: Greenland issues new exploration, prospecting licences to Anglo American, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Minister downplays environmental impact of planned mine in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: The Arctic Railway – Building a future or destroying a culture?, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Biden, Trudeau agree to ‘safeguard’ caribou calving grounds in Alaska refuge, CBC Ne

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