Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Tsolum River: A Stark Reminder of the Damage Mining Leaves Behind

The Tsolum River on Vancouver Island was once among the most prolific producers of salmon and steelhead in the area. However, by the 1990's acid mining waste leaching from the Mount Washington Copper Mine had turned the river into a toxic wasteland. Salmon and trout populations were extirpated from the watershed, and in the 1990s the province of British Columbia declared the Tsolum the most threatened river in BC. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans declared the Tsolum a "Dead River" and all future funding for fisheries restoration and monitoring in the watershed was pulled.

However, thanks to the hard work of government ministries, the Tsolum River Restoration Society, as well as a $4.5 million dollar investment of tax pay money in remediation and water treatment at the abandoned mine site, fish are returning to the Tsolum once again. Fish populations, particularly those with prolonged stream rearing such as coho, steelhead and cutthroat, face a steep uphill climb, but the remediation has provided hope that salmon and trout populations may someday recover some semblance of their former abundance and diversity.

The destruction of the Tsolum River's fisheries and the evolutionary legacy of salmon and steelhead in the watershed was wiped out by a mine that operated for fewer than 10 years. But like so many mining companies, when the site was abandoned the company cut and run, leaving behind an environmental catastrophe to be cleaned up by non-profit groups and government agencies. The legacy of mining in salmon country is clear and the reality is, in many ways the industry operates under the same social contract it always has, extracting profits and creating jobs for a few years before abandoning the site and leaving society to clean up the mess. It is critical that examples like the Tsolum are remembered when the discussion turns to contemporary proposals for mine development.

More information from the Tsolum River Restoration society:

and check out this video on the restoration of the Tsolum:

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