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Becky Mason - Environmental Notes
Call-for-Action: Uravan Garry Lake Mine Threatens Caribou

Author David Pelly emailed me this call-for-action. The deadline for letters opposing this project is December 12, 2008. Below is a letter that David has written it's best that you don't copy it but use it as guidance. When writing to the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) we should not come across as meaning to oppose all mining. Nunavut needs mines, but surely not on the calving grounds.

The Threat:

I am told there is a crisis looming on the barrenlands. Population estimates indicate the Beverly caribou population has dropped dramatically in the past 14 years, since the last proper aerial survey. Biologists sighted 5737 cows on their transects over the Beverly calving area in 1994, and only 93 in 2008.

As this news arrives the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) is considering an application from Uravan Minerals, for development of their uranium property right on the caribou calving ground,  just south of Garry Lake (Back River).

The Backgrounder:

The NIRB website is under construction so it's hard to navigate. You can read about the NIRB at

The NIRB website has mostly complicated ftp files details at .

It has been brought to my attention that there was a recent letter that the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (BQCMB) sent to NIRB. It recommends the rejection of exploration/ mining activity on the calving and post-calving grounds and emphasizes the connection between the Beverly herd and the cultural well-being of the Dene, Metis and Inuit commnunities who traditionally hunt the herd. See Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board PDF letter to NIRB

It's also been noted to me that there is a lot of valuable information about the effects of industrial activity on barren-ground herds on the BQCMB's site:

Your letter can make a difference:

I know there are a million and one issues demanding your attention. But for the sake of the barren ground caribou, and the wild spaces we all cherish, please write a short email to NIRB before the December 12 deadline, demanding that the Uravan application be denied. I am told it is critical to get the letters flowing – your letter can make a difference.

Your letter can be very short:

To make your letter successful you can simply refer to the NIRB's need to protect caribou and caribou habitat. David Pelly's letter below is excellent and well researched you could use some of the information in it as guidance for your letter.

Send your letter to:

Leslie Payette
Nunavut Impact Review Board
Mgr. Environmental Administration

Letter Reference: David Pelly
's letter

Regarding Uravan Garry Lake Project, NIRB File 08EN037

Dear Nunavut Impact Review Board,

Please register my strong opposition to Uravan’s plans for mineral development on the calving grounds of the Beverly caribou.  And in your deliberations, please take note of the following: At the NWT Barren-ground Caribou Summit in 2007,delegates voted overwhelming in favour of establishing their first priority as “Protect the calving grounds in the NWT and Nunavut” and directed the GNWT to “Meet with Nunavut to begin discussions about protection calving grounds.”

Two weeks ago the GNWT revealed their evidence at a meeting of the BQCMB that “the numbers of adult female caribou (cows) seen on the Beverly calving ground during June systematic reconnaissance surveys dropped from 5,737 in 1994 to 93 in 2008, and that very few calves were seen during the 2008 survey – only 15 calves for every 100 cows. (In comparison, usually about 80 calves for every 100 cows are seen on the calving grounds of healthy barren-ground caribou herds near the peak of calving, as was the case with the Bathurst herd in June 2008.)”

As reported by CP, the CBC, The Globe and Mail, and elsewhere today, “The massive Beverly herd, which roams the tundra from northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan and well into the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, once numbered about 276,000 animals. But a just-released survey suggests the number of caribou cows on the calving grounds of the massive Beverly herd have fallen by a stunning 98 per cent over the last 14 years.”

In the past few years, while caribou numbers have been dropping, disruptive mineral exploration activity on the calving ground and the adjacent post-calving aggregation areas has risen dramatically.  As of this month, there are 727 active mineral tenures (permits, claims and leases) on the Beverly calving ground.  This level of industrial activity is clearly not sustainable.

Major mining companies – De Beers, Areva, and Cameco – have declared that they will no longer conduct activities on caribou calving and post-calving grounds in Nunavut, because they understand the implications of this activity.

The proposal before the NIRB at present is bound to set a precedent.  It is essential that the NIRB send a clear signal to industry that mineral development on the calving and post-calving grounds is out of the question.  To do otherwise is to accept the decline of the caribou population as unimportant to the people who depend on these animals, both physically and culturally – these caribou provide millions of dollars worth of meat annually to the residents of user-communities in Nunavut, NWT, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  Not protecting caribou habitat also contradicts the broad desires of Canadians to see this iconic species and its habitat protected for future generations.  The NIRB surely has a responsibility to do what it can to protect the caribou and caribou habitat.

While one cannot state categorically that the decline in caribou numbers is a direct result of industrial activity, we can be absolutely sure that it does not help the caribou, and that their recovery will be rendered next to impossible if their habitat is taken over by industrial activity.  NIRB should now declare that this will not be permitted to occur – the only way to do that is to deny Uravan’s application.


David F. Pelly


Becky is involved with many environmental causes. She is currently helping Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society in getting protection for the entire Nahanni Watershed. She discuses the challenges that face this World Heritage site below in her Globe & Mail article.

When a Canadian wilderness comes under threat and legal action needs to be implemented Ecojustice is a fine organization.

A little closer to her home she is a trustee on the Quetico Foundation. The foundation helps to protect and informs the public about this Ontario Quetico Provincial Park and  the challenges it currently faces.

Nature Conservancy of Canada is one of Becky's favourite organizations because it is dedicated to preserving ecologically significant areas through outright land purchase, donations and conservation easements.

Becky also keeps active locally helping organizations like Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Ottawa Valley chapter.

She loves everything about canoeing and she supports the Canadian Canoe Museum whenever she can.

Image © Reid McLachlan

An Early Lesson

I asked Dad once why he wrote so many letters about asking government officials to reconsider their stance on various environmental platforms. I figured it was odd for Dad to devote half a day of every week to letter writing when he was already so busy making his films and books about preserving our environment.

He lifted a letter from his done pile and asked me to read it. As I read I was impressed at how polite and simple it was. I understood the message and also felt the passion he had for our disappearing wilderness. Dad told me that just one personal letter written to the government is important because they realize that if one person has written in at least a hundred probably meant to write but never got around to it. It was a real eye opener for me that all letters short, long, learned, or just heart felt can accomplish the perceived impossible.

Becky Mason


Article "A paradise not yet lost" by Becky Mason, written for the Globe & Mail, January 27, 2003

The UN has called the Nahanni River a World Heritage site. "Will the next federal budget help keep it that way?" asks canoeist and activist Becky Mason.

"Deep in the remote Mackenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories runs a magnificent river with a beautiful name: Nahanni. The South Nahanni River surges through the heart of one of Canada's most treasured wilderness areas and national parks. In the coming months, the federal government -- in co-operation with local First Nations and conservation groups -- has an historic opportunity to protect this vast wilderness forever by expanding Nahanni National Park Reserve to protect the entire watershed of the South Nahanni River. But forced to chose between broadening protection and expanding industrial development, what will it choose?

Nahanni's beauty lies in its ruggedness and diversity. It plunges over a waterfall twice the height of Niagara, cuts through canyons more than one kilometre deep, and rushes past hot springs, ancient caves and other natural wonders. Grizzly and black bears, Dall's sheep, woodland caribou and trumpeter swans are just a few of the wildlife species that live in the park. Plants rare to northern boreal forests cling to mist-bathed cliffs below waterfalls and near hot springs. Wildfires burn freely over the land, creating a rich mosaic of forests of all ages.

The Nahanni was the favourite river of my father, Bill Mason, the renowned Canadian filmmaker, artist and canoeist. He paddled its waters many times during his life. The river had a profound effect on him. With cancer and only months to live, his final wish was to be with his family for one last trip down his beloved river. Dad died shortly after that last trip down the Nahanni in 1988. If he were still with us, I know that he would be actively working to improve the protection of one of his favourite places.

The Nahanni makes an impression on everyone who sees it. After visiting the river in the early 1970s, Pierre Trudeau was so inspired that he directed the minister responsible for national parks at the time, Jean Chrétien, to protect a corridor along the river, preventing it from being exploited for hydro development.

In 1978, the United Nations recognized the Nahanni as a natural wonder, designating the national park as one of the world's first natural World Heritage Sites, even before it did so for the Grand Canyon or Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

When the park was established, little was known about the region's ecosystems, resulting in a park boundary that protects the waterfall and canyons, but leaves out critical wildlife habitat and most of the watershed. As a result, today activities outside the park -- particularly mining development -- are the greatest threat to the Nahanni's future.

Right now, Ottawa has an extraordinary opportunity to expand Nahanni National Park Reserve to properly protect the wilderness and wildlife values of the region. The Park Reserve and much of its watershed lie within the traditional territory of the Deh Cho First Nation.

The Deh Cho, who are engaged in land and self-government negotiations with Ottawa, recently passed a resolution calling for the interim protection of the entire South Nahanni watershed, an area seven times larger than the current park. Conservation groups such as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society also support watershed protection as the only way to adequately preserve the wildlife, and to avoid contamination of the region's pristine waters from mining effluent. Nearly all players are in line to protect the area.

Just two things are missing: the political will of all federal government departments, and federal funding.

In October, Prime Minister Chrétien and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Sheila Copps, committed to expanding the Park Reserve as part of their five-year action plan for Parks Canada. But no one can implement the plan unless there is funding in the forthcoming federal budget. And without the funding this year, the opportunity to protect the South Nahanni watershed will pass by, mining and oil and gas development will continue, and this world-famous wilderness will be irreparably damaged.

The land beyond the park boundaries is controlled by the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, which is responsible for both encouraging industrial development in the North, and protecting its environment. In the case of the Nahanni, these two objectives conflict. What is needed is prime ministerial leadership to make protection of Nahanni a top priority, and recognition by the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs that the greatest societal value of the South Nahanni watershed lies in its long-term protection, not in the short-term exploitation of what lies underground.

Mining and oil and gas exploration is encroaching on the Nahanni. But for a fleeting moment, protection is still within our grasp. We mustn't let it slip away. First Nations, conservation groups, canoeists and wilderness-lovers agree that the entire watershed must be protected. Leadership from the federal government, and funding in the upcoming budget can ensure that Nahanni stays wild and free for future generations of Canadians, and for the world."