Great wild hope

Can a mining giant have a “net positive impact” on biodiversity? A $19-million wilderness lands purchase, in B.C.’s East Kootenay region, wins Teck Resources raves from environmentalists and gives credence to its sustainability aims
By Omar Kahn

Protected: The Flathead townsite, one of three B.C. conservation properties bought by Teck, is critical to saving the pristine Flathead River

Anyone involved in or informed about wildlife conservation and habitat preservation issues and their relationship with resource development in Western Canada will undoubtedly know the name of Harvey Locke.

A former Calgary lawyer and, for the past 15 years, a full-time conservation builder, organizer and activist, he’s been in the thick of countless deals and disputes, working passionately and pragmatically to preserve and expand protection for critical natural landscapes and ecosystems.

So when Locke tells you he’s a “big fan” of a recent $19-million purchase by Canada’s largest diversified miner and mineral developer, Teck Resources Ltd. (TSX:TCK.B) of Vancouver, the eyebrows go up.

The purchase in question: three parcels of land totaling 7,150 hectares in B.C.’s Elk Valley and Flathead River Valley, bought from timber company Tembec in October. “While not amenable to mining,” said Teck’s news release on the deal, “the lands have the potential to be used for conservation purposes.”

“Conservation purposes” is a big understatement in this case, says Locke. “From a private lands conservation point of view in the Yellowstone-to-Yukon region, Alexander Creek is the No. 1 parcel of importance in the entire landscape,” he says. “And the Flathead townsite, it’s probably the most important single parcel you could buy to keep the potential of keeping the amazing Flathead River together as one of the great reservoirs of biodiversity on planet Earth.”

Locke also commends company president and CEO Don Lindsay’s statement at the time of the deal that it’s possible to have “world-class mining and a world-class environment.” Says Locke, “That’s taking us from economy versus environment into a new world saying how can these two things come together?”

According to Marcia Smith, Teck’s senior vice-president of sustainability and external affairs, the purchase is an outgrowth of a company pledge to have a net positive impact on biodiversity in the areas it operates. And, in fact, Teck operates five steelmaking coal mines in the East Kootenay region. So when the blocks of land came up for sale, says Smith, “We recognized that this was a unique opportunity to put our sustainability values into practice on a large scale.”

The next step for the company involves working with conservation groups and other stakeholders in the area to develop a management and stewardship framework for the properties. Locke, who works with a local Flathead conservation group in his role as strategic adviser to the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, and is a party to some of these discussions, says talks are progressing as hoped. “This is new for them and for us, but the trajectory seems very positive.”

One thing he says he’s already noticed is that Teck has invested in staff with expertise that can “talk to me with informed intelligence,” says Locke. “We have conversations. We’re not talking across each other.”

He contrasts this to more typical dialogue with resources companies, where the starting point is: ‘We’re going to mine here and it won’t hurt that much.’ Whereas, in this case, the company is committing to have a net positive impact on biodiversity as a corporation and preserving “strategic” parcels of nature.

“That’s why we issued a press release,” Locke says. “This is something to take note of and hopefully for other companies to consider how they can do something similar.”

Photography: Teck Resources

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