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Coal Mining Project Extirpates Burnt Pine Caribou Population, Moberly Lake, BC, Canada

West Moberly First Nations went to court against the BC government over the permission of coal mining activities on critically threatened caribou habitat.


In 2009, First Coal Corporation, which has since been purchased by Xtrata Coal which is now owned by Glencore applied for mining permits to British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) to produce a ‘bulk sample’ and ‘advance exploration’ in the Peace River Sub-Basin on the preferred treaty territory of the West Moberly First Nation [1]. These activities would involve drilling 173 holes and five open pits mines to excavate 50,000 tons of coal [1]. The infrastructure to support this endeavour would destroy over 28 hectares of native vegetation on top of the 88 hectares of landscape previously destroyed by the coal company in the region, impacting two-thirds of the habitat value to the herd and the most important part of the Burnt Pine caribou winter range. With only 11 Burnt Pine caribou and nine other distinguishable herds remaining in 2009 in an area with once a “sea of caribou”, West Moberly, Canadian government scientists, and the BC Supreme Court all protested the coal mine development in the region. However, the permits to produce a ‘bulk sample’ and ‘advance exploration’ were eventually granted by MEM, leading to the extinction of the Burnt Pine Caribou herd and a breach of environmental justice.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Coal Mining Project Extirpates Burnt Pine Caribou Population, Moberly Lake, BC, Canada
State or province:British Columbia
Location of conflict:The Peace River Regional District
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Coal extraction and processing
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Coal
Natural Gas
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The First Coal Corporation's 2009 proposal to BC's Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) included drilling 173 holes and five open pits to remove 50,000 tons of coal [1]. The proposal was accepted by MEM in 2010.

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Project area:1,788
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:348
Start of the conflict:01/01/2009
Company names or state enterprises:Glencore Public Limited Company from Switzerland
First Coal Company from Canada
Xstrata Coal from Switzerland
Relevant government actors:British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM)
BC Supreme Court
BC wildlife ecologists and biologists
BC’s Ministry of Environment (MOE)
Ministry of Forests and Range (MOFR)
West Moberly First Nations government
Saulteau First Nations government
British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Office’s
British Columbia Cabinet
Canadian federal government
British Columbia provincial government
Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development
British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:West Moberly First Nation
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Hunters, Saulteaux First Nation, West Moberly First Nation
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Global warming, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
Land demarcation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Fostering a culture of peace
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Proposal and development of alternatives:West Moberly suggested mining activities could occur in other areas that are not essential for the survival of the Burnt Pine caribou [1].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:In the case of West Moberly and the Burnt Pine caribou herd, environmental justice was not served. However, the momentum and increased communication between First Nations' governments, the federal government and BC's provincial government led to agreements and legislation that will hopefully lead to an environmentally just outcome. However, with the development of Glencore's Sukunka mine despite the presence of these agreements and legislation, it's uncertain if environmental justice will be served.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[7] Burns, D (ed.), British Columbia Law Reports. 5th Series, Volume 18, p. 257, E).
[click to view]

[14] British Columbia, Partnership Agreement Caribou Recovery Committee Guidance to Proponents on Applications. December 3, 2020, Version 1.2.
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Muir, B. & Booth, A. An environmental justice analysis of caribou recovery planning, protection of an Indigenous culture, and coal mining development in northeast British Columbia, Canada. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 2012, 14, 455-476.
[click to view]

[2] Collard, R., Dempsey, J., and Holmberg M. Extirpation despite regulation? Environmental assessment and caribou. Conservation Science and Practice, 2020, 2(4).
[click to view]

[3] Palm, E., et al., The long road to protecting critical habitat for species at risk: The case of southern mountain woodland caribou. Conservation Science and Practice, 2020, 2(7).
[click to view]

[11] Muir, B., Environmental justice in Canada: An application to a First Nations’ struggle to protect caribou from coal mining in northeast British Columbia. UBC Master's Thesis, 2011.
[click to view]

[4] Cox, S., Up close with B.C.’s endangered baby caribou — and the First Nations trying to save them. The Narwhal, July 25, 2020. (Online, Accessed: March 30, 2020)
[click to view]

[5] Teves, T., Caribou Recovery Partnership Agreement Signed by West Moberly First Nations, Saulteau First Nations, B.C., and Canada. Energetic City, February 21, 2020. (Online, Accessed: March 30, 2021)
[click to view]

[6] Hosgood, A. The Secret to Caribou Recovery? Indigenous Leadership. The Tyee, September 25, 2020. (Online, Accessed March 30, 2021)
[click to view]

[8] Watershed Sentinel, Historic partnership to protect 2M acres of caribou habitat. April 13, 2020. (Online, Accessed: MArch 30, 2021)
[click to view]

[9] Thomson, J., B.C. mine proposed in critical caribou habitat shows how endangered species ‘fall through the cracks’. The Narwhal, June 11, 2020. (Online, Accessed March 30, 2021)
[click to view]

[10] British Columbia, Cumulative Effects Framework. BC Government. (Online, Accessed: March 30, 2021)
[click to view]

[12] The Canadian Encyclopedia, Treaty 9. (Online, Accessed March 31, 2021)
[click to view]

[13] Government of Canada, Woodland caribou. (Online, Accessed March 31, 2021)
[click to view]

[15] Government of Canada, Species at Risk Act (SARA) Section 11 Conservation Agreements for the Conservation of the Southern Mountain Caribou. (Online, Accessed March 30, 2021)
[click to view]

[16] British Columbia, Together for Wildlife. (Online, Accessed March 30, 2021)
[click to view]

[17] BC Hydro, Williston Reservoir. (Online, Accessed March 31, 2021)
[click to view]

[18] Glencore, Sukunka Project. (Online, Accessed March 30, 2021)
[click to view]

[19] British Columbia, Sukunka Coal Mine. EPIC. (Online, Accessed March 31, 2021)
[click to view]

[20] Government of Canada, Sukunka Coal Mine Project. (Online, Accessed March 31, 2021)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Hanna Oosterveen, [email protected]
Last update01/04/2021
Conflict ID:5481
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