Land Access & Use

Overview

Minerals are a hidden resource and access to land is one of the means to discover and bring value to those provincial resources. AME works with governments, communities, and stakeholders to maintain access to land for mineral exploration. Access by air, roads, and trails should meet the needs of our members while protecting the environment as well as the safety of explorers and the public.

Important scientific knowledge gained through responsible mineral exploration provides the public with a better understanding of the value of minerals in a region and potential economic diversification and investment opportunities.  Mineral exploration also provides government and the general public with important knowledge of the environment in which they live and play. AME is committed to meeting balanced social, environmental, and economic expectations through sound practices and stewardship.

Our association believes that the hidden value of minerals should be properly evaluated and considered as part of any discussion about land access and use.  A mineral deposit is a very rare and valuable resource.  While mineralized showings are common, the reality of an exploration project becoming an operating mine is very low. However, the potential benefits of an operating mine to a region can be very high indeed and need to be considered as part of any evaluation of a land base.

Guiding Principles

The Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AME) recognizes that mineral resources are hidden and require large investments of time and money to find and quantify for potential mine development to occur. The cornerstones of a successful and sustainable mineral exploration and development industry therefore are:

  • access to large tracts of land to conduct temporary, low-impact exploration for valuable resources
  • ability to acquire secure mineral tenure
  • and the opportunity to advance and develop a viable mineral resource project under appropriate legislation.

In conducting their activities, AME members should strive to:

  1. Support the “Two-Zone” model for mineral exploration and development through the implementation of good management practices to achieve no net loss of mineral development lands.
  2. Develop mutually respectful relationships that acknowledge the rights and interests of others in the use of the land.
  3. Promote industry standards that encompass sustainability and flexibility when conducting exploration activities to meet balanced social, environmental, and economic objectives.
  4. Communicate these guiding principles concerning the unique nature of mineral resources and the cornerstones of the industry to associated communities of interest, Aboriginal peoples, relevant regulatory agencies and international stakeholders.

Land Use Plans

Land use planning can increase certainty regarding resource conservation and use, and form the foundation for balanced solutions that meet economic, environmental, and social needs.  AME has taken a direct role in a number of specific government land use Planning initiatives and land use decisions. Below is a summary of recent cases.

Atlin Taku Land Use Plan

AME first became engaged in the Atlin Taku Land Use Plan in November 22, 2008 by participating in a workshop in Atlin. Staff expressed the key requirements from the mineral exploration sector including ensuring sufficient access to land base to explore for minerals; access corridors for moving people and equipment; security of tenure and clear permit conditions; community support for responsible development based on clear principles/performance expectations; and human resources at all stages of exploration and mining.

For background information on the area and the planning process, please visit www.ilmb.gov.bc.ca/slrp/lrmp/smithers/atlin_taku/index.html.

The Integrated Land Management Bureau and Taku River Tlingit First Nation released the Atlin Taku Final Draft Plan on October 15, 2010. The Atlin Taku Land Use Plan has been developed through a collaborative government-to-government process between the Province of British Columbia and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, and in consultation with neighboring First Nations, the local community and stakeholders.

In April 2011 the Taku River Tlingit First Nation approved the final draft plan, which was implemented in 2012.

Dease Liard Sustainable Resource Management Plan

The provincial government approved the first phase of the Dease Liard Sustainable Resource Management Plan (SRMP) in November 2004.  AME became actively involved with this process in 2008 and has made submissions to the joint planning table.

In August 2010 the Plan was released for review.  AME made a submission to government in March 24, 2011 that expressed overall support for the Plan, which was implemented in 2012.

Flathead River Watershed

At the 33rd session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Seville, Spain, the Committee issued the UNESCO World Heritage Committee Decision: 33 COM 7B.22 regarding lands bordering Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in an area of southeastern British Columbia known as the Flathead.  The decision specifically called for Canada to invite a “joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN monitoring mission to take place as soon as possible to evaluate and provide recommendations on the requirements for ensuring the protection of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value…”.  The decision furthermore requires that a report be filed with the World Heritage Centre by February 2010, “including status of all mining and energy development proposals in the Flathead Valley…”.

The decision by the World Heritage Committee was made based on evidence submitted by a limited number of non-governmental organizations. No information or evidence was requested from people living and working in the region or any other stakeholder. Nor was information sought from the local Aboriginal people, the Ktunaxa.

It must be clarified that British Columbia’s East Kootenays, the region in which the Flathead is located, presently has over 16% of its land base in protected areas. An additional 11.3% of the land base is designated “special resource management zone” where industrial development or natural resource extraction is extremely limited, if at all tolerated.

The September 2009 the World Heritage Report was released which concluded that industrial activity in the Flathead is not compatible with protecting the values of the adjacent Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  In the spring of 2010 the provincial government issued two orders; the first order prevented any further acquisition of subsurface tenure, while the second order stopped all review of new or extensions of further mineral exploration work applications.

At the time of the orders there were 53 mineral claims held by eight owners along with 13 coal licences held by three owners. The government also announced that it would seek resolution of the current coal and mineral tenures via compensation based on sunk costs, however no definition or explanation of ‘sunk costs’ has been provided by government.  As of May 2011, no resolution of the mineral claims has been achieved, though government does continue to acknowledge the issue of the outstanding tenures.

Mineral Title

The BC mineral tenure system allows individuals and corporations to acquire mineral rights and conduct exploration for minerals situated on crown and private land. Before registering  mineral claims electronically, the company or individual is required to register with the government and pay a fee to obtain a Free Miner Certificate. Mineral rights are acquired by registering a mineral claim to land through Mineral Titles Online.

Enquiries regarding Mineral Titles Online should be directed to the Mineral Titles Branch of the BC Ministry of Energy and Mines at Mineral.Titles@gov.bc.ca, 1.866.616.4999 (North America), or 604.660.2672 (Lower Mainland/ outside North America).

Mineral rights do not provide an individual or corporation with surface rights or automatic right to proceed to development. Individuals or corporations wishing to develop mineral properties using mechanical equipment must acquire multiple permits for specific activities related to exploration and development.

Larger disturbances to the land require higher levels of environmental, social, and economic assessment. Major projects are subject to thorough environmental assessment reviews. The review of proposed work programs by government include public and First Nations consultation based upon the scope of the proposed work and will in most cases require the posting of a reclamation security deposit.

BC’s  mineral tenure system generally provides strong clear title to minerals.  However in recent times the strength of title has been weakened by the multitude of land planning exercises and different hurdles that must be met prior to commencing even simple mineral exploration programs.  The free entry principle upon which BC and Canada’s mineral tenure systems are based is crucial to maintaining Canada’s edge in the global mineral exploration activity and access to capital that funds such exploration activities.

 

Mountain Caribou Recovery Initiative

In 2007, the BC Cabinet gave a directive to achieve the ultimate goal of restoring mountain caribou populations to pre-1995 levels using the Recovery Strategy led by the Species at Risk Coordination Office (SaRCO) and based on provincial science team input.

A government interagency team was formed to implement the Mountain Caribou Recovery Strategy and identified caribou habitat covering 1.5 million hectares of potential mineral exploration area and included 500,000 hectares of current mineral tenure.

AME’s Role

The AME Land Use Committee and affected regional exploration groups had been working with government officials to minimize negative impacts on the mineral exploration community. Although the Implementation Plan does address some of the industry’s concerns, further important work needs to be done to ensure that permit conditions are more reasonably balanced, responsible mineral exploration can successfully proceed and the Mines Inspectors provide necessary exemptions in a timely and efficient manner.

AME will continue to reinforce the following points:

  1. Mineral exploration does not have a significant impact to mountain caribou or their habitat. The Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan Progress Board, which includes environmentalist participation, agrees. Most reputable Professional Biologists would agree and even some environmental non-governmental organizations (albeit privately) would agree that our sector poses little risk to mountain caribou.
  2. The mineral exploration sector has actively engaged government and non-government organizations on this issue over the past three years.
  3. The GAR order is a blunt instrument that is been used to deal with a specific challenge instead of using the Ministry’s own adaptive management principles. Essentially, lines on a map, that in some case enclose advanced projects in the environmental assessment process and even producing mines, do not reduce threats or save a species – only informed and responsible people can.
  4. New regulations, created with little science, come with considerable and needlessly onerous hurdles and much stricter requirements for mineral exploration companies to operate.
  5. The restrictions on mineral exploration will have a significant impact on responsible mineral explorers’ ability to work and develop mineral resources.
  6. Similar Wildlife Habitat Areas have also been declared for species such as grizzly, mountain goat, and heron without regard to mineral exploration activities.

Government Actions Regulation

In December 2009, the Ministry of Environment implemented Government Actions Regulation (GAR) orders for wildlife habitat areas (WHAs), ungulate winter ranges (UWRs) and associated general wildlife measures (GWMs). These orders and measures are designed to reduce the impact from timber harvest and road construction on mountain caribou and their habitat. Contrary to claims by environmental groups, rules concerning mineral exploration have not been relaxed through mountain caribou recovery initiatives. These initiatives were developed to include forestry values and now recognize mineral exploration values.

Additional Information

If you have questions specific to a Notice of Work permit application, contact your local Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources office.

Government Actions Regulations (GAR) orders, accompanying GAR rationale and boundaries are available from the following Ministry of Environment websites

Additional mapping resources can be found at

For more information about the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan, refer to the Ministry of Environment website.

Private Landowner Notification Requirements

The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (MEMPR) – gave notice that, effective June 2, 2008, amended regulations would give effect to new notice requirements (amendment to Section 19.1 of the Mineral Tenure Act) lowering the threshold for serving notice to private landowners and holders of exclusive Crown leases. AME pressed the government to provide the online tools needed to identify private landowners and to provide information to landowners about their rights and responsibilities.

This notice could lead to an expectation of consent on the part of the surface rights owners, triggering a response by the recipient to attempt to stop access.  The obvious course of action would be to appeal to the Chief Gold Commissioner and Mediation and Arbitration Board, resulting in significant capacity and funding issues. Lowering the threshold for notification creates an unnecessary burden on industry, negatively impacting the current rights of responsible freeminers.

A key impediment is also the difficulty in identifying lawful surface rights owners without extensive and costly land title searches. The provincial government prepared online tools to help miners determine the location of private land and Land Act leases and the addresses of the owners.

Additional Information

Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Landowner Notice

Uranium Exploration, Mining & Development

Uranium is one of the more common elements in the earth’s crust, and is about 40 times more common than silver and 500 times more common than gold. Currently, uranium mines are safely operating in over 20 countries around the world. Canada is the world’s largest exporter of uranium and has the most stringent regulations and safeguards on its use. Uranium and thorium have many positive and beneficial uses, principally in the energy sector and is critical in health care applications.

According to the Canada Nuclear Safety Commission uranium mine workers have the lowest injury rates in the Canadian mining industry and modern workers are no less healthy than the average Canadian citizen.

Although British Columbia has 196 known mineral occurrences of uranium and/or thorium, there has never been an operating uranium mine in the province. A moratorium on uranium exploration in British Columbia was introduced in 1980. The moratorium expired in 1987 and was not renewed.

On April 24, 2008 the Government of British Columbia established a regulation that ensured that any future claims do not include the rights to uranium.  On the same day Government declared an effective moratorium on uranium exploration, mining and development.  On March 12, 2009, the BC government issued a Cabinet order that stopped any review of proposed uranium and thorium exploration and development in the province.

Legal action has been commenced by a number of mineral claim holders seeking compensation for their loss of their ability to explore for and develop any uranium that may be within their claims.  No decision has been rendered by the Court on the issue of compensation, however a number of procedural issues have been clarified.  See BC Supreme Court for further details:  http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/10/16/2010BCSC1648.htm

AME Action

AME will continue to press for changes to the policy and for the rigorous application of due process and science to natural resource development in British Columbia. Since the government’s announcement AME has been working with decisions makers to reverse the situation and has continued to raise the issue in the media. AME has been supported in this effort by allied organizations such as the BC Chamber of Commerce and others.

AME Arguments

  1. Naturally occurring mineral resources are the common heritage of all British Columbians. Knowing more about what those resources are allows us to make informed choices regarding which resources to use and when.
  2. Uranium is safely explored for, mined and used around the world. Uranium mines are safely operating in over 20 countries around the world. In fact, Canada is the world’s largest exporter of uranium and has the most stringent regulations and safeguards on its use.
  3. To place a moratorium on a specific mineral resource or commodity is just an indirect way of stopping mining. Moratoriums denigrate the validity of a proper environmental assessment process.
  4. BC has extremely stringent EA processes (12,000 plus claims and only 20 major mines and none in the past 10 years). To deny miners the right to this process invites a legal system ruled by fear not science.
  5. Exploration does not always mean development. In B.C., there are over 16,000 claims, almost 1000 active mineral exploration sites versus approximately 17 active metal or coal mines.
  6. No major mining operation takes place in the world today without community support. Plus mine permitting currently takes seven or so years. To assume exploration means a result that harms the community fails to take into account the scientific methodologies that normally inform public policy, and unnecessarily instills fear among the public.
  7. Metals and minerals do not occur in isolation. A moratorium on uranium could effectively prevent other types of mining.
  8. According to the Canada Nuclear Safety Commission uranium mine workers have the lowest injury rates in the Canadian mining industry and modern workers are no less healthy than the average Canadian citizen.

Guiding Principles

The Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AME) recognizes that uranium and thorium are important and valuable natural resources and exploring and mining those resources are legitimate and safe activities occurring in Canada and around the world today, and into the future. AME members are encouraged to responsibly promote standards of excellence in uranium and thorium exploration, development and mining, including closure and reclamation.

In conducting their activities, AME members should strive to:

  1. Communicate these guiding principles about uranium & thorium exploration to our members, communities of interest, aboriginal peoples, relevant regulatory agencies and international stakeholders.
  2. Recognize and respect that public perceptions of uranium & thorium exploration in many jurisdictions may differ from their own, and they understand the risk and responsibility of exploring for uranium & thorium in such areas.
  3. Support government, local and aboriginal communities’ scientific understanding, research and public education of naturally occurring uranium & thorium, the geology of such deposits, the potential opportunities, risks and technical mitigation strategies.
  4. Develop partnerships and maintain relationships with communities, industry and scientific bodies, agencies and academia that have expertise and experience in the field of uranium & thorium exploration and mining.
  5. Support public and industry education efforts that seek to explain the differences between naturally-occurring incidental radioactive mineral occurrences, exploration targets and mineable deposits of uranium & thorium and their many positive and beneficial uses, principally in the energy sector and in critical health care applications.
  6. In compliance with applicable laws, undertake uranium & thorium exploration activities in a transparent and safe manner using sustainable development principles based on balancing economic, social and environmental considerations.
  7. Efficiently manage uranium & thorium exploration and mining activities to optimize benefits and mitigate impacts by implementing scientifically-proven and economically-feasible technologies.
  8. Continuously seek opportunities to improve the scientific understanding and education of uranium & thorium exploration and mining to help ensure due process, consultation with industry and a fair hearing of the benefits and costs, the realities and the risks.

Additional Resources

Uranium exploration and mining in Canada is overseen by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Cameco and AREVA, the two uranium producers in Canada, have information for the public on their websites.