Waterways around Teck’s Fording River operations are affected by mining activity, with mining contributing to the decline of Westslope Cutthroat Trout between 2017-2019. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Waterways around Teck’s Fording River operations are affected by mining activity, with mining contributing to the decline of Westslope Cutthroat Trout between 2017-2019. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Report doesn’t let Teck off the hook: Wildsight

A report on the decline of Westslope Cutthroat Trout in the upper Fording River didn’t address selenium enough according to Wildsight

Wildsight say that Teck’s recently-released ‘Evaluation of Cause’ report on the dramatic decline of Westslope Cutthroat Trout (WCT) in the upper Fording River in 2019 doesn’t let them off the hook.

“I think they did a very good job of deflecting some of the potential causes to the climate events and extreme weather events that they said were occurring in the watershed at the time of this collapse,” said Wildsight mining lead, Wyatt Petryshen.

The report, released by Teck in December last year takes a look at why the WCT endured a dramatic decline in 2019, and reported that harsh winter conditions and low water flow which were exacerbated by mining activity had a dramatic effect on the local population. Water quality was also conceded to be a contributor, but Petryshen said that the impact of selenium was underplayed.

“Where they mention that some of the potential stressors might be water quality (which includes selenium levels) they do a really good job of underplaying those potential affects, and trying to minimise and hide them.”

Petryshen said that taken in context with reports done in previous years on other watersheds in the region,, along with a 2014 report into selenium and impact on fish populations, the latest report from Teck seemed to go to length to downplay selenium as a stressor, said Petryshen.

An Environment Canada report from 2014 reported a ‘deleterious impact’ on the local WCT fish in the upper Fording.

“The extreme weather events were likely a catalyst for this population collapse, but if we go back to that (Environment Canada 2014) report, the long-term cumulative effects from these really high selenium concentrations in the water is likely an underlying cause that could have lead to this collapse, which Teck doesn’t really try to address.”

The risk of population collapse due to stressors was highlighted in the 2014 report, which Petryshen said was what happened in 2019.

The 2021 ‘Evaluation of Cause’ report made a few recommendations for avoiding future population collapses, such as the development of a watershed-scale hydrological model to better understand how changes affected watercourses and fish habitat, and for the company to develop a WCT recovery plan.

Petryshen said that given Teck likely already had a watershed-scale hydrological model, if they created a new one they needed to make it publicly available.

“If they go forward and develop new ones, unless the public has access to these … to test them and make recommendations, I don’t think (Teck) will do a really good job of dealing with some of the issues these trout are facing.”

The population recovery plan should be relatively easy for the company to tackle through water flow and habitat restoration, but it would still leave selenium as a problem, said Petryshen.

Lastly, the WCT population has been reported as on the rebound to 796 (from 168 in 2019) but was yet to recover to pre-collapse levels in 2017, when Wildsight reported there were around 3,672.

“The issue is when we keep reducing this population to low numbers, we’re reducing the genetic diversity … which reduces the ability for these future generations to respond to environmental change,” said Petryshen.

he said that with those low numbers, the population – which is already isolated – would be less resilient.

“We’ll eventually reach a point where this population will no longer be able to bounce back”

The report from Teck is available on their website.

READ MORE: Report blames winter conditions for Westslope Cutthroat Trout decline in Upper Fording River



scott.tibballs@thefreepress.ca
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