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Issues & Policy

Land Use

Effective Reclamation and Productive Post-Closure Landscapes

Before any ground is disturbed, mining companies must ensure that adequate funds are available to complete reclamation and remediation of exploration and mining sites. In Nevada this process takes the form of bonds and sureties held by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, the Division of Minerals, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service. This provides assurance to the public that, should a company be unable to fulfill the activities required for reclamation and closure of a mine, funds are available to regulatory agencies to complete these tasks. Bond amounts are determined through development of comprehensive reclamation plans that detail the engineering, construction and environmental costs required to physically and chemically stabilize, reclaim, and restore areas disturbed by mining. Reclamation plans and cost estimates are prepared following detailed state and federal regulatory guidelines and must be approved by these agencies prior to project approval.

Partnerships for Environmental Protection, Conservation, and Enhancement

Developing and implementing an effective strategy to address an environmental concern sometimes requires collaboration with other stakeholders, such as government agencies and community organizations. Partnerships allow us to benefit from the skills and resources our partners possess, and ensure the participation of all parties necessary to achieve success. We discuss several additional examples of partnerships between the industry and stakeholders on environmental protection and enhancement initiatives in the following sections.

Industry Initiatives

NVMA’s environmental affairs committee helps our members keep abreast of new developments in state and federal environmental regulations, and provides a channel for members to provide input on these developments to the appropriate authorities. Recent activities for the environmental committee have included:

  • Providing information to the U.S. EPA concerning the development of national regulations on mercury emissions for the mining industry at the agency’s request.
  • Developing a better reference for soil testing in the event of a cyanide spill.
  • Standardizing the process for calculating remediation bonds to allow for comparison and verification by the state.
  • Meeting with the Western Governors’ Committee to discuss the implications of likely addition of the sage grouse to the Endangered Species List.
  • Discussing potential consequences for the industry of the recent U.S. EPA decision to regulate greenhouse gases with the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection to keep members informed of expectations for management and reduction.

Wildlife Protection and Conservation

Operating a mine responsibly requires dedication and careful thought about how mining activities will impact local residents – both human and non-human alike. Mining companies apply many measures to conserve and protect wildlife and wildlife habitat from physical or chemical harm resulting from their operations, and many times also take specific steps to mitigate unavoidable impacts and even enhance habitat near the mine to offset impacts occurring within the mine area itself.

Wildlife conservation begins with understanding both the local populations and habitat, and modern mines make a strong effort in completing studies prior to and while expanding operations. Many of today’s mines are built on or around historic mine operations, where older mine features such as adits and shafts often provide habitat for bats. These features, however, also may threaten the safety of other wildlife and general public. A common mitigation measure enacted by mines secures them while preserving their value to bat populations, utilizing features such as bat gates to prevent access by humans and large animals, while still allowing bats to continue to benefit from the shelter they provide.

Chemicals used in mining are carefully managed to help avoid adverse effects on wildlife. For example, cyanide solution from leach pads is collected in lined ponds that are either netted or employ floating, high-density polyethylene “bird balls” to keep birds out. High fences are also built around these ponds to keep larger animals from accessing them. Companies minimize ponding on the surface of leach pads through regular inspections and rotation of lines, use of low-drip tubes and emitters, and when possible, solution is conveyed in closed pipelines rather than open flow, lined ditches. All of these measures serve to keep wildlife from coming into contact with chemicals used to process ore.

Often, protection and mitigation measures can have a positive impact on wildlife habitat, such as improving freshwater resources to draw animals away from the processed water used in operations. Enhancements include: diverting a portion of unused water to a new location, or working with partners on neighboring ranch and public lands to improve spring site flows or access. At Ruby Hill mine, water and native species planted ruing concurrent reclamation were attracting deer to the site, To reach these reclaimed areas, deer would cross one of the mine’s main haul roads so the company developed a new watering location on another side of the mine to help minimize the risks to both deer and the mine’s truck operators.

Collaboration with local landowners and regulatory agencies continues during site closure. As land is reclaimed, careful consideration is given to the seed mixes used to re-vegetate the site. Within a single site, this can involve careful planning to match plant species with such things as elevation, aspect, precipitation range, and use of different land features that mimic local topography. Ongoing monitoring provides important information about which species and techniques are most successful.

Any natural resource extraction by definition impacts the environment. However, it is the manner in which these activities are carried out that is crucial in minimizing adverse effects. Mitigation and conservation measures being employed at mines serve as an example of how wildlife can co-exist, and often even flourish in and around mine sites.

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