British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium

Issues in determining mine reclamation release criteria for British Columbia Horton, P. R.; Freberg, Mark 2002

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Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  ISSUES IN DETERMINING MINE RECLAMATION RELEASE CRITERIA FOR BRITISH COLUMBIA P .R. Horton1 and M.R. Freberg2 1  B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines Mining Division, 200 - 2985 Airport Road, Kamloops, British Columbia, V2B 7W8 2  Highland Valley Copper Environmental Services, P.O. Box 1500, Logan Lake, British Columbia, V0K l W0  ABSTRACT Collaborative discussions were initiated in 2001 through an 'ad hoc' British Columbia (BC) government/industry working committee to establish mine reclamation release criteria for determining revegetation success for BC mines. Several reclamation release criteria issues were determined to be preor co-requisites to determination of revegetation success. These included recognition of the complexity of this goal, given the environmental diversity of BC mine sites and their range of end land use designations and land productivities. A key issue needing resolution was whether ecological end points and/or ecological processes can be used for criteria in determining mine land revegetation success. Given the environmental complexity, a 'tool box' of different mine reclamation release criteria requires development that is consistent with regulatory requirements, and ecological science.  INTRODUCTION This paper is a snapshot of a work in progress. The work is the seeking to collaboratively establish criteria that the mining industry, the provincial government and other public groups might use as a common basis for determining when a British Columbia (BC) mine site has been successfully reclaimed consistent with the Standards outlined in the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia (HSRC) (Ministry of Employment and Investment, 1977). This paper is also written to encourage further discussion on reclamation release criteria in the larger Community of people involved with mine land reclamation in BC. This Community includes the mining industry, consultants, regulators and other interested groups. Objective reclamation release criteria are important for everyone to assist in the decision on when a piece of disturbed mine land has been successfully reclaimed to Standards consistent with the HSRC and the associated environmental sciences.  106  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  The environmental context of each mine includes its geology, climate, water, landscape, biology, and the social and economic resources of its location. The characteristics of these resources together form the environmental bookends that help mark post-mining reclamation success, including the shaping of reclamation release criteria for a particular site, in relation to its pre-mining environmental conditions. Determining reclamation release criteria, or completion criteria, for BC mines is a challenge given the environmental diversity of the province. Each mine has a unique environmental location. These locations range from marine estuaries to alpine tundra, from temperate rainforests to dry grasslands, and from being integral parts of communities to remote fly-in locations. Each property also has a unique geological signature that may significantly influence how closure and reclamation are completed.  RECLAMATION RELEASE CRITERIA COMMITTEE The authors are relatively new to the discipline of mine land reclamation. Each discovered there was an important need for established criteria to aid in determining what constituted successful mine land reclamation. Through discussions with colleagues, they learned how the discipline of mine land reclamation has been developing in BC over the past four decades. This historic evolvement, in addition to the landscape complexity and diversity of BC, has made establishment of reclamation release criteria a difficult task. This task has also been made more challenging with all the other concurrently evolving scientific, technologic, societal, industrial, regulatory and cultural trends in the province. While a few BC mines have been given reclamation release, the majority of BC mines have not been granted reclamation release from their Mines Act permits. Several BC mine properties have advanced closure and reclamation programs and are seeking an understanding of the technical criteria by which the decisions around the success of their individual reclamation programs will be made. Mining companies would like recognition for revegetation success, with removal of these requirements, as appropriate, from their reclamation permits. Criteria for this process have not been well established. Out of different discussions the authors volunteered to co-chair an 'ad hoc' collaborative government/industry committee. The Reclamation Release Criteria Committee (RRCC) was established 107  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  in 2001, with two representatives from the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), one from the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, and representatives of the Environmental Committee of the Mining Association of British Columbia. To meet its goals, the RRCC recognized from the outset that some of the best expertise for the task resided with consultants experienced in BC mine reclamation and with other industry and MEM reclamation staff. While the inclusion of all individuals in discussions was wanted, a mechanism that would enable particpation with an equitable expense structure was not possible. It was therefore suggested that the committee's work might lead to a workshop, or Workshops, that would enable input from all interested parties regarding reclamation release criteria for revegetation on mine sites. The authors wish to thank each member of the RRCC and each of the consultants and reclamation staff whose discussions have guided their thinking to this point. For any of the good ideas presented here, the credit is shared with all. However, for any of the errors made, the authors take full responsibility. The ideas presented in this paper are intended for discussion purposes. Some of the ideas and concepts may not represent the official views of either of the authors1 employers.  ISSUE # l - SIMPLE GOAL - COMPLEX RESOLUTION Establishing a suite of objective, and scientifically defendable, technical criteria for determining the successful and sustainable revegetation of reclaimed BC mine sites was the initial goal of the RRCC. Initial discussions quickly demonstrated that the establishment of criteria for evaluating sustainable revegetation of disturbed mine lands could not be isolated from the other pre- and co-requisite components necessary for successful mine closure and reclamation. The complete life cycle of a mine, from pre-planning concepts, through planning, development, operations, closure, and final reclamation consistent with end land use designation(s), are all background Steps for determining whether the right type of Vegetation can be sustainably established. Sustainable revegetation is analogous to the 'icing on the cake' and is either dependent, or inter-dependent, with other requisites from various mining stages, considered to be the ‘body of the cake'. Important Steps and ingredients include the land form features, elevation, climate, end land use designation(s), and the 108  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  engineered structures1 stability, slopes and surface features, Stockpiling of soils, and the agronomic characteristics of mine materials and stockpiled soils suitable for later use as growth medium. Successful and sustainable revegetation could be interdependent on one or more of these factors. Associated with these revegetation factors are other related reclamation and environmental components including the rehabilitation of watercourses and water quality.  ISSUE # 2 - IMPORTANCE OF BASELINE INFORMATION  RRCC discussions underscored the importance of pre-mining baseline environmental information. This is consistent with the findings of Osborne and Brearley (2000) and Oram (2001). Baseline information is integral for evaluating final end land use designations, the selection of revegetation species, and the success of revegetation establishment for a given end land use. Much of the baseline information required by the HSRC is illustrated in Table l. This information is vital for determining proper reclamation release criteria for a mine site including the criteria for determining appropriate revegetation, the success of Vegetation establishment, and Vegetation sustainability. Establishment of appropriate reclamation release criteria for mine sites where baseline information does not exist is much more challenging. Analogous information from adjoining areas may need to be extrapolated. For those lands where mining is a temporary use of the land, and the intent is to reclaim the land to its pre-mining land use, this baseline information is of immeasurable value.  ISSUE # 3 - CENTRALITY OF END LAND USE DESIGNATIONS  Revegetation success cannot be evaluated without clarity of end land use designations for various areas of a mine site. Assignment of an appropriate end land use needs to be made on the basis of the suitability of the land. Where a final end land use for a reclaimed mine site area is different than the pre-mining land use, this becomes an important factor in determining what reclamation release criteria are selected for evaluating revegetation. This is further discussed below.  109  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  Table l - BC Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia (1997), Part. 10 - Reclamation and Closure, Information requirements for mine life cycle phases relevant to mine reclamation release criteria.  110  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  ISSUE # 4 - CLARIFICATION OF THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN LAND CAPABILITY, LAND SUITABILITY, END LAND USE DESIGNATION AND LAND PRODUCTIVITY  Land productivity is an important parameter in determining reclamation success (Table 1). Clarification of the relationships between land capability, land suitability and designated end land use becomes important in the determination of reclaimed mine land productivity and the setting of appropriate reclamation release criteria for that reclaimed mine land. The broad definition of land includes the soil, topography, climate and existing Vegetation for a given area (Bureau of Resource Sciences et al., 1998). Land capability describes the biological and physical capacities of that land in relationship to its potential for different land uses such as agriculture, grazing, forestry, wildlife, etc. Land suitability incorporates social and economic factors into the choices regarding potential uses of a land, given its biophysical capabilities. For example, only one of two similar parcels of forested land with similar land capability characteristics may be suitable for domestic grazing use because of distance to livestock markets. Therefore, if these two parcels of land were each to be developed as a mine site, the land suitability factor becomes important in determining whether the end land use might be forestry in one case, and either forestry and/or domestic grazing in the second case. This land use distinction becomes critical in the setting of pre- and post-mining land productivity, in terms of how land productivity values are determined for the two distinct end land uses. In both cases, provided appropriate pre-mining baseline data was available, the determination of pre- and post-mining forest site productivity for setting of reclamation release criteria could be straightforward. However, in the second case, if the end land use designation becomes domestic grazing instead of forestry, then a mechanism for determining appropriate reclamation release criteria for the productivity of a land use that did not exist prior to mining will have to be determined which is more problematic.  111  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  ISSUE # 5 - ATTRIBUTES OF RECLAMATION RELEASE CRITERIA  Important attributes of mine reclamation release criteria are presented in Table 2. Government agencies, industry and public groups may view the relative importance of attributes differently. The authors* perception of how various attributes may be viewed by the three groups is also indicated.  ISSUE # 6 - ECOLOGICAL END POINTS, ECOLOGICAL PROCESSES AND RECLAMATION RELEASE CRITERIA FOR DETERMINING MINE SITE RECLAMATION COMPLETION  In classic successional ecology, an ecological end point is reached, when, after starting from a parent material, a series of progressively complex plant communities sequentially replace each other, until a 'climax Community' of plants is reached that is limited by the physical constraints (e.g. climate, geology) of the ecological site. This progressive change in plant communities over time is primary succession. Soil development occurs in tandem with plant Community successions. The climax plant Community can be considered the ecological end point for that ecological site. If a disturbance, like fire, happens to a climax Community, the Vegetation may revert to a lower plant Community, or seral stage, before eventually returning again, over time, to the original climax Community of plants. The plant community's return to a higher seral stage is secondary succession. Secondary succession primarily occurs in the plant communities with more limited changes in the associated soils. Should a disturbance occur, like a mountain slide over a valley grassland, a major site specific ecological change has happened. Ecological succession would start again. This type of disturbance, however, would include the rebuilding of soils. This succession is primary succession, all over again. It almost always involves significant soil rebuilding and is therefore, generally, slower than secondary succession. These natural disturbance examples illustrate some of the differences in the ecological disturbances that occur with various natural resource industry operations, such as forestry cut block harvesting and mine waste dump construction.  112  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  Table 2 - Attributes important to mine reclamation release criteria and their relative value for government, industry and public groups as perceived by the authors.  113  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  These examples may risk oversimplification, however, they do allow two vital questions to be asked regarding the relationship between ecological processes associated with mine land reclamation and the amount of time for determination of revegetation completion for any given area of a mine site. These questions are: 1. Should the reclamation release criteria for revegetation of a mine site be based on the demonstration that reclamation progression has reached, or will reach, the ecological end point for the designated end land use? (e.g. criteria similar to forestry 'free to grow Standards1.) 2. Could the reclamation release criteria for revegetation for certain areas of a mine be based on the demonstration that the ecological processes of soil development and plant succession have been sustainably established, and reasonable confidence exists that sustainable revegetation for the designated end land use will be reached through subsequent ecological succession over a longer period of time? The selection of appropriate mine site reclamation release criteria will depend on how these questions are answered for a given area of a mine site. The answers will help determine what reclamation release criteria might be used for soil reestablishment and revegetation according to the designated end land use. For mines that possess different and concurrent end land uses for various areas of the site, it is possible that both questions could be answered affirmatively. Under this scenario, different release criteria would need to be developed for each area depending on whether an area was being reclaimed for an ecological end point or an ecological process.  ISSUE # 7 - QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE CRITERIA The above discussions highlight the need to establish which mine reclamation release criteria are truly essential and which might be part of a 'tool box* of additional criteria which could be selected from depending on a specific mine site's specific reclamation characteristics, objectives, designated end land use and revegetation requirements. Regardless of which reclamation release criteria are chosen, a determination on whether the criteria are qualitative, quantitative or both, is needed. 114  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  For example, if soil development over time is a co-requisite for maintaining sustainable Vegetation on a tailings facility or waste rock dump, what criterion could be selected to demonstrate success? One possibility is the level of soil organic matter. Would a suitable criterion be that soil organic matter levels quantitatively match the pre-mining level presuming the same pre- and post end land use for the site? Could an increasing trend in organic matter levels over time be a valid qualitative criterion? If organic matter levels were less than existed prior to mining, could an increasing trend over time, combined with a minimum threshold be a suitable criterion? Resolution of these types of questions is required to successfully establish reclamation release criteria.  SITE SPECIFIC CRITERIA FROM A RECLAMATION RELEASE CRITERIA TOOLBOX  The authors initially tried to establish a minimum set of criteria for determining reclamation release for BC mine sites. However, they have concluded that the best approach is to develop site-specific reclamation release criteria that take into account the unique characteristics, environment, reclamation objectives and end land use designation(s) of a given mine. To aid in the development of site-specific reclamation release criteria, a 'toolbox' of various 'criteria tools' needs to be developed that would cover the large diversity of environments at BC mine sites. The reclamation release criteria must be congruent with regulatory requirements and ecological science. Some examples of different classes and types of 'criteria tools1 that may be appropriate for inclusion in a 'toolbox' for determining reclamation release for BC mines are presented in Table 3. While it is recognized that one of the strengths of the BC mine regulatory System is its flexibility (Smyth and Dearden, 1998), it is very important to develop mine-specific release criteria for revegetation success that are objective and scientifically defendable and that can be agreed upon by industry, government and public groups. Suggestions, feedback on next Steps, and examples of reclamation release criteria developed in other jurisdictions are welcome.  115  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  REFERENCES British Columbia Ministry of Employment and Investment. 1997. Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia. Government of British Columbia, Victoria, British Columbia. Bureau of Resource Sciences, Sate Forest New South Wales and Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. 1998. Identification of Plantation Expansion Opportunities in New South Wales - Eden CRA Region. Government of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Oram, P. 2001. Evaluating baseline studies. In: The Northern Miner, May 7-13, 2001, p. 4. Osborne, J.M. and D.R. Brearley. 2000. Completion criteria - case studies considering bond relinquishment and mine decommissioning: Western Australia. International Journal of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Environment 14, 193-204. Smyth, C.R. and P. Dearden. 1998. Performance Standards and monitoring requirements of surface coal mine reclamation success in mountainous jurisdiction of western North America: a review. Journal of Environmental Management 14,1-21.  117  


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