British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium

Teck's recent experience in pursuing Net Positive Impact (NPI) for biodiversity at coal mines in BC and… Franklin, C. W.; Hilts, S. R.; Gullison, R. E. 2018

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 TECK’S RECENT EXPERIENCE IN PURSUING NET POSITIVE IMPACT (NPI) FOR BIODIVERSITY AT COAL MINES IN BC AND ALBERTA   C.W. Franklin, MSc.1 S.R. Hilts, MSc.2 R.E. Gullison, PhD.3   Acting Manager, Environmental Operations Teck Coal Limited Sparwood, British Columbia  2Director Environmental Legacies, Teck Resources Limited Vancouver, British Columbia  3Biodiversity and Ecosystems Specialist, Natural Capital Consulting Inc. Nanaimo, British Columbia   ABSTRACT In 2011, Teck Coal Limited (Teck) adopted an aspirational, long-term (2030) goal to achieve a Net Positive Impact (NPI) on biodiversity. This paper provides an overview of conceptual and technical advances as they relate to our NPI strategy and targets. Key learnings include: (i) The scope of our biodiversity commitment has proven possible to operationalize and has been generally supported by our communities of interest and First Nations (ii) Through the use of historical aerial photos and data, digital imagery, and predictive ecosystem mapping, we have developed credible pre-development baselines of ecosystems and wildlife habitat suitability for our operations, even though some are many decades old (iii) In order to support a quantitative accounting of our gains and losses to ecosystems, we have developed a measurement framework for assessing the condition or quality of ecosystems based on the BC provincial Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification (BEC) and database of benchmark data. We still face some challenges, including the lack of a landscape conservation plan for the Elk Valley region and knowledge of specific reclamation techniques that will allow us to restore the full range of ecosystems that existed at our operations prior to disturbance.   KEYWORDS Biodiversity management, biodiversity mitigation hierarchy, biodiversity offset, habitat, reclamation    INTRODUCTION  Since Teck was founded in 1913, we have committed to practices that strengthen the sustainability of our business. In 2010, we formalized a Sustainability Strategy to address the greatest sustainability risks and opportunities facing our business in six focus areas, Community, Water, Our People, Biodiversity, Energy and Climate Change and Air. As part of our Sustainability Strategy (Teck Resources Limited, 2015) and under the Biodiversity Key Focus Area (see Figure 1) in 2011, we adopted the aspirational vision of having a Net Positive Impact (NPI) on biodiversity in areas where we operate. This paper describes our recent experience concerning the development and implementation of our NPI vision.  Our 2020 short-term goals for biodiversity include:  • Implement biodiversity management plans at each of our operations. • Integrate the consideration of biodiversity into the exploration, construction, operation and closure stages of the mining life cycle. • Enhance our contributions to biodiversity conservation knowledge through collaboration in research, education and conservation.  We also adopted a long-term (2030) goal of achieving NPI on biodiversity in areas where we operate through environmental management, reclamation and conservation.  Figure 1 Teck Resources Limited “Our Sustainability Focus Areas” highlighting the six key focus areas that make up the focus of the strategy.  We use the term biodiversity to refer to the diversity of all living things, from genetic diversity, to species diversity, to the diversity of ecosystems across the landscape. Biodiversity is a focal issue for all Teck operations, although the precise biodiversity elements evaluated and ultimately managed vary from operation to operation. Our operations aim to achieve NPI by maintaining or re-establishing self-sustaining landscapes and ecosystems that lead to an agreed set of viable, appropriate and diverse long-term land uses in the areas where we operate. The ‘net’ in NPI acknowledges that some biodiversity losses at the operations are inevitable, but through careful mitigation, including implementing conservation actions outside of the footprints of our operations, we can aspire to have an overall positive impact on biodiversity at larger spatial scales.   BACKGROUND  There is no universally accepted definition of NPI as it depends on what biodiversity values and human preferences are identified and how they are accounted for (Aiama, et al., 2015). Our corporate and operations staff worked together to carefully define the scope and details of our biodiversity commitment so that the NPI vision is transparent to communities of interest and defines clear targets that drive biodiversity management actions at the operations.  Where appropriate we have adopted existing definitions and best practices. For instance, we use The Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) definition of offsets as “measurable conservation outcomes of actions designed to compensate for significant residual adverse biodiversity impacts arising from project development after appropriate prevention and mitigation measures have been taken” (Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme, 2017). Our adherence to the biodiversity mitigation hierarchy is consistent with The International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standard 6 which requires that offsets “persist” and that they are only applied after appropriate avoidance, minimizations and restoration measures have been taken (International Finance Corporation, 2012).  Our NPI strategy is consistent with the 2014 British Columbia Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (BCENV) Environmental Mitigation Policy for British Columbia (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, 2014).  This alignment helped us gain early acceptance from regulators, communities of interest and First Nations. Our NPI strategy is also fully in line with the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining Biodiversity Conservation Management Protocol (Mining Association of Canada, 2015). Many of our operations at Teck are scoring at a AAA level (the highest level) in regards to this protocol.  WHAT WE LEARNED AS WE DEVELOPED OUR BIODIVERSITY PROGRAM  We have been developing and implementing our NPI vision since 2011. During this time, we have learned much and have truly embraced an adaptive and iterative approach to the process. We have learned through direct experience of implementing NPI and through extensive collaboration and engagement with our communities of interest and First Nations. The following are some of the key lessons that we have learned.  Scope of the Commitment  We defined the scope of our NPI aspiration to apply to (i) all ecosystems (ii) critical landscape functions (e.g. movement corridors for large mammals), and (iii) priority threatened and/or vulnerable occurrences of plants and animals, places and ecosystem services. It was particularly important to include ecosystem services (the benefits that humans receive from nature) as many are highly valued by our communities of interest and First Nations.  We have found that our combination of using a coarse filter (ecosystems) to account for the majority of species and ecosystems relevant to our operations, as well as a fine filter (priority species, places and ecosystem services) does a good job of representing most of the biodiversity values at our sites. The alternative – trying to account for or manage individually all species, landscape functions etc – is unwieldy and impractical. By using criteria such as the degree of threat facing a species, or whether an ecosystem provides a particularly valuable service to humans in the region, we are able to hone in on a manageable number of ecosystem and biodiversity elements and direct our efforts to where they provide the most benefit. We have used this approach in a transparent manner, through engagement and collaboration sessions with regulators, communities of interest and First Nations.  The Biodiversity Mitigation Hierarchy  Our operations use the biodiversity mitigation hierarchy when planning mitigation (our definition of the mitigation hierarchy is consistent with that of existing standards such as those developed by; IFC BCENV). The biodiversity mitigation hierarchy describes the sequence in which different categories of mitigation actions should be deployed to develop a mitigation plan. The four generally accepted categories of mitigation are:  1. Avoid: to the extent practicable, operations should avoid impacts to biodiversity by modifying the design of a proposed project or existing operation. Some ecosystems and biodiversity elements (EBEs) are sufficiently important and/or threatened to require a change in plans to protect critical biodiversity values. 2. Minimize: operations look to limit impacts that cannot be avoided through best available design technology and best management practices. 3. Rehabilitate: operations rehabilitate/restore/reclaim affected areas with world-class reclamation programs that attempt to recreate to the extent possible the ecosystem and biodiversity elements that existed prior to commencement of mining activities. 4. Offsets: It may not be feasible to fully rehabilitate all ecosystems and biodiversity elements that we impact. For these elements, we may design and implement biodiversity offsets to achieve NPI.  We define Other Conservation Actions as conservation actions that produce benefits that are measured in different ways than our impacts are measured (for example, investments in research, or environmental education). While they do not currently contribute directly to our NPI calculations, other conservation actions can provide important support for biodiversity management.  Figure 2 demonstrates how we align the mitigation hierarchy with the phases of our mines. Opportunities to avoid biodiversity impacts are typically more prevalent early in the mine lifecycle, while actions to minimize, rehabilitate and offset biodiversity impacts may carry through into operations and closure.  Figure 2 Stages of the mining life cycle and application of the mitigation hierarchy   We have learned several important lessons while implementing the mitigation hierarchy. First, we have learned that documenting each of the mitigation steps taken is critical in order to look back and assess the efficacy of our actions. Often the steps taken for avoiding and minimizing impacts are not captured as well as those for rehabilitation, offsetting or other conservation actions, and at a later point, it can be very difficult to reconstruct all the measures taken. It is important to record these actions not only to show that the mitigation hierarchy is being applied but also to keep a record for future operators of why certain areas were avoided or impacts minimized. Second, we have learned that while we should always consider the different categories of mitigation in the sequence that they occur in the hierarchy, scarce and valuable offset properties must sometimes be secured in a timely manner when available, even if this precedes having a full understanding of our offset needs at the time.  Pre-existing (i.e., baseline) Ecosystem Conditions  One of the first questions we asked ourselves when we started to develop our NPI strategy was, “what is the baseline against which we will measure our impacts?”. Regulatory and voluntary offset frameworks differ in this regard, with some using an arbitrary point in time, and others adopting the pre-development or pre-existing condition. As described previously (Hilts, Franklin, & Gullison, 2015), Teck decided that the only credible baseline was the pre-development condition for all of its mines. This raised a significant technical challenge though as many of our operations are very old, some with mining dating back to the turn of the previous century. Even for operations that were only three to four decades old, we discovered that environmental assessments and record keeping at those times differed from today’s standards. Despite these challenges, we have developed back-casted terrestrial ecosystem maps based on historical aerial photography, environmental assessments, ground surveys and any other work that would provide insight into ecological conditions at the appropriate time, and used these maps to develop pre-existing ecosystem conditions that can serve as a starting point for our NPI calculations. In addition to the ecosystem mapping we also developed a novel approach to delineating baseline wildlife habitat quality through habitat suitability indices based on the back-casted conditions. This work is more fully described in a paper in this symposium (see Knopff, Franklin, Luini & Vasiga 2018).  Updating End Land Use Objectives  BC government regulations require mine operations to designate End Land Use (ELU) objectives for the site, which then guide reclamation planning to meet the stated objectives. In the past, End Land Use objectives at Teck’s coal operations in southeastern British Columbia have been primarily defined to accommodate or to mitigate for a single species, guild or anthropogenic activity. Examples include ‘Wildlife Habitat – Ungulates’, ‘Recreation’ and ‘Limited Yield Forestry’. This meant that reclamation practitioners designed prescriptions and programs to meet a single or nominally low number order of objectives, which remained constant over time.   While the historical approach has served the industry well in some ways, we found that the process required some rethinking to better align with the pace of today’s evolving societal values and our biodiversity program. Specifically, we needed to better incorporate biodiversity conservation and landscape-level planning, progress in the legal landscape for First Nations, evolving values of communities of interest, and to fully include the Ktunaxa Nation perspective into the narrative of ELU objective planning. These considerations led us to take an ecosystem-based approach to reclamation as we attempt to re-establish natural vegetation communities on our reclaimed sites. We have worked closely with our communities of interest and First Nations to identify values that are important to rehabilitate on our reclaimed lands and on offset properties. (This work is more fully explored in a paper in this symposium (Franklin & Burton, 2018)). We have developed novel scientific processes to mix quantitative and qualitative methods for species selection for rehabilitation prescriptions. These methods ensure that we are selecting plant species that are well suited for the area, are locally relevant, occurred in the pre-existing ecosystem and are valued by our communities of interest and First Nations.  Our ecosystem approach to reclamation has led to renewed partnerships with local horticultural services and we continue to push the pace of the science to bring new species on line for our program as well as for others to utilize. Our aim is to lead the process and through credible and rigorous scientific monitoring show that this approach is a viable undertaking for other operators in our areas of influence, thus through direct and indirect means we benefit the overall region in terms of biodiversity conservation.  A Novel System to Measure Vegetation Quality  In order to support our loss-gain accounting for ecosystems, we needed to incorporate both the extent and the condition or quality of vegetation. We found no existing frameworks for measuring vegetation quality that were suitable for our purposes. Existing frameworks suffered from problems such as being non-statistical, being susceptible to bias from different field workers, not recognizing the variability inherent in natural ecosystems, or not being sensitive enough to catch the subtle differences between ecosystem types.   Accordingly, we developed a framework called the Vegetation Quality Assessment (VQA), which took components of many different programs and combined elements of them together to create a stable, transparent and robust platform for measuring the quality of vegetation in the pre- and post-mining scenario. We measure vegetation quality by comparing the statistical distribution of key indicators from our sites of interest against the statistical distribution of the same indicators from reference (undisturbed) plots from the provincial Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification (BEC). The types of indicators that we use include species richness, taxonomic similarity, extent of exotic invasive species, and percent cover at different heights. The completion of the VQA framework turned out to be a much bigger challenge than we originally anticipated. Simply standardizing our own historical plot data and that of the province’s BEC database took a huge effort due to differences in the way that field biologists record information and due to changes in the BEC classification system over time. Nevertheless, the framework is complete and operational, and is presented in another session at this symposium (see Boyle, Gullison, Luini, Vasiga & Franklin, 2018). The VQA framework allows us to measure biodiversity gains through rehabilitation or offsets using the same “currency” that we use to measure our impacts to vegetation due to mine construction. This approach is transparent, defensible and is generally well supported to date by our communities of interest and First Nations.  Our Timeline for Achieving Net Positive Impact  As described in Hilts et al. (2015), Teck determined that the timeline for achieving NPI depends on the biodiversity element in question. For those biodiversity elements that can tolerate temporal losses without losing significant viability or function, Teck would seek to achieve NPI by mine closure. For species at higher risk, NPI should be achieved as soon as practicable without jeopardizing the viability or function of those elements. For example, for extremely rare and/or threatened species, a temporal lag may be a risk to the species themselves and not well tolerated by our communities of interest and First Nations. We have worked collaboratively and openly with various groups to determine the most appropriate timing for mitigation of higher risk biodiversity elements.  With time, we have come to realize that aiming to achieve NPI by mine closure for common ecosystem and biodiversity elements may be unrealistic and unnecessarily ambitious. For example, some common ecosystems and structural stages require considerable time to develop – decades or even hundreds of years (e.g., mature or old growth forests). Requiring NPI at closure for these common ecosystems may be unnecessarily ambitious and siphon resources away from actions to achieve NPI for ecosystem and biodiversity elements that are at greater risk. One of the novel approaches we are undertaking to assess if ecosystems are tracking towards NPI is to develop monitoring protocols and ecosystem trajectory targets over a longer period of time. If through robust monitoring, it is viewed that these ecosystems are on a reliable trajectory towards pre-existing ecosystem conditions there is an opportunity to adjust NPI expectations and relax the time period for achieving NPI for common ecosystems.  ISSUES IDENTIFIED AND PATH FORWARD  As we pursued our NPI aspiration, we identified the need for systematic and consistent methods of data recording, storage and robust record control for tracking mitigation actions. To address these needs, we developed two core documents for each of our operations. The first is a Biodiversity Workbook that is a complete list of ecosystems and the majority of species, landscape functions, ecosystems, and ecosystem services that occur (or are likely to occur) at an operation. The Biodiversity Workbook is the tool that enables us to amalgamate species to the ecosystem level, apply risk-based management approaches and track mitigation actions. To complement the Biodiversity Workbook each operation also has a concise written Biodiversity Management Plan that explains the overall process and steps taken to work towards NPI. Both of these documents have served as invaluable information sources for our collaboration and engagement work to date with communities of interest and First Nations.  One of the later steps taken in the planning and implementation process was to pull all of the parts and pieces of our NPI strategy into a centralized program. This became known as the Biodiversity Program and is visually represented in Figure 3 below. The Biodiversity Program is divided into aquatic and terrestrial sections, though there are noted interactions between these two main themes. Within the aquatic and terrestrial sections is a centralized plan that guides site-specific plans. For example, on the terrestrial side the Terrestrial Cumulative Effects Management Plan (TCEMP) is a centralized regional plan for Teck operations in southeastern BC. This regional plan has ties into the individual site-specific biodiversity management plans. The TCEMP ensures consistency in approach, identifies linkages between operations and looks at potential impacts that may occur offsite. Figure 3 also identifies various other programs and activities that interact with the Biodiversity Program.  Figure 3 Teck’s Biodiversity Program   Our Biodiversity Program is dynamic and constantly evolving. To this end, we review our Biodiversity Workbooks and Biodiversity Management Plans on a three-year cycle. This may be extended at a later date if we find we are entering a state of stability.  One challenge we face in the Elk Valley is the lack of a larger landscape conservation plan to guide our biodiversity risk assessments and mitigation work. Without a larger conservation plan within which we can align our own actions, we may not be fully understanding the importance of our impacts to biodiversity or maximizing the value of our biodiversity conservation efforts. It has become increasingly more important to understand the regional implications of collective actions both from an impact and mitigation perspective to truly and fully serve the best interest of biodiversity conservation in a regional or larger setting. This type of planning will become more critical as impacts from all industrial sectors and the public continue grow.  CONCLUSION  Pursuing NPI at five large open pit mines in the Elk Valley of southeastern British Columbia and one near Hinton, Alberta, has been a journey of learning based on a sound scientific approach complemented with focused meaningful engagement with communities of interest and First Nations. We have developed a robust NPI strategy that is well defined through transparent scope objectives, follows accepted mitigation policies, adopts a pre-mining baseline and uses robust quantitative tools to effectively measure biodiversity losses and gains. As we operationalized the strategy, we discovered that the timing of mitigation for biodiversity elements should be risk-based. For those biodiversity elements that are locally abundant, have proven mitigation measures and can tolerate temporal loss without significant loss to viability and function, achieving NPI may be realized through understanding that an ecosystem is on a reliable trajectory towards pre-existing conditions. For those biodiversity elements that are rare, endangered and/or do not have proven mitigation measures, we should take action and set a more near-term target for achieving NPI.  As we implement our NPI strategy, we will monitor our progress and adaptively manage our program. One of the key reasons for our success in biodiversity management at Teck continues to be the strong degree of commitment at all levels in our company, which has remained unwavering since the inception of our NPI vision and will continue to be a driving factor in the success of our biodiversity program.  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS  The authors wish to thank the following specific people for input and discussion regarding this paper, Garry Luini, Brad Boyle, Kyle Knopff, Alison Burton and Greg Sword. We also wish to thank all of the people at our Elk Valley operations in southeastern British Columbia and those in our Cardinal River Operations in Alberta. Without their dedication to improving the sustainability in mining and their openness to pursuing our biodiversity vision of NPI none of this could have happened.  REFERENCES  Aiama, D., Edwards, S., Bos, G., Ekstrom, J., Krueger, L., Quetier, F., et al. (2015). No Net Loss and Net Positive Impact Approaches for Biodiversity: exploring the potential application of these approaches in the commercial agriculture and forestry sectors. Gland: International Union for Conservation of Nature. Boyle, B. L., Gullison, R. E., Vasiga, D., Luini, G. L., & Franklin, C. W. (2017). Vegetation Quality Assessment: measuring quality of vegetation communities to support the accounting metrics of the biodiversity vision of net positive impact for a large-scale mining operation. Sparwood: Teck Coal Limited. British Columbia Ministry of Environment. (2014). Procedures for Mitigating Impacts on Environmental Values (Environmental Mitigation Procedures). Victoria: Province of British Columbia. Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme. (2017). Biodiversity Offsets. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme: Hilts, S., Franklin, W., & Gullison, T. (2015). Achieving biodiversity conservation goals in mine development, operation and closure. Vancouver: Mine Closure 2015. International Finance Corporation. (2012). Performance Standard 6. Washington: International Finance Coporation. Knopff, K., & Franklin, C. W. (2017). Biodiversity Management: establishing pre-existing baseline conditions on mature and historicial mining disturbances to derive back-casted wildlife habitat suitability model metrics for ten wildlife species. Sparwood: Teck Coal Limited. Mining Association of Canada. (2015). TSM Assessment Protocol: a tool for assessing biodiversity conservation management performance. Ottawa: Mining Association of Canada. Teck Resources Limited. (2015). Sustainability Strategy. Retrieved June 19, 2017, from Teck:   


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