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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 Montana this process takes the form of bonds, sureties, cash or other financial instruments held by the Montana Department of EnvironmentalQuality (MDEQ), the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and/or 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 and reclaim 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 and posted 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.
MMA’s Environmental 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:
- Interacting with MDEQ to effectively implement new regulations concerning the processing of mining applications.
- Standardizing the process for calculating remediation bonds.
- Interacting with the North West Mining Association on federal environmental issues.
- Ensuring uniform implementation of new air quality fees.
Wildlife Protection and Conservation
The Montana Metal Mine Reclamation Act requires mining companies to return mine impacted lands to a stable and usable landform. Mines plan for posting land uses that vary from industrial uses to agricultural uses to recreational uses. Many mines chose a reclamation strategy that returns and enhances the land for wildlife uses. For larger mines, it is very common to have multiple uses within any given mine site.
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 oftenprovide 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.
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.
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.