The northernmost stretches of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta face the serious threat of destructive coal mining. The wild and powerful Rockies define Alberta’s western border and contribute heavily to the Canadian province’s identity. The eastern slope is home to robust populations of wildlife and comprises Alberta’s most popular recreation areas. “A world class resource like we have here draws people from all over the globe,” said Josh Nugent, owner and guide at Out Fly Fishing. “I’ve had the pleasure and honor of guiding people from close to 50 different countries who came to Alberta to experience our pristine and protected Rocky Mountain fisheries.” A recent move to initiate large scale mountaintop coal mining threatens everything these mountains provide. Out Fly Fishing put together a list of all the ways concerned individuals can oppose the mines: Help Save the Eastern Slopes.

The eastern slope is Alberta’s most popular recreation area, and it has remained wild, beautiful, and ecologically diverse for years. These ranges provide essential habitat for grizzly bears, caribou, mule deer, big horn sheep, and many other prolific mountain species. In addition, the streams and rivers that grow from the massive drainages offer world class westslope cutthroat and bull trout fishing. This ecosystem, as well as the miles of trails and breathtaking views, produce a significant economic impact for fly shops and guides, hunting outfitters, towns, and ranchers. The people of Alberta are passionate about their mountains, and they have protected these peaks for nearly 50 years.

In 1969, the prospect of coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies grew. Concerned, the men and women who work and recreate on these mountains made their voices heard; so much so  that the government took notice and developed the 1976 Coal Policy, which essentially prohibited any surface coal mining on Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.

Unfortunately, the government withdrew that policy this past June under the haze of COVID. Moving at breakneck speed, open-pit, mountaintop removal coal mining is imminent for Alberta’s Rockies. The proposed Grassy Mountain Project nears a permit decision. The mine would span nearly 7,000 acres and quite literally blow up mountains to extract coal that would then be shipped overseas. The biggest concern with this mine–and the general practice of open-pit mining–is the threat to the water resources. All of the nearby streams and rivers are fed by these mountains. The massive disruption and amount of pollution from large open-pit mines would poison the water and have grave consequences for the wildlife, notably the threatened westslope cutthroat and giant bull trout.

Stud Alberta Bull Trout, courtesy of Aaron Hitchins

Look no further than over the mountains in British Columbia, where open-pit coal mines are currently in operation, and are having profound negative impacts to the native species. “The adult population of genetically unique westslope cutthroat trout in a river in B.C.’s Kootenay region dropped by 93 percent this past fall compared with 2017 levels, according to a monitoring report from Teck Resources,” which operates a string of mines in southeast BC. That is the fate for Alberta’s prized trout and gin clear streams, unless mine opponents can band together to block the mine.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have made a living the last 20 years in the outdoor industry, so it is with great obligation and passion I ask and urge people to stand up and make their voices heard on the Grassy Mountain Coal Mines,” said Josh Nugent, owner of Out Fly Fishing. “The Teck Mines in British Columbia have already resulted in a 93% crash in trout populations downstream of the Elk Valley Coal Mines. They have shown no ability to control for the selenium poisoning that we’ve seen in BC as a direct result of these open-pit coal mines.”
“Allowing an open-pit coal mine at the headwaters of the Oldman Drainage could effectively be a death sentence for these drainages and fisheries for all future generations.  We need to continue to protect this resource if we want tourists from around the planet to want to continue coming to visit Alberta’s world class fisheries.”

Opponents of the Mine are pushing several petitions–which are listed all in one location HERE–but they’re running out of time. Tomorrow, January 15th, is the last day to submit comments. In under 10 minutes you can visit and sign all of these petitions and letter writing campaigns. Step up and protect Alberta’s Rocky Mountains! “This is our Pebble Mine, and we may be new at this, but this region is too breathtaking to permanently destroy,” concluded Nugent.

Faces of Fly Fishing: Aaron Hitchins

The Bulls of BC

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