Responsible Mining


Modern mining reclamation and land use planning occurs before a project ever begins construction. Modern regulation ensures industry  provides a reclamation plan before a project is approved.

Reclamation planning begins with the collection of environmental data related to air, water, vegetation and wildlife to understand the ecosystem prior to the preliminary engineering of any proposed mine site. Reclamation in Alberta is regulated to ensure the temporarily disturbed lands are returned to equivalent land use.

A variety of reclamation techniques are employed to encourage diversity in the final landscape. Species with specialized requirements, such as riparian habitat or food plant requirements, are identified in the reclamation program and specific action is taken to accommodate these needs. The long term and progressive nature of mining and reclamation means not all habitat will be disturbed at once and new habitats will become available before the end of the life of the mine. Wildlife diversity is maintained by an ecosystem approach to reclamation that restores pre-mine habitat condition, replaces habitat function, and exchanges certain components for others of similar benefit.

Several examples of reclamation activities that have achieved, or are on track to achieve end land use goals in west-central Alberta are provided below. 

Reclamation of the Gregg River Mine, Alberta

“Construction of the Gregg River Mine began in 1981. Coal production occurred continuously from 1983 through to October of 2000. With the closure of the mining operation, site activities switched entirely to completing reclamation of the 1,362 hectares of land that had been distributed over the life of the mine. The Gregg River Mine was the first large scale open pit mine in Alberta closed under the current closure and reclamation legislature.

The reclamation objective for the Gregg River Mine is equivalent land capability with designated reclaimed land use objectives for wildlife habitat and watershed protection. A measure of the achievement of equivalent capability and reclamation success may be the abundant wildlife and clear flowing streams throughout the site. Large bighorn sheep, deer, elk, coyote, wolf and grizzly bear populations may be seen on many areas of the site. Recent carnivore activity is one indication of the eventual return of a healthy, balanced and sustainable ecosystem to the reclaimed Gregg River mine site.”

Reclamation of the Gregg River Mine, Canada

Brand and Etmanski 2011 [pages 219 – 226]

Grizzly Bear Research in and Around Open Pit Coal Mines in Alberta

Some 25 years ago, though the development approval process, a potential impact on grizzly bears in the proposed Cheviot Mine development became a catalyst for the regional grizzly bear study conducted by the Foothills Research Institute.

“In contrast to the predictions of the 1996 EIA that open pit coal mines in the region would create barriers to grizzly bear movement across the landscape, grizzly bears have been found to be highly adaptable to change, and reclaimed open pit coal mines in this region, with the current abundance of food resources, are in fact important habitats for resident grizzly bears. There has been no evidence from long term research in this region that open pit coal mines are having a detrimental effect on regional grizzly bear populations.

“A goal of mine reclamation in these areas should be to recognize and maintain the valuable habitat for this threatened species. In fact, reclaimed mines with access management and firearm restrictions can act as local refugia, or safe havens, for grizzly bear . Mine reclamation can play a key role in grizzly bear population survival and conservation if bear-human conflict is kept low; however, if human access restrictions are removed, the reclaimed areas could quickly turn into a population sink, and area where grizzly bears are attracted to but face unsustainable levels of mortality . Landscape and vegetation restoration and enhancement as well as careful planning regarding human access and activity are important elements of an effective reclamation plan that will recognize the ecological needs of grizzly bears.”

A Review of 23 Years of Grizzly Bear Research in and Around Open Pit Coal Mines in West Central Alberta Final Report

Stenhouse and Parsons 2020 [page 18]

Constructing Habitat for Sustainable Native Fisheries in Sphinx Lake Luscar Mine, as well as Lovett and Silkstone Lakes of the Coal Valley Mine, Alberta

As with terrestrial environments, aquatic resources are also a part of reclamation planning.

“Fisheries habitat and watershed integrity are highly valued resources in the subalpine natural subregion of west-central Alberta. Teck’s Luscar open pit coal mine has been in operation in this area since 1969, and 51-C6 pit was mined from 1992 to 1999. Accomplishing a sound development and reclamation plan to meet biodiversity objectives for 51-C6 pit included operational considerations such as surface water diversions and post-mining fisheries habitat development. The pit had to be mined and reclaimed such that the end pit and inlet/outlet streams would sustain in perpetuity the full range of habitat and watershed features needed to support native Athabasca Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus).

“The five year post-reclamation fisheries habitat and population assessment indicates a surging Rainbow Trout population, high growth rates and enhanced habitat conditions as compared with the pre-mine cold-water, lotic system. This paper covers the process from environmental assessment through construction and reclamation to closure assessment, highlighting the challenges, uncertainties, and successes of Teck’s award-winning Sphinx Lake system within the context of biological diversity.”

Constructing Habitat for A Sustainable Native Fisheries in the Sphinx Lake End Pit Lake System

Brinker et al. 2011 [pages 525 – 534]

“Lovett and Silkstone Lakes on the Coal Valley Mine have been reclaimed to a successful fisheries habitat. Rainbow Trout have been stocked at these lakes since 1995. A system of trails is maintained for the public to access the lakes providing recreational opportunity for fishers and hikers. Coal Valley Mine received a major award from The Alberta Chamber of Resources for this work.”

Achieving End Land Use Goals in Reclamation, Alberta: Focus on Coal-mining in the Eastern Slopes Region

MacCallum [page 14]

Luscar and Gregg River Reclaimed Mines as a Source Herd of Healthy Bighorn Sheep

Since 1985, 450 bighorn sheep have been exported from the Luscar and Gregg River reclaimed mines to several locations in the US and Alberta. Of these sheep, 346 have gone to seven US states (Wild Sheep Working Group 2015) to help recover populations lost or diminshed by settlement beginning in the 1880’s and exposure to diseases carried by domestic sheep. The reclaimed mines were selected as a source herd for translocation programs due to the healthy and growing populations of bighorn sheep that were colonizing the newly available habitat. A health profile for these bighorns was provided to State biologists to accompany the exported bighorn sheep (MacCallum 2006). Bighorn sheep exported from the reclaimed Luscar and Gregg River mines are examined by veterinarians and biologists prior to export.

Achieving End Land Use Goals in Reclamation, Alberta: Focus on Coal-mining in the Eastern Slopes Region

MacCallum [page 10]

“The primary purpose of the health examination was to ensure the transplant sheep were free of any disease that would make them ineligible for export or affect their ability to withstand the rigors of transplant travel. Also, the sheep were examined for other health concerns that would affect their ability to be transported or decrease their ability to survive in their new location. Those health concerns included body condition, coat condition, free of leg problems and quality of foot and hoof. An integral part of survival in their new locations would be the ability to move easily so emphasis was placed on hoof and foot condition.

“Clinical signs of chronic selenium toxicity includes cracked hooves, ill-thrift and possible changes to coat condition. None of the animals I examined [>250] exhibited any signs of chronic selenium toxicity.”
Health Examination of Bighorn Sheep Captured at the Luscar Mine
MacLeod Veterinary Service, Brent MacLeod, D.V.M, 2005