Nevada gold mine expansion prompts concern for deer herd

Nevada environmental advocates rallied in Las Vegas on Tuesday in support of a Philippine province that is suing Barrick Gold Corp. over contamination in that country nearly 20 years ago.

During a demonstration in front of the Regional Justice Center downtown, the group of about 15 protesters led by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada said the Silver State faces similar ecological damage from Barrick’s activities, especially the planned expansion of an open-pit gold mine in White Pine County that already is one of the largest in the United States.

The advocacy group’s director, Bob Fulkerson, said Toronto-based Barrick is “arguably the most destructive corporation in the world,” with tens of millions of pounds of toxic chemicals released into the environment each year in Nevada alone.

Now conservationists and hunters worry that expanding the Bald Mountain Mine about 350 miles north of Las Vegas will cut off the migration route used by Nevada’s largest herd of mule deer, leaving roughly 24,000 animals without access to their traditional winter range.

State wildlife officials have raised similar concerns about the Ruby Mountain Herd, which accounts for about one quarter of Nevada’s entire mule deer population, but the Nevada Department of Wildlife has not taken an official stance on the mine’s expansion.

“I think you could say we’re worried enough to make our concerns known and be a part of the process,” said Doug Nielsen, spokesman for the department.

Federal regulators are in the midst of the expansion plan’s environmental review.

Barrick Gold spokesman Lou Schack said the company is working with state and federal officials to address mule deer habitat and as part of the public review and permitting process.

“That’s the place to deal with the issue,” he said.

Schack said “there’s absolutely no connection” between what happened in the Philippines in the 1990s and Barrick’s operations in Nevada today.

The provincial government of the Philippine island of Marinduque filed suit in Nevada in 2005 against what was then the British Columbia-based Placer Dome mining company. Barrick became part of the lawsuit when it bought Placer Dome in 2006.

Marinduque is seeking compensation from Barrick for damage caused by decades of gold and copper mining on the island, including tailing dam failures in 1993 and 1996 that sent contaminated mine waste into a river and left two children dead.

Clark County District Judge Valerie Adair dismissed the lawsuit in 2011, saying it should have been filed in Canada or the Philippines, not Nevada.

Marinduque appealed Adair’s decision to the Nevada Supreme Court, which held a hearing on the matter at the Regional Justice Center Tuesday afternoon but did not immediately issue a ruling.

Protesters called what happened in Marinduque “the largest mining disaster in the history of the Philippines.”

Schack said the Philippine government was the majority owner and operator of the mine when the tailings dam failed in 1996. Though Placer Dome Inc. owned a 39 percent stake, it paid for the majority of the clean-up, the Barrick spokesman said.

According to Schack, Placer Dome sold its interest in the Marinduque mine in 1997, nearly a decade before Barrick bought the company. Barrick, he said, had nothing do with anything that happened at the mine in the Philippines.

But Fulkerson and his fellow protesters said the people of Marinduque deserve a fair settlement and people of Nevada deserve some protection from the world’s largest mining company.

Starting at just after noon, the protesters handed out fliers to people coming and going from the busy courthouse. Then they gathered on the front steps of the building to read statements over a megaphone and chant “Barrick kills” while holding a banner and some picket signs.

A few minutes later, as they shouted “Bambi not Barrick,” they were heckled by a man in a bow tie who said “venison is delicious” as he passed by on the sidewalk.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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