Three keys to understanding how mining projects put pressure on protected areas

At least 40 mining projects in various stages of development are located around, and in some cases within, 16 SNASPE parks and reserves.

Most of the deposits of copper and other minerals in Chile such as gold, silver, iron and lithium are in the north of the country, therefore mining activity is concentrated in this part of the territory Chilean. This industry has settled around and even inside protected natural areas and, although the legislation of this country prohibits extractive activities inside these areas, they can be carried out if the government considers that the exploitation of the resource is of national interest.

Mongabay Latam and Ladera Sur have built a database to detect which extractive projects are operating around and inside national parks and reserves across the country and pinpoint the location of each of the mining projects.

What did you find? The result of the analysis indicates that at least 40 mining projects in various stages of development are located around and, in some cases, inside 16 parks and preserves of the State’s National Wilderness Area System ( SNASPE), administered by the National Forestry Company ( CONAF), information that can also be seen in a visualization. In addition, we bring together in this note the three key data revealed by the survey.

mining, sustainability, lithium, extractivism, protected areas, nature reserves, pollution, energyLithium exploitation in Atacama.

1. Mining projects in protected areas

Of the 40 projects, three are in protected areas, although they are not active, according to information provided by the Chilean state. However, one of them could be reactivated: it is Choquelimpie, a gold and silver deposit belonging to the Canadian company Norsemont Mining, located inside the Las Vicuñas national reserve, in putter.

This mine ceased operations in 1991 and after 30 years without exploitation work, Norsemont Mining announced in March 2021 that exploration operations were already underway. However, the communities of Putre and other surrounding communes were unaware of the reactivation of the project when a team from Mongabay Latam and Ladera Sur arrived in the area.

The mayor of Putre, Marisel Gutiérrez, claims not to have received official information on the reactivation in Choquelimpie and underlines that the “the municipal position does not consider mining development in the municipality, as mandated by the majority of indigenous communities, since these initiatives generate risks and negative impacts on the way of life and the natural resources of the region”.

Given the history of contamination and violations of Choquelimpie, the regional governor, Jorge Díaz, finds it “very reckless” the revival of work. Meanwhile, the Aymara coordinator for the defense of natural resources in Arica and Parinacota has indicated that he will demand respect for ILO Convention 169 and the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which establishes the consultation of original inhabitants. “Water consumption by the mining industry is so high that it is ruining our fragile ecosystem. And we can’t allow this“, specified its representative Richard Fernández.

mining, sustainability, lithium, extractivism, protected areas, nature reserves, pollution, energyAndina Mine, left and Los Bronces Mine, right. July 2019. Photo/Tomas Munita

2. Protected areas fenced off by mining

The investigation revealed that another 23 projects – according to state information – are located in the vicinity and very close to national parks and reserves. One of the most representative cases concerns the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park, surrounded by eight mining projects: three are intended for the exploration of lithium and five for the exploration and exploitation of gold.

If the waters that feed the national park and the Ramsar site have intervened, those that feed our valleys too, whose culture will be affected”, explains Lesley Muñoz, granddaughter of Jesús Cardozo, founder of the Colla community, in Copiapó, one of the municipalities in which the national park is located, the other municipality is Tierra Amarilla, both in the region of Atacama.

14 other projects have also been identified which are located close to parks and reserves, some a few meters away, which had not been taken into account by the State in the information provided to the Mongabay Latam and Ladera Sur team, but which are data that come from scientists, civil society organizations and the communities themselves who defend their territories.

One of them is the Anocarire hill project, which operates just 20 meters from the Las Vicuñas National Reserve, despite the fact that communities have filed protection appeals denouncing the impact on their ceremonial sites. , diversion of waterways and contamination. Although it is unclear whether or not the exploration of the mining company Andex Minerals is carried out in the protected area, in all documents it is agreed that the mining explorations are in the indigenous development zone of the High Andes Arica and Parinacota (ADI).

After a series of complaints, Aymara communities in the Arica and Parinacota region have managed to force projects like this, which only had an environmental impact statement (DIA), a more lax assessment that does not require citizen participation, to the Supreme Court to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

3. No buffer zones

En numerosos países los parks y reservas cuentan con una zona de amortization también llamada buffer zone que son “clave” para asegurar la conservation de las áreas protegidas, asegura Cristina Torres, coordinadora del programa marino del Fondo Mundial para la Naturaleza (WWF por sus siglas in English). However, the protected natural areas of Chile do not have these protected spaces.

What a buffer zone offers is that species can survive outside the protected natural areaexplains Torres and points out that buffer zones play a key role, as they also function as biological corridors that provide connectivity between species.

Buffer zones also allow local communities to benefit from protected areas without having to exploit their resources to improve their quality of life, explains biologist and doctor of natural sciences Cristina Dorador.

In an attempt to solve the problem of the absence of buffer zones, the National Forestry Office has been implementing a new planning methodology since 2017 which includes the development of conservation and prevention activities with the communities who live in the areas. nearest or areas of influence of protected areas. areas.

In 2011, the first bill for the creation of the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (SBAP) was submitted to Congress, however, so far it has not been approved. “It is necessary and urgent to promulgate the bill that creates the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (SBAP),” says María Isabel Manzur, a biologist with the organization Sustainable Chile.

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