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Advocates sound alarm over mining exploration in caribou habitat

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Wildlife advocates are sounding the alarm over provincially funded mining activities they fear will put Manitoba's threatened caribou population at risk.

Earlier this month, the province announced it would be giving $300,000 to NiCAN, a Toronto-based mineral exploration company.

The provincial dollars will be used to explore mining claims in an area inside the Grass River Provincial Park near Snow Lake in northern Manitoba.

It's an area that the Wildlife Committee – a wildlife advocacy group – said is also home to boreal caribou herds, a threatened species in Manitoba.

"Boreal caribou are very sensitive to disturbances. In some cases, the science shows that they'll move up to five kilometres away from a disturbance and not use that area anymore," said Eric Reder.

"The caribou are going to get disrupted, and every time we have disruption for caribou we see a fall-off in the number of caribou. They're already on the edge."

A provincial spokesperson told CTV News the Grass River Provincial Park is classified as a natural park with land-use categories including resource management use. The province issued a fly-in-only drilling program for NiCAN.

Natural Resources Minister Jamie Moses confirmed there is no heavy equipment, no bulldozers and no roads being developed with this project at all.

"All wildlife populations were considered with the issuing of this permit, including the caribou," Moses told CTV News. "After all that, it was deemed to have a very minimal impact on the caribou, and with additional protections in place we feel like we will be able to protect the caribou population in this region."

He said there are safeguards in place to protect the caribou, such as a requirement that the company stops work if caribou are observed within 500 metres of an exploration site.

The province also said site mitigation and restoration after work is complete are also important aspects of park permit requirements.

In an email to CTV News, NiCAN President and CEO Brad Humphrey said the company, which does early-stage mining explorations, is not undertaking any mine development activities at this time.

"NiCAN takes its responsibilities seriously and follows strict protocols everywhere that it operates, following, and in many cases exceeding, permit requirements and guidelines," the email reads.

But Reder worries this may not be enough to protect the caribou.

"By the time you've seen the caribou, you've already caused a problem," he said.

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