Mining for the Environment

AggMan Staff | Published on June 7, 2012

Lafarge’s Wildlife at Work certification shows how aggregate operations can coexist in harmony with the environment.

Acompany’s gravel pit one day is another person’s wildlife-filled park down the line.

Lafarge has partnered with the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) to turn mined- out pits into wildlife refuges, wetlands, and meadows, showing that an industry that often suffers from NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) is good for the environment and is actively working to make its sites welcoming to wildlife and native vegetation.

A wildlife habitat spanning one-third of an acre is actively managed on the Lafarge Bow River Aggregates site. According to habitat ranges established by the Canadian Species at Risk public registry, several endangered and threatened species have the potential to use this site, including peregrine falcon, piping plover, yellow rail, and western toad.

“For a long time, Lafarge globally has recognized the impact that extracting aggregate has — just the footprint alone,” says Wade Frick, environmental manager of Greater Calgary and Greater Winnipeg for Lafarge North America. “But there is more to it than that. We recognize the impact mining can leave on the landscape, so we decided to explore a certification rooted in biodiversity and sustainability.”

Lafarge joined WHC as a corporate member in 1992 and became involved with the WHC’s Wildlife at Work certification program. The company is also involved in several other environment programs globally, including the World Wildlife Fund.

Most recently, two Lafarge sites in Calgary, Alberta, Canada — Bow River Aggregates and Lafarge Meadows — have been certified by WHC’s Wildlife at Work program. Lafarge Meadows was initially certified in 2009 and applied for recertification in 2011. The site will be up for recertification in 2014. Bow River was initially certified in 2011 and will have to submit for recertification in 2013.

Both sites were among the 251 sites recognized in mid-February at the WHC’s 23rd Annual Symposium titled, “People, Partnerships, and Pathways,” for creating or maintaining a Wildlife at Work program.

When it was operational, Lafarge Meadows — known as South Pit — was a 150-acre area that is now part of Fish Creek Provincial Park. This site was made into an extension of Fish Creek Park after Lafarge donated the reclaimed property. The site is adjacent to the Bow River and contains a network of constructed wetlands, grasslands, and riparian areas. All 150 acres of the site are actively managed for wildlife as part of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

The wildlife management team worked with The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park and community volunteers to control invasive species on site and to remove litter from the site. They have also worked together to conduct extensive monitoring of the parks’ amphibian populations since 2008. According to data included in Lafarge’s certification application, about 17 percent of the amphibians observed in 2009 were recorded in the Lafarge Meadows section of the park, and that increased to 41 percent in 2010. This, along with other data, indicates that the constructed wetlands are “effectively filtering storm water runoff and creating a healthy environment for amphibians,” according to the WHC.

A wildlife management team works with The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park and community volunteers to conduct extensive monitoring of the park’s amphibian populations.

Lafarge has also partnered with the McInnis & Holloway Funeral Home in Calgary for its Memorial Forest Program. For a fee, a tree can be donated in a loved one’s name. “The funeral home is always looking for a place to plant,” Lafarge’s Frick explains. “It’s a challenge for them to find areas to plant trees so we piggybacked on this partnership since 2004-2005 — the first year the funeral home started planting within Fish Creek Park — to make it part of our Lafarge Meadows reclamation project. Now this area is being reforested.”

The wildlife management team has been working with the funeral home since 2008, planting more than 6,500 trees native to Alberta, Frick says. “This is a significant contribution to the ecosystem,” he adds.

Nearly 200 Lafarge employees participated in litter pickup at the Lafarge Meadows site. The site is a 150-acre area that is now part of Fish Creek Provincial Park. The wildlife management team with The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park and community volunteers. The wildlife management team works with The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park and community volunteers to control invasive species on the site, as well as to remove litter.

The Bow River site, which is located in southeast Calgary and adjacent to the Bow River, supports a wildlife habitat that is about one-third of an acre. According to habitat ranges established by the Canadian Species at Risk public registry, several endangered and threatened species have the potential to use this site — including the Peregrine Falcon, Piping Plover, Yellow Rail, and western toad.

“The site had Osprey nesting on it for years,” Frick says. “In 2005, a flood washed away the tree with a perch that osprey used to feed, [so] we manufactured a perch for them.” The wildlife management team monitors the platform weekly to evaluate its placement and to ensure its use. Frick says bat boxes also have been installed on some of the sites.

In 2010, Lafarge planted native flower-producing bushes and shrubs, including Saskatoon bushes, Alberta wild roses, dwarf birches, and prairie crocuses, to further enhance the habitat. In 2011, 30 spruce trees were planted.

Frick says Lafarge has been identifying opportunities where it can impact biodiversity and foster use of the area by wildlife while still operating an active pit. “When we decided to pursue certification, a biologist came to the site to do a full inventory and produced an opportunities report,” Frick says. The report provides overlay site maps with a list of plants and animals that are on the site or could be on the site. When the report is provided, Frick says, it notes what can be done to help the species, such as pointing out certain breeding times.

Bee colonies have been on the decline in North America, Frick says, so Lafarge has planted native pollinator gardens on its sites “to give it a bit of a boost.” It does the same for small mammals and birds as it strips a site. “We’ll save some of the woody debris,” he says. “We pile it and make these brush piles. They make a good habitat for small mammals and small birds, but we hope they’ll draw bigger mammals and birds of prey.”

While Lafarge has gone well beyond minimum requirements, developing a sustainability program doesn’t have to be complicated. Although a site must be enhancing or restoring some aspect of native habitat to apply for Wildlife at Work — wildlife team members must monitor the site as part of the program and can’t just focus on one specific animal or write down observances to get certified in a program — a company can still create an uncomplicated sustainability program. “It could be as simple as keeping a log book and noting when a particular bird is seen on site,” Frick points out. By simply keeping this type of log, a site or organization is contributing the information to a database across the continent “so we are adding some good scientific data.”

Although there may be extra work involved, “it’s worth it,” Frick says. “As you build a program, you find that employees who have an interest in the environment start coming out of the woodwork,” he says. “You always assume that you’ll have to own and drive [the program], but you find that employees want to become a part of it. You also start to see a lot of pride. It might have taken some convincing to get employees on board, but once it picks up momentum, it really takes on a life of its own.”

Kristin Salamack, WHC’s intermountain west region biologist who oversees most of the Wildlife at Work programs in the western half of the United States and Canada, says the certification program was started in 1988 after realizing the organization didn’t have a way to recognize or promote corporations to be environmental stewards of the lands they own and operate. “A lot of corporations came on board with aggregates being a main proponent because aggregate mining takes up so much space — but [the producers] also have to reclaim that property,” Salamack says. “Our certification program helps promote the companies that go above and beyond what the base guidelines might be, such as planting native species and setting land aside for sensitive species.”

Salamack points to Lafarge, citing its Lafarge Meadows and Bow River projects, as a good example of a corporation going beyond the baseline legal requirements for environmental sustainability. “Lafarge Meadows in an excellent example because the company graded the borders of the pits into gentle slopes,” Salamack says. “There is a gradual approach to the actual water itself [as opposed to just filling a portion of the pit with water]. Without grading the pit border, it’s hard to vegetate. More wildlife species, including water fowl, are able to use the wetlands if it’s graded. These details are important when you’re talking about converting a reclaimed aggregate pit into a high-functioning wetland habitat.”

Developing a successful program for certification means cultivating relationships, Salamack points out. She says that although WHC is available to assist, the organization oversees programs internationally. This makes it difficult to provide a lot of hands-on support. “But we can provide the linkage for partnerships between other corporate sites and partners in our network,” Salamack says. She adds that it’s critical to involve the operations staff — the actual boots-on-the-ground people who are working — not just management. “Let them know what they need for the certification,” Salamack says. “Partnerships are the key to success.”

WHC President Robert Johnson lauded Lafarge for “its commitment and contributions to wildlife habitat enhancement, community outreach, and conservation education. Formed as an unbridled partnership between corporations, communities, and conservation organizations, the Wildlife Habitat Council exemplifies the power of collaborative conservations as the foundation of environmental stewardship.”

For a photo album of the Lafarge Meadows and Bow River sites, go to the Aggregates Manager Facebook Fan Page (www.facebook.com/aggregatesmanager) and click on the “Wildlife at Work” photo album.

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