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WWF appeals to the Ministry of the Environment to protect rivers from placer gold mining

29 january 2021
One of the main WWF’s proposals sent to Alexander Kozlov, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Russia, is to introduce a ten-year ban on the issuance of licenses for prospecting, exploration and extracting of placer gold deposits on rivers not previously affected by this type of activity

WWF Russia has sent a number of proposals that will reduce the negative impact of placer gold mining on ecosystems and human life. The letter reflects the position of WWF and a number of non-governmental environmental organizations in Russia regarding the problem. The message is sent on the eve of World Wetlands Day - February 2, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Ramsar Convention for the Protection of Wetlands of International Importance, because placer gold mining first of all affects freshwater ecosystems.

Thanks to the public monitoring, which WWF Russia conducts jointly with a number of environmental NGOs with the support of the Presidential Grants Foundation, in recent years many river pollution cases have been revealed during placer gold mining, including in areas close to indigenous peoples settlements. As a result of satellite monitoring, in the period from May 15 to October 15, 2020, 231 cases of river pollution were detected on the territory of the Far Eastern Federal District. The total length of the polluted river sections was about 6650 kilometers. There are 78 cases of pollution with a total length of contaminated areas of 2649 kilometers were detected on the territory of the Siberian Federal District. Most of these violations have been confirmed by the results of inspections by state environmental authorities.

According to Dmitry Gorshkov, director of WWF Russia: “The increase in the number of cases of pollution of water bodies is associated mainly with the increase in the number of licenses issued for geological exploration of subsoil in order to search for new gold deposits. At the same time, in accordance with the Decree of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia dated November 10, 2016 No. 583, these licenses are issued according to a simplified scheme, without tenders. In the anniversary year for the Ramsar Convention, Russia can take an important step towards reducing the negative impact of placer gold mining on wetlands and freshwater ecosystems of our country”.

The letter also includes proposals of ecologists to return the project documentation for the development of placer gold deposits to the list of objects of the state ecological expertise, as well as to introduce a moratorium on the development of deposits near protected areas and in areas of value for the conservation of biological diversity and economic activities of the local population. The authors of the letter also advocate strengthening the role of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, municipalities and the local people in making decisions on the issuance of new licenses, increasing the efficiency and transparency of the activities of government bodies that control the work of gold mining enterprises.

Placer gold mining has a long history in Siberia and in the Russian Far East. Due to depletion of the most of large and promising deposits of precious metal, mining enterprises are forced to look for new deposits. These deposits, on the one hand, have very poor gold reserves, on the other, they directly affect protected areas, places of traditional nature use of the indigenous people.

Placer gold mining within the buffer zone of Zeisky Nature Reserve in Amurskaya province
Alexander Khitrov / PrimDiscovery / WWF Russia
According to Peter Osipov, director of WWF Russia Amur branch: “This situation is of great concern in the regions. Local people cannot influence the situation, they are left without the opportunity to carry out traditional hunting and fishing, and sometimes even without access to clean water. Supervisory bodies and regional authorities intervene in this problem. For example, the Amursky Administration of Rosprirodnadzor and the Ministry of Natural Resources of Amurskaya province are fighting against violators of environmental legislation. However, the resources of the regulatory authorities are limited, and the number of violations is colossal. Fines for violations are not so high, and violators refuse to pay compensation to the budget for damage on a voluntary basis. As a result, court proceedings begin, which may last for a year or more. To solve the problem, the legislation needs to be amended. But this is not a quick process. A temporary ban on prospecting gold mining on previously untouched rivers is extremely required in order to prevent the destruction of rivers.”

Over the past three years, in some regions more than 200 licenses have been issued annually, most of licenses are so-called exploratory licenses issued by the application procedure, without open tenders. This type of license does not give the right to mine placer gold, but many enterprises begin the actual mining operations without concluding a water use contract, without creating the necessary infrastructure to prevent river pollution, without carrying out reclamation of disturbed land.

For the past four years, WWF Russia has been working with the Coalition of environmental organizations to address placer gold mining issues. Satellite monitoring of river pollution, carried out with the support of WWF, made it possible to assess the scale of the problem and draw the attention of state bodies to it. Training of public inspectors is underway to reveal the facts of river pollution on the ground. Work is underway with state authorities to tighten control over gold miners.

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