Unemployment in the Northwest Arctic Borough where our Red Dog Operations is located is higher than the state-wide average in Alaska, and employment opportunities are expected to decrease across the state in 2016 due to the challenging economic climate.
To help address these challenges and provide economic contributions to communities, Teck and the local Indigenous Iñupiat people have been piloting a unique seed collection program that could provide people a local opportunity to supplement their income and share traditional knowledge while also playing a role in reclamation at the mine.
When we work to reclaim an area after mining has concluded, we seek to create a self-sustaining ecosystem, including revegetating areas using native plants where possible to support traditional land uses and local wildlife. At Red Dog Operations, we have historically purchased plant seeds for environmental reclamation activities from commercial seed providers. However, with no provider of seeds local to the mine’s region, we have had to buy seeds harvested further south. Because these seeds are in a different climatic zone, they don’t grow as well as seeds indigenous to the Arctic, so we have been working to find a local source of indigenous seed varieties to support reclamation. Additionally, many of the indigenous plant species are not available commercially.
The Noatak Seed Collection Pilot Study was initiated in 2014⎯led by the Alaska Plant Materials Center in partnership with Red Dog, NANA Regional Corporation and local residents⎯to look for a way to address this challenge. Local residents who join the seed project harvest local plant seeds, which are then stored by Red Dog for use in future reclamation work.
The Noatak Seed Collection Pilot Study has the potential to help create flexible employment opportunities for some residents in the Northwest Arctic region while also benefiting Teck’s reclamation efforts through increased used of native seeds, which have long-term climatic adaptations that will enable disturbed land to be restored as closely as possible to its original state, and protect against invasive species.
Work undertaken to date through the pilot study included community workshops and seed harvesting in August of 2015. The results of the activities undertaken through the pilot study are now being assessed, with the goal of determining the long-term feasibility of the program.