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Rocky Mountain Chapter

Colorado mine tour promotes environmental activism in Africa

By Carol Carpenter

In late April four Colorado environmentalists and a small delegation from the African Republic of Senegal toured open-pit gold-mining operations and nearby public forest lands near Victor, Colo. Kirby Hughes, Sierra Club’s chairperson for mining issues in Colorado, determined that the event was “categorically, a success.”

Mine tour photo

“It was a lot of fun meeting such interesting and well-educated individuals from Senegal,” Hughes said. “They came here to learn how environmentalists work in the U.S., and how they could promote what we do here, in Senegal.”

The U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program arranged the tour of the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine (CC&V) vicinity through the Meridian International Center. The Senegalese delegation included mining and natural resources officials and a member of the news media.

Joining Hughes on the tour were Jeff Parsons, attorney for the Western Mining Action Project (WMAP); John Stansfield, Sierra Club’s chairperson for wilderness issues for the Pikes Peak area and founder of the Central Colorado Wilderness Coalition (CCWC); and Bill Clymer, president of Citizens For Victor! (CFV!), a citizens group concerned about the health and environmental impacts of open-pit mining in their locality.

Citizen involvement in Senegal

Mine tour photo 3

Senegal, a western African country with a population of about 13 million, is now working with multinational corporations to develop its own open-pit, gold-mining operations. Officials feel the effort could be better accomplished with citizen involvement, somewhat similar to what’s happening here.

According to news reports, there has been an over-exploitation of Senegalese natural resources by multi-national companies. Additionally, impoverished local populations in search of jobs have contributed to the degradation of forest resources.

The main purpose of the tour was for Senegal officials to learn how U.S. activists and citizen groups work to ensure that less-damaging environmental practices are followed in open-pit mining operations. They received information on how they might encourage the public and government regulators to work together to meet air and water quality standards that safeguard public health.

A second primary goal was for the delegation to learn more about ensuring and promoting good forest preservation practices, both in and around mining areas and elsewhere.

Colorado’s largest gold mine

Mine tour photo

Open-pit gold and precious metals mining, combined with cyanide operations, have occurred in the Cripple Creek and Victor area since 1976. The operation uses a process called “cyanide heap leaching” to extract more gold than other mines anywhere in Colorado.

Unlike many mining operations in the West, the CC&V operations are conducted on their own private land, with no federal or state lands involved. However, it wasn’t always managed this way. The intent of the proposed Amendment 10 to the current permit is to incorporate some public lands.

Hughes said he believes the African delegation returned home feeling they had learned some useful things about how Sierra Club and other nongovernmental organizations conduct environmental campaigns related to mining operations and the preservation of public forest lands, where negative environmental impacts are occurring or could occur.

“Although they were already highly aware of basic environmental issues, they learned a few things about the environmental movement in the U.S., specifically about the workings of the Club, WMAP and CCWC,” Hughes said. “I think they'll be increasing their efforts to foster home-grown activism, as it would certainly benefit their country and help protect them from the environmental consequences of usurious development by multinational corporations, something with which they're quite familiar.”

Hughes and others on the tour agreed that, time permitting, they would be happy to host additional groups from other countries or regions of the world who are interested in learning how Sierra Club and other U.S. environmental organizations and NGOs work together to preserve the natural environment.

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