At Rio Tinto Kennecott, we are committed to exercising stewardship over the land on which we operate. We are dedicated to minimizing the impact we have on the land we mine and to return impacted land to its natural state where possible.
We own and manage about 96,000 acres of land. While less than half of that area is disturbed by actual mining, we take our stewardship over this land and its resources seriously. We have initiated a variety of land management and beautification programs to protect and balance the delicate interaction between important environmental factors.
Land reclamation means returning land that has been disturbed by mining activities to a meaningful, post-mining land use, such as wildlife habitat, residential use or agricultural use.
We have and continue to implement many land management activities that include land reclamation, deer and elk management, grazing practices and vegetation control. Some examples include:
- Implementing a noxious weed management program in coordination with Salt Lake County and the Bonneville Cooperative Weed Management areas.
- Implementing a wildland fire prevention program.
- Continuing to work with the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources (UDWR), local universities, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to better understand wildlife and their habitat, and to identify potential impacts from our activities.
- Reclaiming lands impacted by historic mining operations.
Nearly a decade after beginning work, we delivered the first water to the Lakepoint Wetlands in February 2011. The water is conveyed to the property through a new pipeline.
Per an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we transferred 617 acres on the shore of the Great Salt Lake to The Nature Conservancy. The 331 acres for natural resource mitigation and 286 gifted acres included water rights to develop and maintain about 100 acres of new wetlands.
To bring spring water to the property, we installed ditches, dikes and control boxes. We also provided The Nature Conservancy with an endowment for perpetual maintenance of the property.
We were active in converting acreage once dominated by over-grazed lands, salt evaporation ponds and illegal dumps into a 3,670-acre shorebird and waterfowl reserve along the south shore called the Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve (ISSR), which is part of the south shore of Great Salt Lake (GSL).
The ISSR was created under a mitigation plan developed in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to offset the loss of 1,000 acres impacted when Kennecott expanded its tailings impoundment in 1996. Bird use has increased from 40 to more than 150 species. An estimated 120,000 shorebirds and waterfowl use the ISSR each year.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) uses the mountain lion population inhabiting the eastside of the Oquirrhs for research purposes. Specifically, the state places radio and global positioning system (GPS) collars on the adult cats on our property. This allows wildlife managers to observe and research mountain lion communities living in the Oquirrhs, and use this population as a baseline to manage and observe changes in other populations around the state.
This opportunity has helped us and UDWR better anticipate issues related to interactions between animals and humans as land uses change. It also indirectly helps us understand deer populations and movements.
Working with UDWR, we help conduct plot surveys to study long-term habitat conditions for deer and elk in the Oquirrh Mountains. This is part of UDWR’s statewide range surveys to determine the availability of food for deer and elk. This data provides a better understanding of the health of the range, herd-to-habitat balance, as well as the identification of habitat enhancement opportunities.
Part of our land management goals is to improve habitat on our property by addressing invasive weeds. We have established a comprehensive weed management plan to enhance habitats and to control the spread of noxious weeds affecting our property.
Because of the large size of our property, we are focusing on controlling weeds in smaller management areas. We are currently treating weeds at our main operation entrances. We are using “biocontrol” methods (such as beetles, weevils, and goats that eat the plants) on approximately 12 sites and using herbicides as well.
We work with a variety of community partners, including the Bonneville and South Shore Cooperative Weed Management Areas, to obtain grants to complete work in the broader management area. Another benefit of the partnership is that we are able to share equipment.
We are also active in watershed stabilization. Working with some key community partners in 2009, we planted about 300 willows to stabilize a creek bank, and to provide habitat for nesting and migratory birds, as well as to help keep downstream habitat waters clear.