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Letter: Is slash and burn really the only method of land clearing possible at Faro Mine?

To slash and burn or to mulch and bury? That is the question.
Letters to the editor.

Is slash and burn really the only method of land clearing possible at Faro Mine?

Thank you for the Yukonomist column on the Faro Carbon Bomb – it’s an important discussion and raises some great points. I’d like to add a quick thought on the following assumption:

“Of the 194 kilotonnes, 109 kilotonnes come from slash-and-burn land clearing…It’s hard to avoid the slash-and-burn emissions.”

As someone who studies and practices mine reclamation in the Yukon, I question this.

Organic carbon is the main component of soil organic matter and an essential part of healthy soil. Farmers and gardeners have long understood the importance of soil organic carbon for crop growth. When constructing soils in reclamation, the amount of organic carbon is one of the factors used to assess soil quality. Benefits of soil organic carbon include increased water and nutrient retention, better habitat for soil microbes and overall improvements in soil structure. The woody material from land clearing can be mulched (chopped into various sized pieces), rather than burnt, and then spread over or mixed into soil to add organic carbon.

The placement of woody debris on top of reclaimed soils is also best practice. Woody debris provides microsites that benefit wildlife and plants. For example, old stumps make great perches for birds and while perching, birds poop seeds. Seeds require soil moisture to germinate which is more likely found in the shade of a stump than in a moonscape. Win-win.

According to a quick Google search, the Faro Mine has a disturbance footprint of 25 km2. Surely, somewhere on that site there is soil that would benefit from some organic carbon either in the form of mulch, woody debris or both.

My understanding of slash and burn land clearing is it’s the cheapest method of land clearing, not the only method. If so, accepting carbon emissions from slash and burn at Faro Mine would be a financial decision not an unavoidable one.

Krystal Isbister

PhD candidate

University of Alberta

Watson Lake, Yukon

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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