Caves in southwestern mainland British Columbia are rare, and examples with speleothems of the quality of those found in Iron Curtain Cave are exceptional in Canada. The entrance was discovered and excavated in 1994 by local cavers. This opening was subsequently blocked, and a gate installed in 1996 with the blessing of the provincial caving body, the British Columbia Speleological Federation (BCSF), and the British Columbia Ministry of Forests (BC MoF). The impetus for the quick move to controlled access was a history of devastation and vandalism of other caves in the vicinity.
Since the gating, the BC MoF has
developed detailed management plans for the site and assisted
where possible to protect the area. The cave was an important
stop on a successful field trip as part of the 1997 Karst and
Cave Management Symposium held in Bellingham, Washington. Iron
Curtain Cave has been visited regularly by British Columbia cavers,
and is a shining example of cooperative action between cavers
and government in protecting BC cave resources.
Recognizing the sensitivity of the site, especially in view of the vandalism suffered by other caves in the area, the forest service excluded the Iron Curtain Cave entrance from recreational inventory maps. While this was an excellent tact to reduce traffic, information about the cave was unfortunately not readily available to other government agencies, in particular, the provincial Mines Branch.
In June 1998, the BC MoF was alterted to an active quarry application on the same small knoll as contains both Iron Curtain Cave and several other small caves. A field visit with the applicant, representatives of BC MoF, BCSF, BC Provincial Mines Branch and cavers both locally and from nearby Washington State was conducted in July 1998.
During the site visit, quarry plans at the site were reviewed and the applicant was introduced to the cave/karst values of the area. A tour of the cave itself was attended by the Mines representative, the applicant declining a full tour at the first crawl section.
During this meeting, suggestions were repeatedly made that quarrying be moved to nearby limestone deposits where no known cave resources were present.
Within days, a position statement for the BCSF on the activity was sent by email to the BC mines Branch - a statement which received no response. On 4 September, cavers visiting the area noted quarry activity at the site. When contacted, Al Ludwig of the BC Mines Branch apologised for not having informed the BCSF of the impending activity, but noted that the application for test-sampling had been approved on 2 September 1998. This approval despite protest on the part of cavers and the availability of suitable nearby quarry sites.
The Present Scene
The photos shown here were taken on 2 October 1998. With the test-sampling activity, roughly 150m of road was constructed along the base of the hillside and rising over 40m from the valley floor. The present state of the site suggests further activity is likely.
Under the BC Mines legislation, an applicant first requests permission to conduct test-sampling. This may involve considerable activity, and can involve removal of up to 10,000 tonnes of rock and proves the deposit for either further investment or sale for commercial extraction.
The mineral exploration
permit granted on 2 September included special provisions to which
evidenced due attention to concerns expressed during the field
- blasting limited in size, with a maximum charge per detonator delay of 110 lbs.
- seismic equipment shall be set up at the Iron Curtain entrance to record blast intensity, with records being faxed to the mines inspector for review within 24 hours.
- no further blasting
shall take place if a karst cave or opening is encountered while
In the test-sample exercise, there was apparently full compliance with these minimal provisions. Further quarry activity and blasting at the site may take place in the future. The application procedure is, as stated by Al Ludwig - "Should the applicant wish to obtain approval for additional material beyond the present approved bulk sample, they would have to establish a mineral lease tenure over the property and then submit another application which would then go out for an expanded referral."
This referral would involve public consultation with concerned parties.
We need now to raise the level of knowledge amongst government agencies on the folly of this development and to ensure that any application for further quarry activity at this site is rejected.
A letter of protest has recently been send to respective provincial agencies and British Columbia cavers, the response of which will be posted here when received.
1) the activity may damage delicate in-cave formations. The extensive and fragile speleothems are unique in British Columbia and of significance in Canada and once a blast has an effect, the features are lost forever. A key concern is that the blast measured on the surface at the entrance is not representative of that deep underground.
2) The ceiling of some of the passages vibrations and shock during blasting may destabilize roof boulders and walls creating a significant safety hazard for persons visiting the caves.
3) Concern about undiscovered caves in the area. By far the most significant find in the area was discovered only a relatively few years ago. Surface doline tracks both into the field beyond the known caves and along the margin of the hillside suggest more extensive underground solution than has been presently discovered.
4) Mining activity in the area after the initial test-sampling. Increasing quarry activity beyond the proposed sample site would almost certainly impact the presently known cave resources.
5) Other nearby sites, with no cave resources, are presently known. The same applicant has staked claims on several nearby deposits, and ignores the cave values associated with this location. Ignorance of the values is illustrated by the notation on the site map - shown here. Parts of the gate were damaged, and the applicant is suspected.
What you can do -
We need as many interested persons as possible to write to government agencies in British Columbia to avert further activity at this site. Look at this pages and the protest letters sent on behalf of cavers in BC. If you have any questions, ask either Pat Shaw or Martin Davis. If you would like to voice your objections directly, you can send letters to the following:
Hon. Michael Farnworth
Minister of Employment and Investment
Room 123, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4
Hon. Cathy McGregor
Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks
Room 337, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4
BC Ministry of Employment and Investment
2080-B Labieux Road
Nanaimo, BC V9T 6J9
Copies of letters sent to these agencies would be greatly appreciated. Either send as email attachments to either persons above or by postal to:
The British Columbia Speleological Federation
P.O. Box 8124, Station Central Post Office
Victoria, British Columbia
CANADA V8W 3R8
Thank you for your support.