In recent years, the attractive prices of the gold market have been an important incentive for the increase of mining activities in northern La Paz, including inside the protected areas of Apolobamba, Madidi and Pilón Lajas. Before the project ‘Strengthening capacities for reducing the impact of mining in protected areas' currently being implemented by WCS with the financial support of The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), there was no clear idea of the dimension of mining activity in this region and its impact on the conservation of forests, wildlife and water sources, mainly due to deforestation and land use change, mercury contamination and waste discharges into rivers and other water bodies. A first effort was therefore to gather basic information on mining operations and their legal status. Using monitoring data from mining activities in protected areas, we confirmed that mining operations in the three protected areas had increased from 64, in 2010, to 228, in 2018, meaning an increase of 356%, out of which, several operate informally, or under a precarious legal situation.
An important step towards responsible mining has been training miners on regulatory issues, the environment, management of protected areas and indigenous rights, as well as the application of good environmental mining practices (technical, social and environmental) and the certification process for responsible mining. To date, 24 training events have been held, with the participation of 877 people, including park rangers and members of the protected areas’ management committees, indigenous leaders and mining operators, and the protected areas directors and the relevant governmental authorities.
The core objective of the project is to promote the application of good mining practices to mitigate environmental impacts, strengthening the role of protected areas in tracking mining activities and environmental monitoring. To this end, actions of good mining practices are being executed with the 'Aguilas de Oro' cooperative, in Apolobamba, in coordination with MEDMIN Foundation in cooperation with the Better Gold Initiative (BGI), and two additional mining operations in protected areas are currently being selected to participate. Likewise, work is being done to certify responsible mining, according to the criteria established by the FAIRMINED Initiative applied through the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), which includes institutional and legal aspects such as the mining operations and benefits, environmental aspects, safety and operational health, business management and social aspects, as well as traceability and responsible gold.
It is crucial to reflect on the limited awareness of the real magnitude of the problems generated by mining, caused by the high level of informality, the difficulties of accessing information, the complexity of complying with and enforcing current regulations, and the weak coordination among public institutions, which has resulted in environmental and social problems and has placed protected areas in a situation of high vulnerability. WCS’ achievements on responsible mining so far have been highlighted in the CEPF 2017 annual report, as it is a strategy aimed at generating and providing information, establishing alliances and promoting the incorporation of the biodiversity conservation component in mining activities.