Matthew Creek Ranch is such a perfect mountain cattle farm that it put a sparkle in the eye of Wayne Daul, just like it sparkles in the sunshine for anyone who looks at the ground.
For decades the various owners of the Matthew Creek Ranch in the rural backcountry south of Vanderhoof have known it was a mineral-rich spot. When the sun shines, the pyrite flashes and glitters from the rich dirt there. But that is iron sulphide, fool's gold, and the smart prospector knows the real stuff is often present in the same vicinity.
Several mining companies have probed Mount Davidson over the years. About two years ago, Peter Bernier and his company (Richfield Ventures Corp.) sketched out the beginnings of a gold-silver deposit that is now on the cusp of becoming a full mine for present owners NewGold.
But Daul says the worth of that mine is making his ranch worthless.
"The value of our farm has been destroyed. You can't borrow against the farm, you can't sell it, nobody wants a farm beside a gold mine," said Daul.
He claims his 200 acres of land, including home and recently constructed utility buildings, along with a grazing lease for a 20-by-30 kilometre plot, haying leases and other beef production amenities, was worth about $1.5 million before NewGold started work at Mount Davidson. Now he's uncertain about what it might be worth because the calls of interest he got when he listed at $1.2 million hung up when they heard about the gold operation next door.
"Everybody's worried about pollution. I'm worried about what's going to happen to all our water supply which comes down the mountain to our house and our cattle and crops," he said.
The mountain's water runs the other way, said NewGold's director of environment Tim Bekhuys.
"Wayne's property is within 10 to 12 kilometres of our exploration site. There are a couple of ranches on the perimeter, and his is one of them," said Bekhuys. "None of the water from our site will drain onto his property. I know that is his main concern, which is why we installed a water monitoring station so if water is somehow contaminated by our activities, that is flagged right away. He is upstream of us, draining into the Nechako drainage. We are involved in the Blackwater drainage area. And the plans we're looking at, for if the project goes ahead as a mine, the tailings would be even further to the north of his property."
Daul also claims the rise in vehicle traffic on his lease land has forced him to relocate his cattle onto his hay land, "so they are eating the crops that were supposed to be cut for hay to feed them this winter so I'll probably be out of pocket for maybe $30,000 to buy hay."
Bekhuys said the NewGold exploration site and his cattle are not in conflict.
"We haven't seen any of Wayne's cows in our areas. There is no overlap. We are, in fact, separated by Mount Davidson," he said.
Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations spokesman Brennan Clark clarified that "there is a small corner of [Daul's range] that overlaps NewGolds mineral claim area but they do not have any exploration activity in that area. NewGold exploration is on the north face of Davidson Mountain, Wayne Dauls range agreement lies below the south face of Davidson Mountain."
Bekhuys said that should the active exploration turn into a full mine in the years ahead, they would relocate their access road even farther away from Daul's ranch to another location feeding into the gold field, as a further gesture of goodwill to the rancher.
Daul wants to be paid for the hay he has lost, as well as compensation for the lost value in a ranch he wanted to pass on to his daughter. He fears it is a wasted effort since he purchased the ranch 10 years ago.
"My farm is worth peanuts on what they throw around up there, and yet they won't talk to me about compensation at all," he said. "I will sell to them, I will trade 'em a farm if they have one somewhere else."
Bekhuys stressed that Daul is talking about possible consequences if a mine goes ahead. Only test drilling has happened so far, and an actual mine needs first to get approval from area First Nations and environmental regulators. These things are years away, Bekhuys said, so compensation can hardly be calculated, let alone paid, even if Daul is eventually wronged in some way.
"No other ranchers have contacted the ministry to express concerns," said Clark.
"Mining on a small scale is not a new activity in the Vanderhoof area, and the ministry has not heard any concerns in the past with this type of overlapping resource use."