Applying ecosystem services assessment in closure planning to enhance post-mining land-use outcomes: Learning from bauxite mining in Brazil and Australia
Mine Closure 2019: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Mine Closure
Australian Centre for Geomechanics
School of Science / Centre for Ecosystem Management
Ecosystem services assessments help us understand the benefits that society obtains from ecosystems, and they are increasingly being used to understand the human–nature relationship in many applications. This paper presents the results of two ecosystem services assessments applied as part of mine closure planning and rehabilitation activities for two bauxite mining operations operated by the same company, one located in Brazil, the other in Australia. The focus was on the value of the postmining land use that was being realised for local community users. For the Juruti mine site, located in Amazon rainforest, the research examined the return of culturally and economically important forest products—such as Brazil nuts, natural fruits and timber—to local communities living in the vicinity of the mining operations. For the Australian operation, located in the jarrah forest of Western Australia, the research focused on recreationists’ perceptions of the value of rehabilitated bauxite mine areas for bushwalking and mountain biking. Interviews were the principal method employed to understand community stakeholder interactions with pre-mining and post-rehabilitation areas. Workshops were conducted with regulators responsible for mine closure planning and rehabilitation activity.In the Brazil case, taking an ecosystem services approach to explain and explore the mine closure planning process with both the community and the mining company alike provided a pathway for getting to an agreed post-mining land use as the approach’s inherent anthropic focus provides a way to include community perspectives. In the Australian case, the recreation values sought by forest users had not been returned in rehabilitated mined areas, although it was clear that forest users’ perspectives were strongly influenced by historical rehabilitation efforts, which have been transcended by recent practices. Regulators saw value in using ecosystem services assessment methods to both plan the mine closure and monitor the progress of rehabilitation as a way to demonstrate social benefits rather than solely ecological results. In both countries, regulators agreed that results analysis of rehabilitation practices was poorly done. While Brazilian regulators saw ecosystem services as an opportunity to fill some current gaps in rehabilitation practices, such as stakeholder engagement, the Australian regulators believed that the planning process already made implicit use of ecosystem services. In both cases, the actual biophysical basis of rehabilitation practices was found to be robust, but taking an ecosystem services approach to mine closure planning enhanced the process and generated valuable insights for guiding post-mining land-use determinations. Overall, the study demonstrates that meeting regulatory requirements for rehabilitation, as measured by ecological indicators, does not automatically correlate with acceptable social outcomes.