An ancient Western Shoshone prayer site might not have any remaining artifacts to prove its cultural significance, but when asked, the people say the place has been sacred for centuries.
That’s what Matt Edwards, the cultural resources program director for SWCA Environmental Consultants, discovered when he spoke with tribe members about their connection to lands encompassing the Hollister Mine outside of Winnemucca.
SWCA specializes in environmental regulatory compliance, and natural and cultural resource management, and serves clients in the mining industry.
Klondex Mines Ltd. contracted SWCA to study the cultural resources in the Hollister Mine area ahead of its transfer of more than 3,200 acres, including the culturally significant Rock Creek lands, to the Western Shoshone in summer 2017.
The mining company wanted a consultant that would go beyond looking at physical remains to build a better history of the area and build relationships.
“For the Shoshone, it’s a bigger vantage point,” said Lucy Hill, Klondex’s director of environmental services and community relations. “It’s about the use of land in earlier times. You can’t document that this was a prayer site. Being able to talk to the Shoshone to know that that is where there were prayers” is the kind of work that the consulting group does.
For SWCA, balancing natural and cultural resources with beneficial projects such as mines is about more than generating reports and identifying artifacts. The work is about sitting down with the people who matter.
“Taking this consultant role seriously, as opposed to being a scientist for hire, is something we try to cultivate here,” Edwards said. “We are doing our best with our relationships with our agencies and relationships with our clients to find the most straightforward and best solution for our client.”
SWCA, established in 1981 and headquartered in Phoenix, has about 30 offices all over the country, including in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City with a satellite office in Reno. The employee-owned environmental consulting company has about 800 staff members. Unlike most of its competitors, SWCA foregoes engineering services in favor of focusing on environmental consulting.
The company has a mining business line led by David Steed that serves clients in the Great Basin, including Nevada, and the Intermountain West.
“I would say mining is one of our biggest market sectors in Nevada,” Edwards said.
Consultants can travel all over the U.S., but many are experts in a specific region.
“As scientists, we have specific knowledge of the Great Basin region for archeology,” said Lindsey Kestler, project manager and archeologist in SWCA’s cultural resource program.
Other mining clients include companies in Nevada and Arizona. Past efforts include providing permitting support for some of the nation’s largest mining operations, according to SWCA’s website.
Klondex first began working with SWCA for cultural resources services at the Fire Creek Mine. Now, SWCA works at all the company’s mines, adding Hollister, Aurora and Midas. SWCA is expected to continue working for Hecla Mining Co. after acquiring Klondex and forming Klondex Canada.
“Ever since I started working with [Edwards] at Fire Creek, I’ve dragged him to every single mine we’re at,” Hill said. “He’s just so very thorough.”
For mining clients, SWCA’s consultants develop resource plans, environmental assessments, policy act assessments and more through a combination of office and field work. The group also helps host public workshops to educate the public about projects, and interfaces with the land management agencies in the state.
“They follow the letter of the law so they keep this company — Klondex — safe from prosecution, from not breaking the law,” Hill said. “That is a huge responsibility.”
The openness that SWCA shares with its sources and the public also applies to the mine operators. Hill described how although Edwards cannot legally tell her exactly where he finds certain artifacts on mine property, he will outline the basic information and explain the mining company’s options.
“He’ll sit down and walk you through you through the pros and cons,” Hill said. “It gives you more flexibility in the decision-making.”
In the long run, that approach helps the project, Hill said, but it also protects resources and creates “a better understanding of who was here first and what they have done.”