Plans for a gold and copper mine southwest of Williams Lake, B.C., have triggered an intense debate that's pitting job creation against environmental concerns.

Steve Callander travels all the way from Vancouver Island each year to visit the aptly named Fish Lake. He told CTV News he usually catches a fish in his first few casts -- and he proved it for the television cameras.

"It's a self-sustained trout fishery. It has creeks coming in the end, fish go up and spawn, and it looks after itself," Callander said.

He and his family were sad to hear the lake could disappear. Taseko Mines wants to create a sprawling 35-square-kilometre open-pit mine in the area, and the lake will need to be drained.

"It would be a shame to lose this lake. It's an awesome place to come that's enjoyed by a lot of people," Callander's wife Cary said.

The Prosperity mine would create hundreds of jobs, and produce gold and copper for two decades.

But environmentalists say the ends don't justify the means.

"To endanger a whole watershed for a mining project that could be done in another way is not acceptable," said John Dressler of the Council of Canadians.

There's also fear the mine could threaten nearby rivers, and First Nations leaders say they're ready to put up a fight.

"If they decide to go through with the mine, it's not going to go through with us. We'll be out there protecting that. I don't care what happens," said Ervin Charleyboy, former chief of the Stone Band.

Alexis Creek Band Chief Percy Guichon agrees.

"We have no options but to protect our land, just as our chiefs before us who died protecting our land back in 1864. So, it's been done before," Guichon said.

Members of the provincial government have expressed alarm over threats of violent resistance to the mine.

"The threats of violence that I've heard over and over, really, I don't think have a place in today's society and I hope the rhetoric we're hearing is somewhat empty," said Randy Hawes, minister of state for mining.

Sources have told CTV News that the federal cabinet is divided on the issue and is delaying its decision on whether to approve the mine. It would be an unprecedented approval, given the serious environmental concerns raised in an environmental impact assessment.

But the B.C. Conservative caucus -- especially in the north -- is said to be solidly in favour, because jobs in the forestry industry are disappearing.

Former Williams Lake mayor and MLA Walt Cobb says the stakes couldn't be higher.

"Half of this town will be shut down within two years if we don't have something to take us through the downfall in the forest industry," he said. "It's survival, that's what it is."

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Kent Molgat