Miners await certainty from Peel watershed land use case

Mining companies have spent an estimated $40 million exploring the ‘pristine’ wilderness of the Peel River watershed, and many are hoping the land use trial being argued in a Whitehorse courtroom this week will result in certainty for those who hold claims in the area.

'Any company lacks a social license to go in there and do much activity... It’s a no-go zone'

A campsite on the Hart River in the Peel watershed. The area is still viewed as a pristine wilderness, even though mining companies have spent about $40 million looking for paydirt in the region and the Yukon government has said it will protect mineral claims in the area. (Juri Peepre)

The Yukon Chamber of Mines is watching this week's Peel watershed court case closely.

Samson Hartland, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, says he'll be looking for signs of revival in Yukon's mineral exploration industry at the Roundup in Vancouver. (Archbould Photography)
Samson Hartland, the chamber's executive director, says the mining industry is looking for certainty in the Peel watershed — something that he says wasn't delivered when the Yukon government rejected the land use plan that took an independent commission six years to write. 

“We expressed concerns at the time, and even more so today, that any company lacks a social license to go in there and do much activity,” Hartland says. “At this stage, it’s a no-go zone.”

Since the 1940s, more than $40 million dollars has been spent by mining companies looking for pay dirt in the Peel watershed, according to an estimate by the chamber, and many people and companies hold mineral claims in the region.

“With all that activity, all that exploration, identification and mining that's occurred it's still viewed as a pristine wilderness,” says Samson Hartland, the chamber’s executive director. “And I agree. You know, mining and exploration and the environment can co-exist.”

Jimmy Johnny is an elder from the Nacho N'yak Dun First Nation, one of several organizations suing the Yukon government over its land use plan for the Peel watershed. 'It's being disturbed,' Johnny says. (Philippe Morin/CBC)
Jimmy Johnny disagrees. He's an elder from the Nacho N'yak Dun First Nation, one of the parties that launched the lawsuit.

“Flying over that area, sometimes when I go up there and I see all the mining sites, camp sites, roads and cat trails, cut line, everywhere.  It's being disturbed.”   

First Nations and environmental groups have been in court this week demanding the Yukon government implement the land use plan for the Peel watershed — an area the size of Nova Scotia — drafted by the Peel planning commission. 

The plan would have protected up to 80 per cent of the land from development. 

The Yukon government is arguing that it had the right to issue its own land use plan, which would protect only 30 per cent of the area from development. 

The government says it intends to respect existing claims in the Peel region.

Closing arguments in the case are expected to wrap up today. 

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