Land use planning underway for Yukon's Beaver River watershed

The 5,048 square-kilometre Beaver River watershed region in north-central Yukon is home to abundant wildlife, and also a proposed tote road to a gold exploration project.

Consultation meetings have been held in several Yukon communities

The goal is to have a land use plan in place for the Beaver River area, northeast of Mayo, by March 2020. ATAC Resources' proposed tote road is highlighted in yellow. (Government of Yukon)

The Yukon government and the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation are gathering public comments to formulate a land use plan for the Beaver River watershed region in north-central Yukon.

The 5,048-square kilometre planning area, northeast of Mayo, is considered pristine wilderness, with abundant wildlife — and it's also home to ATAC Resources' Rackla Gold project. 

A planning committee, made up of government and First Nation representatives, was recently in Keno City, Mayo, and Whitehorse, to collect information about the area.

"One of the key characteristics of this area is that it's pristine wilderness," said Lesley Cabott, co-chair of the Beaver River Watershed Land Use Planning Committee. 

"There hasn't been a lot of access, a lot of travel to it. And there's also not a lot of information."

Cabott says the Yukon government  has committed to doing some work in the area this year, collecting information about moose and fish habitat, as well as its geological potential.

B.C.-based ATAC Resources wants to build a 65-kilometre all-season tote road through the region, to access its Tiger gold property. The proposed road would run from a point near Keno City northeast to the exploration site, and would require eight bridges and 38 culverts.

The Hanson Lakes, just west of the starting point of ATAC Resources' proposed road. 'One of the key characteristics of this area is that it's pristine wilderness,' said Lesley Cabott, co-chair of the Beaver River Land Use Planning Committee. (CPAWS Yukon)

Two years ago, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board (YESAB) office in Mayo recommended approval for an all-season gated road. The office recommended that the road be monitored by ATAC Resources, to assess the effectiveness of access controls and compare changes to moose and moose habitat over a longer time span.

But there needs to be a land use plan in place before the road can be authorized. The planning committee is aiming to have the plan completed by March 2020.

'We need to really understand the region'

The proposed road runs through Na-Cho Nyäk Dun traditional territory.

"A lot of people submitted concerns about impacts to traditional ways of life, loss of wilderness outfitting, trapping," said Randi Newton, conservation coordinator for Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Yukon.

"It looks like the first step with this plan is to get a good understanding of the region and what people are valuing — and then to decide if a road is appropriate or a future development is appropriate."

'We need to really understand the region and how development can impact it,' said Randi Newton of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Yukon.

Newton says she hopes there is some weight to the land use plan, and that it's more than just a checkmark in a box.

She doesn't want the planning process to be rushed, but also says she doesn't want it to take years like the Peel Watershed plan.

"We need to really understand the region and how development can impact it, before we make decisions," said Newton.

Construction of the proposed road would take approximately two years at an estimated cost of $11 million.