Protect 80% of Peel watershed from staking: commission

Eighty per cent of the Yukon's Peel River watershed region should be protected from industrial development, according to recommendations from the the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.

Plan renders area claims worthless: mining chamber

Eighty per cent of the Yukon's Peel River watershed region should be withdrawn from any industrial development, including mineral staking, according to recommendations from the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.

In its recommended land-use plan, posted online late Wednesday, the commission says existing mineral claims should be maintained in the Peel watershed region, located north of Mayo in central Yukon.

The plan now goes to the Yukon government and area First Nations for approval.

Earlier this year, a draft of the plan outraged the Yukon's mining industry because the commission called for most of the vast wilderness area to be protected from staking.

"This is a very cautious and a conservative plan, and our intention was by emphasizing conservation of landscapes to preserve as many future options for society as we can," commission member David Loeks told CBC News on Thursday.

Loeks said he and other commission members took into consideration submissions from the mining industry, but they were also restricted by land claim agreements that mandated the planning process in the first place.

"That really provided our frame of reference, which instructed us to focus on sustainable development, focus on public interest of Yukon First Nations and Yukoners at large," he said.

Strong reactions

The Yukon Conversation Society says the recommended land-use plan strikes the right balance between conservation and development.

"It does allow for development in some areas," said society director Karen Baltgailis.

"Some places are so unique and special that they really should not have roads in them and should not have major industrial developments."

But Carl Schulze, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, said he was extremely disappointed in the plan because it will render thousands of mineral claims in the area worthless.

The commission's recommendation to let existing minerals stand is meaningless to the industry, Schulze added.

"These claims are effectively valueless if there's not a reasonable prospect of working them and accessing them if there's a deposit on them," he said.

Schulze says the land-use plan also locks up access to valuable mineral deposits, including a reknowned ore body known as the Crest iron ore deposit.

"That's a world-class iron deposit, and there will come a time when we will require the metals that are in a deposit of that size," he said.

Baltgailis, on the other hand, said the Yukon government should act quickly to approve the recommendations before miners flood the Peel area with more claims.

"Otherwise, we risk having nuisance staking that's just going to further complicate the process," she said.

Wanted more government information

Loeks said the commission could have used more information from the territorial government.

Premier Dennis Fentie was publicly accused earlier this year of politically interfering with the commission's process, after a government report was recalled and returned with significant edits.

"Our process has been guided by the analysis of the lands and the resources and the issues and interest as they've been revealed to us by our own planning process, but not things that have been operating in the media and the public in general," Loeks said.

It is now up to the government, First Nations and the public to decide whether the plan should be adopted or changed. Loeks said he hopes that is done early next year.