No mining in wetlands, says conservation group as feedback ends for Yukon's draft wetland policy

The Yukon's draft wetlands strategy, available on the territory's website, wraps up its public feedback phase Friday. As for the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, it has made its position clear: it doesn't want to see mining activity in wetland areas.

The territory says it hopes to have a final policy by May 2022

A small wetland area near Whitehorse's Riverdale neighbourhood. Public input on the Yukon government's draft wetlands policy closed Friday. (Julien Gignac/CBC)

As public input wraps up on the Yukon government's draft plan for wetlands in the territory, the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada made its position clear: it doesn't want to see mining activity in wetland areas.

"Wetlands are so important to Yukoners. People will realize that we rely on them for some of the food and medicines that we use, we rely on them for clean water, and so forth," Don Reid told CBC's Leonard Linklater, host of Midday Cafe this week.

Reid said "destruction" of some of the wetlands over the years has made the issue "highly contentious" and that it "has come to a head in the Dawson region with placer mining in particular."

But, he said, it's a much more widespread issue across the territory.

He said there's at least one good reason to not support ongoing placer mining in wetlands: the effect of carbon storage on climate change.

"Wetlands store an awful lot of carbon," Reid said.

Don Reid is a biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Whitehorse. He said the Yukon government should not allow mining on the territory's wetlands. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"If we are moving that surface material around the soils in the peats and so forth, we are releasing a lot of that carbon much more quickly into the atmosphere. And that's a really detrimental thing to be doing at this time in our history, given the climate crisis."

Though a policy is needed, Reid said he thinks the government's draft policy lacks certainty for both wetland users and people wanting to conserve those lands.

"We're in a situation without a broad scale wetland policy across the territory. And that results in a gradual erosion of wetland values as one project comes up and gets approved, and then another and so forth," he said.

"This draft wetland policy isn't providing any additional certainty for any users of wetlands or people interested in conservation of wetlands."

Outline limits to development, says group

What's needed, he said, is a "comprehensive overview" that outlines "the ultimate limits" on how much development should be allowed.

"[The] government isn't providing any solid information on where the limits are."

On the territory's website, it says Yukon currently has "no framework in place to guide the management of activities in wetlands across Yukon," which has led to "uncertainty for land managers, industry, and project assessors when dealing with development in wetlands."

It also says the draft policy was developed as part of the implementation of the Yukon Water Strategy.

The government said it invited more than 50 governments and organizations to help develop the policy, including Indigenous communities, municipal and federal governments, boards and councils, non-governmental organizations, and industry associations.

The draft wetlands strategy is available on the Yukon government's website.

Results will be published in a "What We Heard report," according to the territory, with hopes of having a final wetlands policy in May 2022.