Recommended staking moratorium in Yukon land use planning areas misses the mark, critics say

Too much staking in a region runs the risk of predetermining land use planning, critics say.

Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin chief says the panel’s recommendation isn’t as balanced as it should be

A mining claim in Dawson City, Yukon. The annual Roundup conference ended this week and experts say the mining sector is making progress. (Julie Landry/Radio-Canada)

Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation's chief disagrees with a recommendation included in the Yukon Mineral Development Strategy that suggests staking moratoriums in land use planning areas should be capped at 20 per cent.

Roberta Joseph said the recommendation doesn't go far enough, adding that too much staking in a given area runs the risk of prioritizing mining before land use plans are completed. 

"This recommendation is not really a balanced approach," she said.

"There's no fairness in a plan that's already being dictated by all of the permits and licences that are being issued," she said, referring to the regional land use plan that's underway in the Dawson area.

The mineral development strategy includes 95 recommendations that seek to balance environmental stewardship, First Nations rights and industrial development. In the coming years, the Yukon government is tasked with implementing recommendations that include streamlining land use planning, improving the royalty system and modernizing mining legislation.

The strategy states that identifying staking prohibition areas at the start of land use planning will "reduce a major source of uncertainty for the industry and a significant concern for First Nations, non-governmental organizations and Yukoners in general."

"A proactive approach will also provide economic stimulus by allowing exploration and development to proceed in areas that are deemed to have low sensitivity while regional land use planning is underway," it says.

Panel member Math'ieya Alatini said the recommended 20 per cent staking moratorium seeks to target specific environmental, social and cultural attributes rather than institute a blanket ban.

"It's that balancing piece again," she said. "It's really allowing the conversation to happen around what are no-go zones and what are sensitive areas that you really want to identify upfront, so that there's not this ambiguity."

A day before the territorial election was called, the Yukon government announced that staking would be off-limits in about 12 per cent of land included in the Dawson planning area. Tombstone Territorial Park brings total staking withdrawals in the region up to 17 per cent, according to a Yukon government news release.

Environmental groups question recommendation 

Randi Newton, the conservation manager with the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said the staking moratorium is too small to ensure mineral development doesn't predetermine the outcome of land use planning.

"It makes much more sense to put a full withdrawal in place at the beginning of planning, so you're making sure you're protecting these areas that are ecologically and culturally valuable but that we just haven't mapped out yet," she said.

Don Reid, a conservation zoologist with Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, said region-wide staking moratoriums would give land use planning commissions a fair shake of completing their work. 

Staking needs to be reined in to prevent complicating land use planning down the line, he added.

"It prejudices the future use of that staked land in favour of mining and results in the need to compensate the staker should a different choice be made for that land," Reid said.

Opportunity to get things right: Chief

Among the many recommendations the strategy outlines, one stands out for Joseph, in particular — revamping the quartz and placer acts.

She says modernizing mining legislation presents an opportunity to address longstanding concerns. 

"I think that we need to be able to sit down and identify the most immediate issues at this time and move forward in working with the government," she said. 

Joseph said she's going to continue to review the strategy to ensure it aligns with Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin's final agreement.