Scrap the policy, draft something better

The outfitter land tenure policy is a complete schmozzle. Here’s why. Consider, for a moment, that you want a recreational lot in the…

The outfitter land tenure policy is a complete schmozzle.

Here’s why.

Consider, for a moment, that you want a recreational lot in the hinterland.

How do you get one?

Well, you can’t.

“In the interest of sound planning, the government develops and sells recreational lots in planned subdivisions,” according to lands branch fact sheet No. 3. “Individual recreational applications are not accepted.”

Too bad — you have to wait for a planned subdivision.

And what happens if you take a chance, build a little cabin and hope that nobody finds you in the wide expanse of wilderness?

Well, last winter Guy Mirabeau did that. He hoped to retire there.

And the Yukon government officials who happened upon the cabin burned it to the ground.

Too bad he wasn’t an outfitter, because those guys operate under a different set of rules.

They are granted a concession, a vast tract of land on which they can hunt goats, caribou, bears, moose and other big-game animals. And that’s all they’re supposed to do.

But, often, they finesse the rules.

“To ensure the comfort of their hunters, outfitters have built cabins, lodges, airstrips and base camps and outposts in their concessions,” said Liberal Pat Duncan in the legislature.

Have they done this with permission?

Nope — just like the guy with the retirement cabin, they just sneak them in.

“They do not own or lease the land that these structures are built upon,” said Duncan in the house. “The concession they bought — and they earn revenue on — was for hunting the resources in the area only.”

Do they get burned out?

Nope.

In fact, with little fanfare or discussion, the government has just opened the possibility they’ll receive tenure on the remote land they have annexed, under dubious circumstances.

Wilderness tourism operators, who also guide folks into the bush (of course, they’re carrying cameras, not rifles) aren’t given the same opportunity, noted Duncan.

Fair?

“Under this one-off land application policy, big game outfitters can apply for the land they have built cabins on in the past, yet the average individual, who has built a cabin in the Yukon wilderness, is treated differently,” noted Duncan.

“Under the land application policy, big game outfitters can apply for the land camps are built on; yet, according to other rules, wilderness tour operators are not even allowed to build these types of camps, let alone apply for the land.

“One-off policy developments, like this process, for one private sector group alone aren’t fair to all concerned.

“The government is picking winners and losers in a lottery for one of Yukon’s most precious resources — cabins in the wilderness — and it seems only some Yukon businesses need apply.”

And Environment minister Dennis Fentie doesn’t disagree.

“The member is entirely correct that this is a one-off and that this is for one industry only,” he said.

“This policy provides clarity for all use on the land base. To suggest that the outfitting industry, after decades of involvement in the Yukon territory and its economy and overall fabric, as stewards of the land, is somehow now an industry we don’t want here is something this government will never, ever support.

“We’ll support the outfitting industry, as we are with the policy.”

But something else is going on.

This is a lands branch issue. That is, it comes under Energy Mines and Resources — Archie Lang’s department.

So why is Fentie fielding the questions? Sure, Environment is where responsibility for outfitting concessions lies. But the outfitting tenure policy was whipped up by Lang’s crew at the lands branch.

And Lang is in a conflict — he owns an outfitting business.

But Lang hasn’t participated in any discussions, he said.

The proof?

Well, there isn’t any — Lang won’t provide any correspondence he’s sent to, or received from conflicts commissioner David Phillip Jones.

So, through access to information, the Liberals asked for any correspondence from Lang to stakeholders on the outfitter policy.

The request came back “no records found.”

Good, right?

Nope.

That’s because someone brought forward a April 2003 letter Lang wrote to the Alsek Renewable Resource Council concerning the outfitter policy.

This is troubling for a few reasons.

First, it suggests that Lang has had some involvement in guiding the outfitter land policy — perhaps launching it. (A letter to Fentie from Lang detailing his possible conflicts on outfitter issues was sent six days after his resource council letter was drafted. However, neither Lang nor Fentie have produced this letter.)

Second, access to information within Lang’s Resources department failed to turn up the letter he sent to the resource council — was it lost or shredded?

The department’s failure to provide the letter raises serious questions about the integrity of the access to information process.

Last, there was scant consultation on the new policy.

At the request of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, government officials held a information session on the policy on December 11, 2002, noted Liberal Eric Fairclough.

And that’s the extent of the consultation.

Now, the outfitter land tenure policy is clearly not fair to all.

The process was fast-tracked with almost no consultation with the wider public.

The process has been spearheaded by a department run by a guy who has close ties to the industry — heck, he owns an outfitting business.

He’s declared his conflict, but has sent letters about the policy to at least one stakeholder.

Access to information requests about that correspondence did not turn up the appropriate documents, which suggests incompetence within the department, at best, or a coverup.

So, the whole affair is extremely troubling.

“Will the Hon. Premier put an immediate halt to this present outfitting policy and allow all Yukoners to participate in a made-in-Yukon policy on land development and land acquisition — a policy we can all support, including the outfitters?” asked Fairclough.

Well?

At this point, that seems like the most prudent approach. (RM)