Substantial land applications continue to stir up controversy in the Lake Laberge district.
The latest is a 65-hectare land application west of Flat Creek, just beyond the Takhini Hot Springs Road.
The application, by a numbered company owned by local farmer Bill Drury, is being opposed by a variety of groups and a Whitehorse-area First Nation.
Drury’s land application is in the traditional territory of the Ta’an Kwach’an Council.
In 2005, the First Nation, two environmental groups and the Lake Laberge renewable resource council oppose Drury’s land application, which was made in late 2004.
The Ta’an controls the land east of Flat Creek and is “wholly opposed” to the application on the west side, as well as three applications in the Shallow Bay area near Lake Laberge.
All four controversial applications are within the First Nation’s traditional territory, but excluded from its land claim settlement.
The Yukon government has supported these land applications “without any meaningful consultation with the TKC and resolution of our concerns,” Ta’an chief Ruth Massie said in a January 9 letter to Premier Dennis Fentie.
“It appears that the priority for your government is to expedite the ‘land-grabs’ initiated by its friends and supporters rather than working with us.”
Drury, owner of the Circle D Ranch, declined an interview with The News.
“If it was on Ta’an land, I could see that they had some issue,” he said.
“I don’t really know what the issue is.”
Drury wants to use the Flat Creek area to grow hay and raise elk and cattle, according to a farm-development plan he filed with the agriculture branch.
Like many Yukon farmers, Drury simply wants to grow more food locally, he said.
A small percentage of the food consumed in the Yukon is produced locally. Most of it must be trucked from Alberta or BC.
Drury’s application does not conflict with the Ta’an settlement lands, according to the Yukon land claims and implementation secretariat.
But the application’s infringement on the Flat Creek wildlife corridor is well documented.
“We want the eastern boundary of the application moved to the west to respect the corridor,” said a submission from the Lake Laberge renewable resource council.
“While we have not seen the original application, we assume that, most likely, the applicant wants to draw water from Flat Creek to irrigate the area,” said the resource council.
“Since he is not the only one with such a plan, we are concerned about the damage a lowering of the water level will do to this unique ecosystem and salmon spawning and rearing in the lower reaches of Flat Creek.”
Drury’s farm-development plan says he’ll use “dugouts to collect runoff and surface water” for irrigation, and makes no mention of using water from the creek.
But the original dimensions of the application come too close to the creek, according to an agricultural land application review committee ruling from July.
The review committee offered an “agreement in principle,” as long as the northeastern boundary is set back far enough to respect the wildlife corridor and riparian zone.
Typically such setbacks are 100 metres, according to agriculture branch officials.
“We have made every attempt to consider the Flat Creek wildlife corridor to the east and the TKC land claim… to the west,” Drury said in his application.
He proposed modifying the northern boundary if the east or west boundaries must be changed.
But another farmer’s land application restricts the northern boundary of Drury’s application.
And even if the appropriate setbacks were applied, the Yukon Conservation Society would still oppose Drury’s application.
The land has been designated “environmental open space” under the Takhini Hot Springs Road local area plan, and would have to be rezoned, said society spokeswoman Karen Baltgailis.
“It is not appropriate to rezone areas of land on a case-by-case basis,” said Baltgailis in a letter to the agriculture branch.
“Zoning must be part of an approved plan that is supported by the Ta’an Kwach’an Council, the Laberge RRC and the local community.”
Ecologically-based plans must be developed before spot applications for agriculture land are approved, said Baltgailis.
The review committee said the “Takhini Hot Springs Road local area plan is favourable” to Drury’s application.
But the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society opposes the application for the same reasons as the resource council and the conservation society.
“Agricultural conversion of this area would be contrary to the local area plan,” society spokesman Mac Hislop said in a letter to the agriculture branch.
“We are not convinced the applicant actually needs this land to conduct his business,” said Hislop.
“The applicant has considerable land holdings in the area and on the south side of the Takhini River.
“In fact, the applicant owns or controls, individually or through various corporations, many hundreds of hectares in this area.
“We are not convinced that the public interest is served by alienating large areas of public lands to one use and concentrating land ownership in the hands of a few.”
Drury’s Circle D Ranch comprises more than 65 hectares, south of the Alaska Highway and west of Whitehorse.
He also holds grazing leases for about 300 hectares in the Flat Creek area.
Drury recently had another application for 65 hectares adjacent to the Flat Creek parcel approved, and is currently in the process of surveying that new land, according to agriculture officials.
Including the latest Flat Creek parcel, Drury and his wife Barbara Drury have at least four outstanding land applications for a total of 144 hectares.
According to the current agriculture policy, individuals can only have two land applications in the works at a time.
But corporate entities, like numbered companies, are treated as separate individuals, so savvy farmers can create shell corporations to apply for as much land as they want.
However, any land applications not processed before November 28, 2005, must now submit to the authority of the new Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board.
Drury has not yet filed a YESAA application for Flat Creek.
When he does, the Whitehorse district office will determine if anything in the application triggers an assessment.