Take nothing for granted

Those interested in protecting the Peel Watershed from mineral development should not be lulled to sleep by the government's recent staking ban. That moratorium is an essential part of the ongoing Peel planning process.

Those interested in protecting the Peel Watershed from mineral development should not be lulled to sleep by the government’s recent staking ban.

That moratorium is an essential part of the ongoing Peel planning process.

The government’s decision to take the Peel Watershed off the table is the fairest way to deal with the mining community.

To allow exploration companies to spend money staking the region when such claims could be rendered useless by a planning process would be unconscionable.

The government really had no other choice.

In fact, the moratorium has come years too late.

There were 1,500 claims in the region when the land-use planning process began in 2004.

By 2009, exploration companies had staked more than 11,000 claims during that planning process. Today, about 8,400 active claims are scattered across the watershed.

The miners argue those claims are worth money. They demand access to them, or want a government buyout.

It could have been avoided had the government imposed a staking moratorium when the land-use process began.

Instead, it allowed thousands of claims to be staked in the region, which needlessly complicated an already tricky land-use planning exercise. And, today, some of those claims look to be isolated and far costlier to develop, should they prove out.

That’s a problem we’re going to have to deal with far into the future.

With a ban now in place, the problem won’t get worse next exploration season.

But nobody should fool themselves into believing the region has been shut down to mining into the future.

The moratorium is in place while the government is negotiating a final land-use plan with First Nations.

While the Na-cho Nyak Dun, the Vuntut Gwitchin, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Gwich’in Tribal Council currently favour preservation, there is nothing to say they won’t change their minds.

On the heels of the staking moratorium came the announcement of the Yukon First Nations Resource Opportunity Conference.

Co-hosted by Premier Dennis Fentie and Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Andy Carvill, the two-day trade show will explore how development can benefit from resource projects.

It’s titled, Working Together on the Land.

It is not clear what deals Fentie might be willing to offer the aboriginal governments with a stake in the Peel.

But don’t count such a deal out. Fentie’s good at them – just look at his new Environment Minister John Edzerza, a man who once vowed never to rejoin cabinet.

Remember, mining is Fentie’s priority, and past behaviour suggests closing the region to exploration is not something he’s interested in.

He’s going to be pulling every lever he can to get the aboriginal governments to bend on the Peel.

While that haggling is underway, there will be a moratorium.

It gives exploration companies a breather, and will save them cash if Fentie can’t broker a deal.

If he can, you’ll see the exploration companies tromping through the Peel sometime after February 11, 2011.

The miners believe such a deal is possible.

“We’re happy they’re going to take the time to take the economic interests seriously,” said Carl Schulze, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, noting the chamber will be lobbying civil servants about the future of the region over the coming year.

You can bet it will be lobbying aboriginal governments too.

That effort begins on March 23 at the Yukon First Nations Resource Opportunities Conference.

Look at it this way. The recommended Peel land-use plan was released in December, protecting 80 per cent of the region from industrial activity.

Now the Na-cho Nyak Dun, the Vuntut Gwitchin, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Gwich’in Tribal Council are reviewing the plan with the Yukon government.

Staking has been suspended while those talks go on.

Environmentalists are happy. But so are the miners.

When both groups are happy about such a divisive issue, something doesn’t add up.

The miners currently have their backs against a wall. And they are optimistic.

Something is in the works.

Those advocating preservation of the Peel let down their guard at their peril. (Richard Mostyn)

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