In a recent speech at the geoscience forum, Yukon Chamber of Mines president Carl Schultze claimed the attractiveness of the territory to mining investors could evaporate if a major protected area is created in the Peel Watershed, and that significant protection in the Peel would create a precedent for future land-use plans.
Ironically, the chamber is currently developing a best-practices manual for mineral exploration.
One purpose of the manual is to inform industry about ways to minimize impacts from exploration on ecological, cultural and social values. The Yukon Conservation Society is participating in the Chamber’s consultation process for the best-practices manual, and we believe it will be useful.
But Schultze does not seem to understand that one of the most important best practices that mineral exploration companies could adopt is listening to communities and First Nations about which places are too precious to undergo exploration and mining.
The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s Framework for Responsible Exploration says “Explorers should respect and protect vulnerable environments and species, areas of biodiversity, and locations with special social and cultural significance.”
The only way to do this is to accept that some special places like the Peel must not be developed.
Schultze’s scare tactics risk making the Yukon’s mining industry look like it is back in the Dark Ages.
A responsible industry would accept some parts of the Yukon need to be off limits, and concentrate in the areas where they have social license.
It is true each upcoming land-use plan will likely contain some areas that are protected. That is what land-use plans do Ã they zone the landscape, giving certainty to industry and to those who value wildlife, clean water and economic activities that have a light footprint.
But it is not true that major protection in the Peel will create a precedent for all future plans. The Peel is unique. It has no roads, except the Dempster Highway along its western edge.
It is home to five caribou herds, including important winter range for the Porcupine caribou herd.
It has intact populations of grizzly, wolverine, Dall sheep and marten. Peregrine falcons and 11 other birds of conservation concern nest in the watershed.
The majority of Yukoners, including three affected First Nations, want major protection in the Peel Watershed.
The Peel needs a special approach. Future land-use plans will consider other parts of the Yukon for their own particular values, including current land uses.
In the meantime, the free-entry system allows mineral exploration in 78 per cent the Yukon.
Kudos to the chamber of mines for developing a best-practices manual.
Let’s hope it includes listening to First Nations and the public about the precious places where mining and exploration should not happen.
Yukon Conservation Society