On May 9, Premier Darrell Pasloski pledged his continuing support for the free-entry mining system. From what I can discern, this system dates back more than 150 years to before the Klondike gold rush.
Generally, it includes:
a) a right of free access to lands in which the minerals are publicly owned;
b) a right to take possession of them by staking a claim; and
c) a right to develop and mine the minerals discovered – all with little consultation and opportunity for government and third party intervention.
In the Yukon, access excludes: First Nation Category “A” lands; lands withdrawn for settlement of land claims; parks and special management areas; graveyards and church property; actively cultivated farmland; the yard surrounding a dwelling; and lands removed from staking by order in council.
However, these exceptions constitute a small fraction of the Yukon landscape and staking is indeed at record levels (114,587 claims in 2011).
Essentially, whenever a claim is staked, the land-use becomes decided.
Mineral operators have high expectations of being able to proceed with little obstruction. Governments are fearful about expensive compensation claims if it is subsequently decided that mining should not be permitted.
What then of other current and potential land uses? Where is the balance in ensuring other values are respected?
Outdated free-entry staking practices have lead to serious conflicts locally, nationally and internationally.
Expert forums have attempted to devise solutions. For examples, see Canadian Boreal Initiative report entitled: “Mineral Exploration Conflicts in Canada’s Boreal Forest.”
Changes to the free-entry system are required to better address 21st-century societal values for environmental, cultural and socio-economic sustainability.
However, in the Yukon, there has been little change in spite of recent conflicts and increasing public concerns (e.g. Tombstone, Dawson City Dome, Whitehorse X-C Ski Club, Spruce Hills).
Rather, the emphasis has been on making the staking process even easier.
For the Yukon Party to state that it is in full support of free-entry mining infers that these serious issues will continue to be ignored.
Given the current staking boom, the amount of land being predisposed to mining is growing at alarming rates. Conflicts will only get worse!
Isn’t it ironic that the federal Conservatives and the Yukon Party (as stated May 9 by Brad Cathers) both have their sights set on “streamlining” environmental regulations, even though some are relatively contemporary statutes?
No mention is made of revising century-old mining practices. Where is the balance here?
These practices have contributed to the public debt for clean-up of contaminated sites, now reaching $7.7 billion, many of which are attributed to mining.
Have a look at our legacy; it will prevail for centuries. If newly proposed “streamlined” environmental laws prove to be as inadequate as many fear, the number of contaminated sites will increase, and costs will grow even higher.