First they came for the prospectors…

First they came for the prospectors... At the beginning of June, the Yukon government unveiled a one-option discussion paper to change the mining land use regulations in the Yukon. This affects hard rock and placer prospectors, line cutters, drillers, geol

At the beginning of June, the Yukon government unveiled a one-option discussion paper to change the mining land use regulations in the Yukon. This affects hard rock and placer prospectors, line cutters, drillers, geologists and others who make their living in the Yukon’s mining exploration industry.

Currently, mining land use regulations allow prospectors to do some low-impact work without permits. Under the proposal, work of any kind on Yukon mining claims will require a permit before starting. Applications will be circulated throughout the government and to First Nations and it will take at least 25 days to get this permit. There is no maximum time it might take or any guarantee you will even get a permit.

Should you get a permit, start work and decide you have to make changes to what you are doing, you will have to apply for another permit and wait at least another 25 days if the government deems your changes significant. If you don’t get a permit, work stops.

Finally, the government wants to replace the current standard Yukon-wide operating conditions for low-impact exploration with a patchwork of different operating conditions in various areas that they can change at their discretion.

Anywhere else north of 60, including Alaska, a prospector can run a basic small mineral exploration program without a permit. They work under regulations, but they don’t have to report their every move to the government and await their approval. Like driving a car, exploration work is subject to laws and regulations, but you don’t need to get a permit before driving from home to the grocery store.

If this current proposal becomes law, there will be two classes of land user in the Yukon. Anyone will be able to go camping wherever they like and set up camp for up to three months without a permit – except a prospector, who will need a permit to camp overnight on his claims.

Anyone will be able to cut miles of trail for their own use – except a prospector, who will have to get a permit to cut any survey lines on his claims. And anyone will be able to drive a truck on bush roads on claims except a prospector, who will now need a permit to drive his truck on the same roads.

Outfitters, trappers, wilderness guides, hunters and hikers will be able to go about their business or enjoy their hobbies without government interference while anyone working in mining exploration will be filling out permit applications and waiting and hoping they will be allowed to get on with their livelihood.

The Yukon needs prospecting and mineral exploration. Small exploration programs conducted without permits led to the recent discoveries in the White Gold, Rackla and Coffee Creek areas that have brought hundreds of millions of dollars of investment into the Yukon and will likely result in several new mines. We need these new mines to replace the Yukon’s existing mines, which were discovered decades ago and will eventually close. Choke off mining exploration today and you have no mining industry tomorrow.

Things are a lot slower in mining exploration this summer because of global financial problems but they will hopefully pick up soon. How busy do you think the Yukon will be in the future, however, if prospectors and exploration companies are tied up in red tape, applying and waiting for permits to do anything? What kind of investor will put money into a project in the Yukon where they can’t be sure they can even get an exploration program started?

The current slowdown could become the new normal. The Yukon Prospectors Association opposes this proposal and has asked the government to scrap it. The current mining rules were developed by prior consultation with industry, First Nations and interest groups in the 1990s; they were not introduced from nowhere as a take-it-or-leave-it, one-option proposal with a 60 day “consultation” period.

We think anyone who uses the bush for whatever reason should pay attention to this move by the government. If this proposal is enacted, there will be a glaring discrepancy between land use thresholds in the mining laws and the Territorial Lands Act. We will be one court case away from a situation where any camper, hunter, trapper, wilderness guide or outfitter will also require a permit before going into the bush.

When they’ve finished with us, they may be coming for you.

Mike Power

President, Yukon Prospectors Association