All in favour of development, say ‘sustainable’

Given the collapse of equity markets and commodity prices, boom-and-bust industries, like mining and fossil fuel exploration, are not going to be big…

Given the collapse of equity markets and commodity prices, boom-and-bust industries, like mining and fossil fuel exploration, are not going to be big economic generators in the Yukon for quite some time.

And yet, boom-and-bust industries that have the potential to leave long-lasting negative impacts and expensive clean-up legacies are being proposed to the Peel land-use planning process.

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission is accepting input now. It needs to hear from Yukon people that fantasies of mineral and fossil fuel development must not be allowed to impact the existing and future sustainable tourism industry in the Peel Watershed.

Considering the cost of cleaning up the mess left behind by some resource-extraction companies, the net economic benefit of these operations becomes even more questionable.

The remains of the Faro Mine are costing Canadian taxpayers at least $1 million a year. It’s estimated the total cost to Canadian taxpayers for reclaiming the Faro minesite will run between $500 million and $1 billion over several decades.

And it is expected water treatment will be required for at least 500 years.

The Minto mine looks like it’s hanging on for now due to smart financial management, but exploration is predicted to be drastically down next year.

Is this sustainable?

It’s fiscal madness.

Pages and pages of the Resource Assessment Report prepared by Energy, Mines and Resources for the Peel Watershed Planning Commission are filled with mining and fossil fuel development scenarios that have a very flimsy economic basis.

It is highly unlikely that there is enough water in the Peel Watershed to run a mine, and the cost of transporting products from this remote location to markets would be enormous. The investment in pipeline and road infrastructure alone would be colossal.

In some areas, it could cost half a million dollars, or more, per kilometre for roads.

When tourism is well managed, it doesn’t create negative, long-term impacts to the land and allows for the majority of existing land uses, including hunting, trapping, guiding, First Nations’ traditional use, and recreation to prosper.

Not only are these resource-extraction proposals more of the same old boom-and-bust fantasies, they put at risk the existing, viable industries of tourism and guide outfitting that are already established and have tremendous growth potential.

The Yukon Tourism Sector Strategy and Business Plan, 2008 estimates tourism’s share of the Yukon’s GDP is 4.4 per cent. According to the Yukon government’s economic development branch, the GDP contribution from mining and fossil fuel extraction only came in at about 3.6 per cent in 2008 — and this in the best year for mining that we have ever had in terms of both exploration and development.

In fact when one compares periods of high activity and low activity in the mining sector one finds that both the GDP and the number of jobs in the Yukon continue to increase through low periods of mining activity.

The GDP and employment keep growing even when the mining sector is considerably down and even though government subsidies to the industry continue at a high level.

No other sector in Yukon receives the degree of support that the mining sector does both through direct subsidies and tax incentives. Yet its total contribution to the GDP has remained in the area of three per cent for years.

Tourism has been and continues to be a consistent, steady source of income over long periods of time.

People visit the Yukon from around the world to experience our most valuable asset – our vast, wild places. This wilderness asset continues to pay off.

Whether it’s group bus tours or individuals paddling remote, wild rivers and hiking endless mountain ranges, people come year after year even during economic downturns.

This is the main reason our Whitehorse airport is international with direct flights to and from Germany.

With good land-use planning this sustainable economy can be maintained.

Mining and oil and gas have valid roles to play in the Yukon’s economy. But they are not consistent economic drivers and they are not sustainable. These land uses have to be zoned and regulated in ways that ensure they don’t impact the Yukon’s sustainable economies.

The Yukon’s future is being decided now. The Peel Watershed Planning Commission needs to hear from Yukoners about future sustainable industries for the watershed.

Prepared by the Yukon

Conservation Society and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society — Yukon Chapter.