Company renews bid to explore for gold in Tombstone Park

An application to work quartz claims in Tombstone Territorial Park has revived a debate over whether mining should be allowed in the park.

An application to work quartz claims in Tombstone Territorial Park has revived a debate over whether mining should be allowed in the park.

Canadian United Minerals has applied to renew its mining licence for 18 mineral claims in the Cloudy Range of the Ogilvie Mountains at the headwaters of the Blackstone River.

The claims, staked in 1997, predate the creation of the park established at the request of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in in 1999.

At the time, the First Nation was finalizing its land claim agreement and bitterly fought mineral exploration in Tombstone Park.

The issue came before the Yukon Supreme Court in 2003, which ruled Canadian United Minerals could work those claims because they had been “grandfathered” in with the park.

The company worked the land until 2005, after which activity on the claims stopped. Now the company wants to continue its exploration program by drilling, blasting and excavating about 2,500 tonnes of material over the next five years, according to an application to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board.

The company considers the gold claims “lucrative.”

“We are gravely concerned with the proposal from Canadian United Minerals to resume and expand quartz mining exploration activities in Tombstone Territorial Park,” reads a letter to the assessment board jointly signed by the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Na-cho Nyak Dun and Gwichin Tribal Council.

The proposed exploration area, which lies in the shadow of a 300-metre-high cliff, contains several heritage sites and traditional harvesting grounds, according to the First Nations.

Canadian United Minerals has said it will use helicopters and existing snowmachine trails during the winter to remove material with the least amount of impact.

But the First Nations claim those access trails don’t exist and exploring and mining the area would require new trails to be cut through the park.

“It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to run loaded snowmachines over those routes (along Slavin Creek and Foxy Creek) without significantly disturbing the ground underneath.”

The letter also refers to the fact the waters of the Blackstone River empty into the Peel River Watershed, an area the First Nations are working to protect through the territory’s recommended land-use plan.

It’s not just the surrounding First Nation groups that are worried. Other Yukoners have voiced concern about the prospect of mining in the park.

“I’ve heard about the grandfathered rights but it still seems strange to have mining in the territorial park,” said Joost van der Putten.

“What’s the use of having a territorial park if you’re going to mine in it?”

The three-year resident of the Yukon runs a touring company that occasionally takes visitors on day hikes through Tombstone Park.

“I’d love to tour more hikes through Tombstone, it’s a unique region with unique plants and landscapes,” said van der Putten.

“It would be a pity to see industrial activity there.”

The Yukon government will wait to see what the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board recommends before it makes any decision to allow the exploration program to go ahead, said Energy, Mines and Resources spokesperson Jesse Devost.

“Any work that happens on the claims would be subject to the full slate of regulatory reviews,” he added.

In addition to applying to the assessment board, Canadian United Metals must also apply for a park permit.

The Horn claims are the only outstanding quartz claims in Tombstone park. When the land officially became a park in 1999, all other prospectors withdrew their claims for a variety of reasons, said Devost.

Canadian United Minerals hopes to begin its exploration program this July. They could not be reached for comment before press time.

The assessment board is taking comments on the proposed project until June 22.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com