Government departments challenge claims in Tombstone

Gold exploration in Tombstone Park will negatively affect wildlife and tarnish tourists' image of the park, say the departments of Environment and Tourism.

Gold exploration in Tombstone Park will negatively affect wildlife and tarnish tourists’ image of the park, say the departments of Environment and Tourism.

The departments recently criticized a local mining company’s bid to explore 18 mineral claims lying in the heart of Tombstone Park.

The company’s proposed access routes to those claims are the biggest concern, according to the departments.

Getting to them would require the company to carve new snowmachine routes through the park in the winter and fly helicopters overhead in the summer.

Both options would be detrimental to wildlife, say Environment officials.

Canadian United Minerals estimates it would have to make up to 100 snowmachine trips through the Blackstone River valley per year.

Those trips would create, “a significant amount of disturbance to sheep at a time of year when they are energetically stressed,” said environmental assessment analyst Julia Ahlgren in her submission to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board last week.

New access routes through the park could also affect moose, bear and caribou populations that use the park as herding grounds.

Meanwhile, noisy helicopters could force animals to abandon high-quality land.

Helicopters and explosives used to search for minerals would be disruptive to tourists as well, said Ahlgren.

The Horn claims are just three kilometres northwest of the Talus Lake campground and can be accessed by hikers.

“Discharge of explosives will be a disturbance for park visitors at this site and will not be consistent with expected noise levels in a wilderness setting,” wrote Ahlgren in her submission.

When government officials did a fly-by of the Horn claims on June 14th they found a box of explosives left unattended at the site.

“The explosives were in a plywood box with rocks on top,” said Environment spokesperson Nancy Campbell.

“There were no caps or fuses present, just explosives.”

After being confronted with the finding, the company properly disposed of the explosives, said Campbell. “It’s all kosher at the site now,” said Campbell.

But Energy, Mines and Resources made a point of mentioning the safe handling of explosives in their comments to the environmental assessment agency.

Canadian United Minerals is operating with a proper blasting permit.

“But this fact does not relieve the operator of the responsibility for safe handling and storage of the explosives under the Mining Land Use Regulation,” said Energy, Mines and Resources analyst Jim Leary in his submission.

“Sites that may be accessed by the public normally require additional signage and care to ensure public safety.”

The concerns listed by Tourism and Environment are similar to those raised by the Tr’ondek Hwich’in, the Yukon Conservation Society, The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the nearly 700 individuals who wrote to the environmental assessment board expressing their concern over the mining application.

Letters poured in from as far away as California from people worried about mineral exploration in the protected parkland.

All three departments criticized Canadian United Minerals’ application calling it “vague” and full of inconsistencies. The company failed to provide mitigative measures and continuously amended their project scope and proposed access routes.

But only Tourism and Environment go as far as saying the project would have negative environmental and socio-economic effects.

Energy, Mines and Resources hesitated from coming out against the mining company.

Canadian United Minerals staked their Horn claims in 1997, two years before the Tr’ondek Hwich’in expressed interested in making the surrounding area into a territorial park.

It’s the only company to actually hold claims in the park since all the other miners in the area relinquished their claims when the area converted into parkland.

The company was taken to court in 2003 by the First Nation group and eventually won its case giving it the right to legally work the claims.

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board will give their recommendation on the mining application in two weeks. Then it’s up to the Yukon government to decide whether it will allow Canadian United Minerals to explore in Tombstone Park.

Contact Vivian Belik at vivianb@yukokn-news.com