Government flip flops on exploration project

The Yukon government has changed its mind about a mining exploration project south of Beaver Creek. Despite originally approving the plan by Tarsis Resources Ltd., officials now say exploration cannot go forward.

The Yukon government has changed its mind about a mining exploration project south of Beaver Creek.

Despite originally approving the plan by Tarsis Resources Ltd., officials now say exploration cannot go forward.

Meanwhile the White River First Nation is calling for a ban of all staking in the First Nation’s traditional territory.

The hotly contested project pitted the government against the First Nation and led to a battle in the Yukon Supreme Court.

Tarsis had applied for a five-year Class 3 exploration permit. The work would have required, among other things, heavy machinery, new trails, line cutting and trenching.

Last year, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board recommended the project not be allowed to proceed because it would have significant adverse effects on wildlife, specifically the Chisana caribou herd.

The First Nation also opposed the application.

At first the government chose to go against the assessment board’s recommendation and allow the project to move forward.

In its original decision, the territory said environmental risks could be mitigated.

The Chisana herd has consisted of about 700 animals since 2005. The herd is in Yukon and Alaska on the Klutlan Plateau and near the headwaters of the White River.

White River First Nation took the government to court.

In a July 5 ruling this year, Justice Ron Veale ruled the government did not properly consult with the First Nation. He ordered the government to consult further before deciding to issue the licence or not.

The consultation took place Sept. 23, according to government documents.

In a new decision document released Friday, the government now says it will not approve the plan.

This time, the territory says the environmental impact of the exploration could not be mitigated.

“The evaluation report concluded that significant adverse environmental and socio-economic effects that could not be mitigated in relation to wildlife and wildlife habitat and First Nation traditional land use and culture could occur if the project proceeded,” the decision document states.

“In the consultation meeting held on September 23, representatives of White River discussed openly and frankly with the (government) the importance of the Chisana caribou to their culture. They also spoke in detail about the importance of the land where the project is proposed to occur and noted that displacement from this area – distinct from other areas in their asserted traditional territory – would have adverse impacts on their culture.”

In an interview this morning, Robert Holmes, Yukon’s director of mineral resources for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, said a lot of new information regarding the caribou came out in the year and a half between the two decisions.

“The project is kind of remarkable for the information about caribou that came out after the seeking views and information period closed,” he said.

When the government first considered its position, biologists thought the caribou herd could be managed through regulations, said Holmes.

“We were finding enough information about caribou that you could, through spatial changes and timing windows, deal with the concerns.”

Since that time, he said, new data has come in including more complete collaring data and new reports that weren’t available the first time.

During the time between decisions, a different project, this time by Teck Resources, was approved for land just to the southeast of the Tarsis project.

The cumulative effects of the two projects were also considered in denying Tarsis’s plans this time, Holmes said.

In a statement from the White River First Nation, Deputy Chief Dwayne Broeren criticized the government’s handling of the situation.

“It is a shame that YG wasted all this time and money fighting for a company that disregarded WRFN interests blatantly. However, we are pleased that ultimately they listened to WRFN. WRFN seeks a new relationship with Canada and YG that reflects our unique status of unextinguished aboriginal rights and title to our traditional territory.”

Questions to the government about how much money was spent on the legal wrangling were not answered in time for the News’ deadline.

The First Nation calls for the banning of all staking in WRFN traditional territory “while consultation and accommodation issues are being resolved with government.”

“The WRFN have informed YG and Canada that they are reasserting the traditional territory maps provided to government before the UFA Land Claim process began with WRFN, and long before mineral discoveries were made on their lands,” the statement reads.

“WRFN took this step after conducting extensive traditional land use and historical land usage studies of their people’s history.”

White River points to this case, and also a recent win by the Ross River First Nation, as a sign that things are changing.

“The WRFN win in court over YG and Tarsis, as well as RRDC killing ‘free entry’ in court, show that the old ways of doing business in YT for mining are over. WRFN is not interested in a UFA-based land claim but we are willing to negotiate a new relationship with government that reflects the modern reality and our unextinguished title,” WRFN Land Co-ordinator Janet VanderMeer said in the statement.

“WRFN is re-asserting our land claim to our entire traditional territory and we have the evidence to support this. We hope the premier respects what was learned from the Tarsis fiasco and will join WRFN in now establishing a more productive process to resolve our issues that abandons their confrontational previous approaches.”

Marc Blythe, president and CEO of Tarsis, said his company was still reviewing the government’s decision.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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