Claim-staking in city recreation areas shows just how archaic Yukon mining laws really are, says an environment watchdog.
In October, stakers Robert Clarke, Guillaume Garant, Jean Legare, James Skailes and Mathieu Ducharme were allowed to claim 85 separate parcels in a Mount McIntyre area containing ski trails used by the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club.
That’s not acceptable, said Yukon Conservation Society’s mining co-ordinator Gerry Couture.
Canada’s free-entry staking system allows people to stake anywhere they want provided there isn’t another claim there.
The system is outdated and is not responsible, said Couture.
“A modern-day or contemporary free-entry system should be combined with a system of land-use planning that recognizes other values.”
A modern society concerned with sustainable development should be looking for alternatives, said Couture.
“The free-entry system that we’ve inherited from the British is probably good for industry. But in the 21st century we should be able to withdraw from staking those areas that have another value that is considered paramount.
“What we’re looking at with the Mount McIntyre area is an area the city’s Official Community Plan recognizes as an outdoor recreation area.”
The difficulty is those regions have not been withdrawn, so every time someone stakes a location already being used, problems begin, he said.
“That’s unfortunate because once staking has taken place, you’ve alienated the value and you’ve given someone an interest in the area,” said Couture.
“Whether or not you can take that back can lead to all sorts of political, economic, and legal problems.”
As manager of lands, the Yukon government needs to get serious about land-use planning, identify areas that it wants to protect and withdraw protected areas from mining eligibility, said Couture.
“It’s simply a matter of modernizing the staking system.”
Couture isn’t the only one advocating for change.
Industry watchdog Mining Watch Canada has also taken issue with the free-entry system.
“All Crown lands are open for staking and mineral exploration unless they are expressly excluded or withdrawn by statute,” says Mining Watch Canada’s website.
“This limits the ability of governments to undertake multi-use land resource planning, which often includes the designation of protected areas, and the balancing of other potential resource users, such as timber, oil and gas, and wilderness tourism operators.”
Tampering with the current system could cut out the little guy and leave mining solely in the hands of large mining conglomerates, said Carl Schulze, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
“If you get rid of free entry, you limit the staking ability to major corporations so it means the smaller junior companies would have a much more difficult time competing for it,” said Schulze.
“You need to have free entry so that you can allow anyone to acquire mineral rights. It keeps the playing field more level for any participants in it.”
The case of the 85 Mount McIntrye claims shouldn’t really be an issue, he said.
The area has traditionally been home to a number of mines, there are already scores of claims in the area and the people have a right to stake there, he said.
“It’s called free entry and what that means is anyone like yourself, or anyone from the Yukon Conservation Society, can go and stake claims and record them.
“It just depends on how much money you’ve got — you don’t even need a licence here.”
There are safety measures in place in the Yukon, said Schulze.
No large-scale mining would be allowed to proceed without public consultation, he said.
If the owners of the claims, which may not necessarily be the men who staked it, wanted to do major work, they would have to go through a Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board review and pull city development permits, he said.
“If you want to do some major work in it, that’s where YESAA comes in.
“You can’t go and do major work without an assessment, and it’s at that point that there’s a lot of public input.
“The public input does exist, it just exists at the point where you develop your claims, it doesn’t exist at the point where you want to acquire it.”
There are several restrictions that ensure small-scale work is kept small, according to the Quartz Act.
For small-scale work, referred to as Class 1, the mining area can’t have more than 10 people on it at any one time.
They aren’t allowed to make any permanent roads or buildings, and they are not permitted to use more than 1,000 kilograms of explosives in a 30-day period.
Laying claims within city boundaries isn’t new and is actually considered desirable by many municipal governments because it gives them more revenue, added Schulze.
While the city has a prohibition on placer claims, municipal authorities have no role to play on where claims are staked within city limits, said city manager Dennis Shewfelt.
“We have no prior knowledge of what’s going on. The mining recorder’s office doesn’t report to us about what’s happening.
“Depending on what level of activity there is, (miners) may need development permits from the city … (but) council doesn’t have any authority to approve or disapprove of those claims.”
The 85 claims staked in October have not yet been approved, said Glenna Southwick, mining recorder for the Whitehorse mining lands office.
“I haven’t granted them. I haven’t done that yet because, for one thing, we have to find out what the conflicts are and where they are and all those sorts of things.
“It’s going to take a little while.”
The Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club is keeping a close eye on the claims, said vice-president Derrick Hynes.
“We are aware that some claims are in the process of being staked. As the ski club, you see how we would have an interest in protecting the trail network.”
Clarke, Garant, Legare, Skailes and Ducharme could not be reached for comment.