Yukon big game hunters will now be able to lease tracts of Crown land they’ve been using for years under a new land policy.
The policy, drafted in 2005, gives outfitters the opportunity to apply for leases on campsites within their concession areas.
Currently, outfitters have no property rights to the wilderness they use, even if they’ve constructed cabins, airstrips or roads in the area.
These leases would give outfitters “the right to possess, use and enjoy a site for a specified use and period.
“It is the common form of land tenure and authorizes land use for resource commercial operations (e.g. big game outfitting camps) where permanent facilities including lodges, cabins and docks (water lot lease) are constructed.”
The policy does not mean the outfitters will ever have the option to purchase the land they use, said lands manager Bryony McIntyre.
But it does give them exclusive commercial and recreational rights to small parcels, said McIntyre.
Some outfitters have made significant investments in their base camps and satellite camps by building infrastructure like cabins and airstrips, McIntyre explained Wednesday.
“The leases say the site can only be used for a particular purpose,” she said.
Consideration will be given to sites where outfitters have invested “substantial infrastructure dollars.”
McIntyre acknowledged long-standing conflicts between outfitters and other outdoor enthusiasts who frequently encounter each other in the Yukon wilderness.
“The best spots on the best lakes are flash points for conflicts,” said McIntyre.
“This gives us one mechanism to deal with some of them.”
Lone Wolf Outfitting Ltd., a Whitehorse-based company, is the first of 19 outfitting concession holders currently operating in the Yukon allowed to apply for tenure under the new policy.
Lone Wolf applied for 11 leases on each of its base camps within a 2 million-hectare concession that encompasses much of the Big Salmon River.
Leases can be no larger than 3.99 hectares.
Lone Wolf proprietor Craig Yakiwchuk also applied for several licences under the new policy, which would grant Lone Wolf tenure to authorize secondary camps “where historic and ongoing use and significant investment” have been well documented.
Outfitters can apply for licences “where overlapping and competing land uses precludes exclusive possession under a lease.”
Licences give the concession holder permission to leave private property such as a wall tent in an identified location of no more than 1.4 square metres.
Yakiwchuk was unavailable for comment, but his application says that “canoeists often use our site without permission” and “we quite often get intrusions with our clients from passing canoeists.”
Yakiwchuk is applying for a one-hectare lease on small peninsula where Lone Wolf has “an established use that dates back more than four decades.
“We are requesting that the entire peninsula (including the normal high water mark) be designated as a lease for this site.”
For example, he estimated Lone Wolf has $1,000 worth of property, like cabins, on the peninsula.
The policy is designed to give outfitters tenure on lands they’ve been using for years, in some cases decades, said Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie.
“These are not new concessions; there are no expansions, there are no new footprints,” Fentie said Wednesday.
“The policy is about a sanctity of tenure.”
Resources minister Archie Lang refused to answer questions about the outfitting policy his department developed, because he owns shares in Devilhole Outfitters, a Yukon outfitting company.
“The conflicts commissioner has advised (Lang) to preclude himself from this matter,” said Fentie.
Applications by outfitters under the new policy won’t automatically trigger assessment from the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board because the activity taking place is not changing.
“Land disposition in and of itself is not a trigger,” said McIntyre.
Instead of an assessment from the arm’s-length board, applications trigger a review within the lands branch, she said.
“It’s like (the land application review committee), but without the meeting,” said McIntyre.
“We’re going through the application site by site.”
But the policy is setting a dangerous precedent, said Mayo-Tatchun MLA Eric Fairclough.
“The government did not consult on a policy that has lasting impacts,” Fairclough said during Question Period Monday.
“The renewable resource councils are saying the process is not working. Meanwhile, the government is moving ahead on this matter.”
Lone Wolf’s concession overlaps with the traditional territories of several First Nations, including the Ta’an Kwach’an.
“There are trails that are traditional trading routes for First Nations,” said Fairclough.
“How is the minister going to ensure Yukoners and First Nation governments that this is not a land grab?”
Ta’an chief Ruth Massie sent two letters to Lang asking him to extend the timeline and open the review for public scrutiny.
Massie’s most recent letter is dated April 21, the deadline for comment on the Lone Wolf application.
Massie is still waiting for a reply.
“We want this process to trigger (the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Act),” Ta’an lands manager John Pattimore said Wednesday.
“The camps have been there for decades, but the YTG grant of tenure is an assessable act.”
The Ta’an are not convinced by Yakiwchuk’s claim that Lone Wolf camps do not have significant impact on fish and wildlife populations, added Pattimore.
Nor do the Ta’an trust the leasing process, given the conflict that has ensued in the Shallow Bay area, part of the Ta’an traditional territory where farmers are seeking to convert a grazing lease into private property, he said.
The Ta’an signed their 2002 land claim settlement that protects pre-existing third-party interests, said Fentie.
“The outfitting industry has been a long-standing mainstay in this territory,” he said.
“Not only have they been an economic driver, but they have shown and proven to be good stewards of the land and its wildlife.”
Tying leases to outfitting concessions “should have been done a long time ago.”
There is no record of political contributions from the Yukon Outfitters Association to the Yukon Party during the 2002 election, contrary to an assertion from Fairclough.
However, three Yukon outfitters did financially contribute to the Yukon Party’s last election campaign.
Lone Wolf was not one of them.