After six years, the Yukon government has finally agreed to ban mineral staking in the Peel Watershed.
But it may be too little, too late.
The move came as a surprise because the Yukon government refused to grant a moratorium on mineral staking five years ago when the process began, even though First Nation governments had asked for such a ban.
In those five years, at least 8,000 new claims were staked in the watershed.
And the new ban may be of little use, because after the Peel Watershed Planning Commission released its pro-conservation plan two months ago, miners would have been unlikely to continue staking anyway.
Still, conservationists hail the ban.
“This is a good moment for everyone who has expressed their desire to see the Peel Watershed protected,” said Mike Dehn, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Yukon chapter.
“I see this as a serious commitment by the Yukon government to proceed and move with First Nations to work on a final plan that will include a lot of production in the Peel Watershed,” he said.
The staking ban will last until February 4, 2011. Current mineral claims are not affected.
The ban will remain in place during year-long negotiations between the Yukon government and four First Nation governments with traditional territory in the Peel.
The chamber of mines is pleased with the year-long timetable because it will have a better chance to lobby the government.
“We’re happy they’re going to take the time to take the economic interests seriously, that’s our take on it,” said Carl Schulze, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
The chamber will lobby senior bureaucrats over the next year, he said.
This is the last leg of a six-year journey that has occupied both miners and conservationists who are concerned about the future land use of the Peel. The 70,000-square-kilometre region is one of the world’s few pristine, roadless watersheds that is still accessible for wilderness tourism and outfitting. It also hosts a major coal deposit owned by Chevron and thousands of miners have staked the region for precious metals and uranium.
The timetable includes a plan review that will be completed in May and will be followed with public consultations until October, according to a joint news release.
The governments hope to provide a response to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission by December, if not earlier.
Premier Dennis Fentie’s office did not respond to a request for an interview. The chiefs of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Vuntut Gwitchin, Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Gwich’in Tribal Council could also not be reached.
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