The Peel River watershed has become a battleground for conservationists and the mining lobby.
A land-use planning commission set up to harmonize the competing interests is now a flash point.
Zoning the land for different uses won’t work for the miners, said Carl Schulze, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
“Protection doesn’t mean it has to remove the stuff that keeps us all fed and keeps us all in business, like industrial development,” he said.
“We need to ensure that the results of the (Peel) commission do not advocate the removal of a large percentage of that area to be protected,” said Schulze during his presidential report at the chamber’s annual general meeting on Tuesday.
“Right now, there are interests that are lobbying the Peel Planning Commission that would like to see a lot of that land alienated,” he said to an audience of nearly 50 miners.
A planning commission for the Yukon’s north is done and awaiting approval, while the Peel Watershed Planning Commission is currently underway. The planning commissions are mandated to protect a certain percentage of land.
“And the rest of the land, the part that’s not protected, is going to go through zones,” he said.
Those zones are broken down into groups ranging from zone one, the most protected, to zone four, the area requiring the least protection.
“Right now, everything in the Peel is zone four because it’s just Crown land, unless it’s First Nation land,” he said.
“What we have to make sure is that we don’t have large amounts protected outright.”
The progressive zoning scale is bad for mining too, he said.
A miner can do a soil sample in zone one, but would only be able to drill in a zone two or three.
“So what do you do? All of that stuff has to be available for exploration,” he said.
The Yukon Conservation Society has been vocally arguing that mining exploration is derailing the planning commission by sprinkling mining claims throughout the watershed.
The conservation group recently received $100,000 to protect the Three River area within the watershed.
Schulze was addressing the miners during the Geoscience Forum being held at the High Country Inn this week.
The mining industry is hitting tough times, he said.
“We’ve got a few storm clouds in the coming year,” he said.
“We’ve had a market meltdown and there’s a lot less money around, there’s almost no liquidity. We have to really make sure that this territory gets its share of the remaining money that’s out there.”
But there are some encouraging signs, he said.
“Over the span of a couple of years, the fundamentals are not quite as bad as we’ve seen them in the long run. China is still going with 8.5 per cent growth, and their inventories of metals are not that high.”
While Schulze cheered recent changes to the Yukon Quartz Mining Act, he didn’t think there needs to be any changes to free-staking.
“We need to keep free-entry in this territory forever. We can’t let that go,” said Schulze.
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