Hikers rest at Mount MacDonald, near the Snake River in the Peel Watershed. A moratorium on staking in integrated management areas, which make up about 17 per cent of the Peel, was lifted April 1. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

Portions of the Peel now open to mineral claim staking

Staking moratorium in integrated management areas, about 17 per cent of the Peel, lifted April 1

Mineral claim staking is now allowed in certain portions of the Peel watershed.

A moratorium on staking in integrated management areas, which make up about 17 per cent of the Peel, was lifted April 1.

It was originally scheduled to be lifted on Jan. 1, but that deadline was extended to allow the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan’s signatories — Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Yukon government — to begin implementing the plan and create educational materials for the mining industry.

The Peel plan was finalized in August 2019 following years of legal battles all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada between the Yukon government and First Nations whose traditional territories overlap with the watershed along with conservation groups.

At the moment, integrated management areas are the only parts of the Peel, other than pre-existing claims, where development can take place. The remaining 83 per cent of the more than 67,000-square-kilometre region is reserved for conservation.

While staking is permanently barred in parts of the Peel classified as special management areas, the possibility of staking in wilderness areas and wilderness areas specifically set aside for boreal caribou has only been put off to Jan. 1, 2030, with the parties to the Peel plan to review their statuses then.

In an interview April 16, Jerome McIntyre, the director of land planning with the Yukon government’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources said no proposals have been put forward for the integrated management areas yet.

“It’s not surprising, right? It was only April 1 that (the prohibition on staking) was lifted, but I imagine there will be things probably floating in over time,” McIntyre said.

With issues around lifting the staking moratorium now resolved, McIntyre said the Peel planning committee is now turning its mind to other things, including the finalization of an implementation plan.

“They’re taking every kind of action that’s mentioned in the plan and itemizing it and then prioritizing it, you know — what things should be done in the near term, medium term and maybe longer term?” he explained.

“And then of course there’s things in the plan that don’t really have any kind of end date, you know, there’s calls for things like monitoring, that sort of thing which obviously doesn’t have an end date, they’d be carried on over time.”

The committee is “very, very close” to having it finalized, McIntyre said, adding that he was “optimistic” that it “might be ready in a month.”

In the longer term, the committee will also need to look at formally designating the Peel’s special management areas as protected areas and creating management plans for them, McIntyre said.

There’s also work happening around the wilderness areas and boreal caribou in particular, with officials set to use the 10-year interim ban on staking to further study and “fine-tune” the actual range of the caribou, classified as a species-at-risk, in order to create a better management plan for them.

As for the integrated management areas, McIntyre said there “isn’t much work to be done” around them, other than addressing a “high-level interest” in understanding how provisions of the plan would apply to development in those areas as well as claims “grandfathered” into the special management and wilderness areas.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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