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Proposed exploration rules will hurt Yukon, warn miners

UPDATED Mining groups say proposed rule changes will hurt exploration in the Yukon. The prospectors are "pretty steamed," said Mike Power, president of the Yukon Prospectors' Association.

Mining groups say proposed rule changes will hurt exploration in the Yukon.

The prospectors are “pretty steamed,” said Mike Power, president of the Yukon Prospectors’ Association.

“All of them are upset about this, quite a bit. They’re pretty mad about it, there wasn’t any warning.”

The prospectors’ association, the Klondike Placer Miner’s Association and the Yukon Chamber of Mines have all indicated that they oppose the current proposal, which they say could shut down exploration investment in the Yukon.

“We expected them to come out with a framework, not a whole new permitting regime,” said Michael Kokiw, the chamber’s executive director.

“It’s unfortunate that they did not speak to us or any of the other industry leaders or organizations before they came out with this public document.”

The Yukon launched a public consultation last week into a proposal that will require prospectors to notify government of all Class 1 exploration activities on their claims.

Currently, anyone holding a mining claim can complete Class 1 activities without notifying the government or affected First Nations. That level of work includes clearing trees, building trails, digging up rock and even the use of explosives.

Higher level activities require assessment by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

The changes come from a December 2012 Yukon Court of Appeal decision that found that the asserted aboriginal rights of the Ross River Dena Council are infringed upon by allowing free staking and the working of mineral claims without notification or consultation within the unsettled First Nation’s traditional territory.

The Yukon government disagrees that free staking can infringe upon the rights of First Nations. It has applied for leave to appeal that part of the court’s decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

However, it has accepted that allowing Class 1 mineral exploration to proceed on claims could in some cases infringe on the rights of both settled and unsettled First Nations, and has agreed to amend the rules accordingly.

It wants prospectors to notify government of any planned Class 1 exploration activities. Government would in turn notify any affected First Nation, and could deny the activities or request changes if there were potential for aboriginal rights to be trampled on.

All proposals would be deemed approved as proposed if no government action was taken after 25 days. The government can call for an extension where more than 25 days is required for approval.

The changes as proposed would hurt exploration investment in the territory, said Randy Clarkson with the placer miners’ association.

“It will hurt all the sectors of the mining industry because when you go off and do exploration you make plans, but quite often things change, you find different things than you expected to find and you need to adjust them and carry on on a slightly different path. And if you have to wait 25 days every time that happens, your season will be done.

“When I was in Atlin, almost everybody was asking me if exploration in the Yukon was going to be shut down.”

We’re not there yet, but we could be, he said.

The industry believes that not all exploration activities should require notification to government and First Nations, said Kokiw.

“Everyone agrees that there are certain activities that need to have notification that currently don’t. Everyone also agrees that there are activities that will never require notification - it just doesn’t make common sense.”

Things like using explosives or using heavy machinery could potentially infringe on First Nation rights, he said.

But other things covered under Class 1 exploration are no more invasive than camping, said Kokiw.

And many have required mitigation practices that go along with them.

For example, said Kokiw, a prospector who digs a trench must keep the ground cover as intact as possible and replace it once the samples have been retrieved.

“These are things that have very, very low impact.”

If the government had consulted with industry before making a plan, perhaps a better solution could have been reached, he said.

“There could have been some discussion about some creative solutions and alternate solutions.”

The consultation closes July 31, which does not leave a lot of time to suggest alternatives to the government’s proposal, said Kokiw.

“The timeline that we’re following is very crunched.”

Under the court of appeal decision, Yukon must make legislative changes by December 27.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at