Prospectors angered by Class 1 changes

Yukon prospectors are upset over government secrecy around changes to how Class 1 exploration work is regulated. Last week, Premier Darrell Pasloski and Grand Chief Ruth Massie announced that they have a rudimentary agreement.

Yukon prospectors are upset over government secrecy around changes to how Class 1 exploration work is regulated.

Last week, Premier Darrell Pasloski and Grand Chief Ruth Massie announced that they have a rudimentary agreement covering such low-level activities.

Under the new rules, prospectors conducting this class of work – which covers everything from hand trenching to cutting trails and setting off explosives – must notify affected First Nations. The changes will cover “significant” portions of the territory as of July 1, but the government hasn’t elaborated on what that means.

According to Mike Power, the president of the prospectors’ association, the government has already decided to enforce the new changes across all unsettled First Nations territory next month, and will expand the rules to all settled land by April next year.

He says this was all agreed to at a closed-door meeting with chiefs earlier in April, well before the Yukon Forum held before last week’s announcement. They just don’t want to talk publicly about it yet, he said.

“It’s gutless and clueless. They’ve just caved in front of the natives, and they figured this is the easy answer and there’s no cost,” Power said.

He isn’t the only one upset. Gary Lee is a prospector who has worked in the Ross River area.

“We cannot even set up a camp,” Lee said.

“In my opinion it makes me a second-class citizen in that guide outfitters, trappers, First Nation and non-First Nation hunters, everyone can go in the bush on Crown land and do all kinds of stuff with no notification and it’s really, really unfair,” he said.

Last month Liberal Leader Sandy Silver cautioned that the rules were about to change. Silver also told of the private meeting and referenced the same promises Power is upset about. The government refused to comment at the time, and continues to do so now.

Under the old rules, prospectors could work their claims up to a certain threshold of activity without notifying government or First Nations. Class 1 is the lowest level of exploration, and includes activities such as clearing trees, building trails, digging up rock and the use of explosives.

That changed after the Yukon Court of Appeal ruled that such activities in the Ross River traditional territory could infringe on the aboriginal rights of the Ross River Dena Council.

But Power claims these changes have been in the works for years. He said similar terms were discussed almost a decade ago when then-premier Dennis Fentie signed a “secret” memorandum of understanding with then-CYFN chief Ed Schultz.

In their announcement last week, the territory and CYFN said they were working on eventually signing an MOU on the same issue, but that no deal has yet been reached. Asked about the document yesterday, the government did not provide a copy of the MOU or comment on how a memorandum of understanding could be secret.

Power’s biggest concern is that, rather than renegotiate the threshold levels to exclude things like explosives, the government simply issued a blanket change covering everything from hand-trenching and camping to trail clearing and line cutting and dynamite.

“If you’re going to store even a small quantity of fuel, they want to know. If you’re going to drive on a road, they want to know. If you’re going to cut a line of any sort, they want to know. Even if you wanted to hand-trench, they want to know,” he said.

Power himself has applied to the mining recorder to do some of this low-level work and said the first step is to be hit with a 25-day wait period, which can be reviewed and extended by another 25 days if needed.

It’s a hassle for prospectors, but Power said there are larger concerns at play.

“There’s a bigger issue here. They’ve admitted that driving on a road or camping in the bush has an environmental impact. By refusing to clarify the thresholds, the government is leaving itself wide open to another lawsuit,” he said.

None of the chiefs contacted for this story returned calls. The Yukon Chamber of Mines also declined to comment.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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