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Register those cabins before you’re burned

On September 20th, when Ceaser Lake Outfitting landed on Gusty Lake, the cabin had been burnt to the ground and their aviation fuel was gone.

On September 20th, when Ceaser Lake Outfitting landed on Gusty Lake, the cabin had been burnt to the ground and their aviation fuel was gone.

“Fortunately, we didn’t have clients with us who had planned on using that cabin,” said outfitter Terry Wilkinson.

Their folding boat was also missing.

“If we’d been flying in there to use the boat and the lake during a hunt change, it would have been a major inconvenience,” he said.

Energy, Mines and Resources burnt the cabin to the ground on September 1st.

“From the condition of the cabin, it was clear it had not been used for a long time,” said land management director Lyle Henderson on Wednesday.

“There was no evidence of use.”

Land management has burnt down three cabins this year.

Gusty Lake – 125 kilometres northeast of Watson Lake – was one of them, said land-use manager Marg White.

“It was a well-built cabin,” said Wilkinson.

“I was dry – it was definitely livable.”

Energy, Mines and Resources first spotted the Gusty Lake building during a fly-over in 2007.

“We were not patrolling,” said Henderson. “We were not looking for unauthorized occupancy.”

The chopper crew just happened to spot the cabin and landed.

There were abandoned fuel drums; four were full and four were empty, he said.

“And some were almost in the water.”

The natural resources officers also found the cabin to be uninhabitable, said Henderson.

“There were animals entering and exiting and it was unsafe.”

But lands branch doesn’t burn cabins on the spot, he said.

“We don’t take an inspection report and immediately remove the cabin.”

Two years later, the officers flew in again to check on the status of the cabin.

“The guidance was, if the fuel drums are still there, please remove them,” said Henderson. “And if the cabin is still derelict and there’s no sign of activity – remove it.”

The officers found that nothing had changed in the past two years, said Henderson.

“So the cabin was removed.”

It was burnt.

It’d been three years since Ceaser Lake Outfitting used the cabin.

“I’m a big-game outfitter,” said Wilkinson.

“We don’t use it that frequently, usually every other year.

“But we used it.”

And it’s difficult to fly boats around, he added.

“So we just left our folding boat there.”

In August, Wilkinson’s brother flew into Gusty Lake to check on the cabin and their aviation fuel.

“We left 10 gallons there, just in case,” said Wilkinson.

The next time he landed, in September, the cabin, fuel and boat were gone.

“We filed a police report,” said Wilkinson.

But it’s not just the loss of the boat and fuel that worries Wilkinson.

Those cabins act as a safety net for everyone who uses the backcountry, from pilots and trappers to outdoor enthusiasts.

A cabin like the one at Gusty Lake could save a person’s life, he said.

“All pilots and helicopter pilots and float pilots knew that cabin was there, and if the weather closes in, it’s a safe place to spend the night.”

Energy, Mines and Resources had photos of the cabin.

The green shingles were peeling off, and there were a few holes in the roof of the attached shed.

Photos show the inside of the cabin torn up, with the stove on its side and foam mattresses strewn about.

The cardboard covering the log walls was ripped, but the structure looked dry and sturdy, with glass still in the windows.

If an unregistered cabin is structurally sound, lands branch posts it with signs asking the user to contact its office.

“It’s posted for six months to a year,” said Henderson.

After that, if no one comes forward, the cabin is removed, he said.

But Gusty Lake wasn’t posted in 2007, when the officers first inspected it.

And it wasn’t posted six months before it was burnt, either.

“The policy is they’re supposed to post a cabin before they burn it,” said Wilkinson.

If it had been posted, Wilkinson’s brother would have noticed the signage in August and could have contacted the lands branch.

It wasn’t posted, said Henderson.

“It was not operable and there was no evidence of use,” he added.

But even posting cabins isn’t foolproof.

Many outfitters only visit their secondary cabins once every couple years.

In that span, a cabin could be posted and burnt, before the user had a chance to return to the area.

“We try to work hard with outfitting and trapping to find out where the sites are,” said Henderson.

“We check our records and the history of the camp.”

After the Gusty Lake cabin was burnt, the fuel drums were flown out and the boat was taken to the Watson Lake dump.

It looked like a bear had torn the seats out of the boat and it was overgrown, said Henderson.

The boat’s seats are meant to come out, said Wilkinson.

It collapses to four inches by 12 feet.

“It was probably just collapsed, but they thought it was a piece of garbage and destroyed it,” he said.

The Yukon government became responsible for all remote land in the territory after devolution in 2003.

The Yukon wilds are full of abandoned cabins and fuel drums, some dating back to the gold rush, said Henderson.

Lands branch doesn’t actively seek out illegal cabins. Most are reported by the public.

“The government has to make sure these sites are dealt with when they come to our attention,” he said.

“And we try to work co-operatively with the trappers, so they have safe accommodation in the backcountry.”

There are 500 cabin leases, 400 traplines and 19 outfitting concessions registered in the territory, said White.

A lease application for an existing cabin(s) costs $26.25. To renew the lease, it’s $150 a year.

For now, outfitters can’t build any new cabins in the territory. But they can improve existing sites, said Henderson. Only trappers can build new structures.

“We have a good lease/licence system,” said White.

“Not a huge number of cabins are removed,” added Henderson.

“And removing the odd cabin doesn’t compromise backcountry safety,” he said.

“There are not too many places without fishing camps or cabins.

“So there are lots of structures in terms of emergency shelters.”

Wilkinson’s been guiding in the area for more than 30 years.

“I know numerous pilots who have landed on Gusty Lake waiting for weather,” he said.

“If they land there now, they’ll be in for a surprise.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at