The discovery of a second apparently illegitimate outfitter cabin in the Yukon wilderness spurred critics to charge there is a government-endorsed land “staking rush” underway in the territory.
This fall, Fred Brown Sr., a Champagne/Aishihik First Nations member from Haines Junction who has trapped animals since the 1930s, found a small cabin just a “stone throw” from his base camp near Ittlemit Lake.
“The outfitter, without consulting me in person — the owner of the concession trapping area — built a cabin in there without me knowing about it,” said Brown after question period on Thursday.
Brown has the concession for trapping in the area and has been using the area since before the Crown opened Yukon land in 1948, he said.
He has written to lands branch officials explaining his historical use of the area and his concerns about the cabin, he said.
“The government said we’d be protected” from fire and from people moving in, said Brown. “So where are they now?”
He worries hunters ferried to the cabin by the outfitter will end up taking too many animals from the land, and resents that he was not contacted before the cabin appeared.
“How many animals will be coming out of there? That could fill the table for a hungry family,” he said.
Brown has met with Tim Mervyn, the man who built the cabin, to discuss “in a friendly way” his concerns about the structure, he said.
Mervyn is the co-owner of Mervyn’s Yukon Outfitting and the former president of the Yukon Outfitters’ Association.
He was called for an interview but could not be reached before press time.
To resolve the dispute, the government must look at the situation and allow him to be part of the discussion rather than becoming heavy-handed, said Brown.
“I wouldn’t say, ‘Take it down,’” he said of the cabin.
Since the legislature opened in late November, the Yukon Party government has come under fire about another apparently illegal cabin that was built near the Bonnet Plume River.
In response, the government has fired off a letter to Bonnet Plume Outfitters owner Chris McKinnon, demanding he provide documented evidence he had legal title to build the cabin and adjacent outbuildings in 2005.
If McKinnon doesn’t provide the documents before December 15, Premier Dennis Fentie has vowed the Justice department will seek a court order to remove the structures.
Brown’s case appears similar to the Bonnet Plume situation, said Kluane MLA Gary McRobb after question period on Thursday
“Obviously there is somewhat of a staking rush going on by the outfitters, and I’m very suspicious about the possibility,” he said.
During an interview with CBC Radio One, McKinnon said he received “verbal permission” from someone in government to build the outfitting camp.
McRobb believes that may be what happened with the cabin Mervyn built as well.
“They must have gotten a thumbs-up from somebody in government to do this,” he said.
“As far as I understand Mr. Brown’s situation, he had no advanced notice of this intrusion into his trapping area by the outfitter,” said McRobb.
“We’re not aware of any building permits being taken out by the outfitter.”
Following question period Thursday — which saw a slew of questions about Brown’s situation and the government’s new outfitting policy — Fentie vowed to apply the same response to Brown’s situation as he has to the Bonnet Plume file.
“If you ever have flown around the Yukon or been out on the rivers and lakes, you will quickly realize there’s cabins all over the place in the territory,” he said.
“We would handle this matter no different than the one at Bonnet Plume. If someone complains about a construction going on the land base that may not have legal standing for occupancy, we will act in accordance to the same process we’ve undertaken with Bonnet Plume.”
The government’s stance on Bonnet Plume is clear, said Fentie.
“Legal documentation, proving legal occupancy or standing, must be provided,” he said.
What is less clear are the ramifications the new big game outfitter policy.
Archie Lang, the minister responsible for the policy, also owns an outfitting company and is not answering questions to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
McRobb feels the government has too many connections to the outfitting industry, distorting its response to mounting criticism from the opposition and First Nations.
“We’re not getting representation of the other side,” he said.