When a boom becomes a blight

The Yukon’s mining boom has brought money and jobs sloshing into the territory. But should we be paying more attention to the boom’s not-so-hidden costs? asks the Yukon Conservation Society’s Lewis Rifkind.

The Yukon’s mining boom has brought money and jobs sloshing into the territory. But should we be paying more attention to the boom’s not-so-hidden costs? asks the Yukon Conservation Society’s Lewis Rifkind.

Mining-related jobs may be plentiful, but affordable homes in Whitehorse are certainly not. Rifkind attributes the overheated housing market and miniscule vacancy rate for rental units as a partial byproduct of the current boom.

Will mining jobs crowd out tourism-related businesses? Rifkind worries we’re already seeing this happen, with reports of bed and breakfasts in Dawson City booked up by hangers-on to the mining industry. Hotels in Mayo are booked solid.

Where, he wonders, will tourists stay this summer?

And what will the whirl of helicopters in Yukon’s backcountry do to the territory’s reputation for pristine wilderness? Will wealthy outdoorsmen still flock here for sport hunting?

Or will they say, “Don’t go to the Yukon any more, it’s not wilderness,” said Rifkind. “There’s too much mining.”

Individual exploration projects may have little environmental impact. But when many of these camps bunch together, as is now happening around Dawson City, Mayo and Keno City, the cumulative impact could spook nearby sheep, caribou and moose, said Rifkind.

Unfortunately, the territory’s regulatory regime isn’t geared towards looking at cumulative impacts, said Rifkind.

The territory should look at how these impacts add up, he said.

But that just raises the tough question of “when do we say enough is enough?” he added.

Perhaps mining companies working in the same area could build larger camps together, to take pressure off nearby communities, said Rifkind.

And the flurry of mining activity serves as a reminder of the importance of land-use planning.

The plan for Dawson’s surroundings is just getting started.

Given that much of the land south of town is staked, Rifkind wonders how that work will go.

If the territory’s economy becomes too dependent on mining, it could go the way of Fort McMurray, Rifkind warns.

“It’s not a community. It’s a place to make money and get the hell out.

“Maybe it’s time to step up to the plate. Too much. Too quick. Let’s take a breather.”

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.