White River backs YESAB

The White River First Nation wants the Yukon government to listen to its own environmental assessment agency.

The White River First Nation wants the Yukon government to listen to its own environmental assessment agency.

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board has recommended the government reject plans for an advanced quartz-mining exploration project about 60 kilometres south of Beaver Creek.

Tarsis Mining Corp. wants to trench, drill, survey, sample and map its 335 claims seasonally, for five years. The claims are located at sites about 15 kilometres from the White River Lodge. The company says it will only fly in, by helicopter, landing at the lodge’s airstrip and all of its employees will stay at the lodge, according to the project proposal.

But the assessment board said the project will be too harmful to wildlife and the First Nation’s use of the area.

The White River First Nation agrees, and alleges the mining company was trying to “bully” its way through the assessment process.

According to the First Nation’s comments in the assessment process, it tried to work with the company to gather all the necessary information.

But Tarsis was “unwilling” to work with the First Nation to learn about traditional land use and traditional ecological knowledge, according to White River’s submissions to YESAB.

Instead, the First Nation was forced to fund its own data collection, including flights into the area for mapping and assessment.

“WRFN fought hard to ensure that we were heard,” said councillor Patrick Johnny in a press release Thursday. “WRFN citizens are not opposed to mining, we are opposed to the approach taken by Tarsis.”

The assessment board’s biggest problem with the project is the effects it could have on the Chisana caribou herd and its habitat.

After the transboundary herd dropped from 1,800 animals in 1987 to fewer than 720 in 2003, the Yukon government stepped in to conduct a costly and elaborate recovery program.

Pregnant cows were captured and placed in a protected enclosure until their calves were born and stable. This unique program carried on for three years, starting with 21 cows in 2003, 36 in 2004 and 58 in 2005.

Now, the territory has entered into another costly endeavour for the ungulates. A management plan with First Nations and the U.S. is in its final stages and will dictate interaction with the herd until 2015.

Currently, the herd remains stable at around 700 to 750 animals.

The territory’s assessment board worries Tarsis’ project could jeopardize that success.

The Yukon Conservation Society feels that may be the strongest argument to convince the territory to abide by the board’s recommendations, said Lewis Rifkind.

“But it’s hard to pick up a trend,” he said of the territory’s decisions regarding YESAB recommendations.

In July, the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources accepted the board’s recommendation to deny a mining project within Tombstone Territorial Park, only to go against the board and allow an access road to be built off the North Canol Road only a week later.

It’s hard to guess what the territory may do, said Rifkind.

The White River First Nation has had many concerns with the territory’s assessment process in the past, said Chief Charles Eikland Jr.

“But in this case they got their recommendation correct,” he said. “We are now calling on the premier to ensure that the right thing happens and that this Tarsis project does not proceed.”

The government has until the end of this month to decide on the recommendation.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at