A quartz exploration project near Tagish has been approved by the Yukon government, with several conditions to prevent disruption to the area’s caribou herd.
The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) released its recommendation at the end of May – that the project be allowed to proceed, subject to terms.
The Harry Property comprises 64 claims located 12 kilometres south of Tagish on Jubilee Mountain, and falls in the traditional territory of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation.
It’s a project of Vancouver-based Strategic Metals Ltd.
Access to the claims, according to YESAB documents, will be primarily via an existing trail, with helicopter support. Work is scheduled to occur annually through the summer and early fall.
The CTFN opposed the project in the spring, concerned about loss of habitat for the Carcross caribou herd, infringement of Aboriginal rights and effects on fish and water.
As per the conditions, the company is not allowed to start work until June 15 every year, and must stop work between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 to prevent disturbing the caribou herd during spring calving and fall rut, respectively.
If caribou are observed near active operations, the company must avoid disturbing them in any way possible, from turning off vehicles and equipment to redirecting work to another claim area.
Strategic Metals must also work with a regional biologist to identify a flight path to the site that will keep herd disruption to a minimum.
It’s not uncommon for YESAB to put forward detailed conditions like these.
When a company submits a proposal, it’ll suggest its own measures, such as stopping work at a certain time of year, or putting up electric fencing around a dump, in order to reduce the impact on wildlife and the area, said Robert Holmes, director of mineral resources with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
“The assessor weighs all that, and asks the question: is that sufficient mitigation to ensure that the values won’t be adversely affected?”
Often, an assessor will find that more mitigative measures should be put in place. Those terms are then outlined in YESAB’s recommendation.
That’s what happened in the case of the Harry Property.
Strategic Metals operates about 130 mineral exploration projects in the Yukon, northern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.
“We do what we can to try to address any of those concerns (that people have),” said Richard Drechsler, the company’s vice-president of communications.
“If you’re in an area where you’ve got sheep up in the alpine, you’re not going to do any work around lambing season, for example.”
Strategic Metals staked its claims on Jubilee Mountain last year, after researching Yukon government data and old assessment reports. Back in the 1970s or ‘80s, Drechsler said, some gold samples were found in the area – the recovery was poor, but the grade was high.
“From the historic data, we weren’t quite sure what it would represent,” he said. Workers spent a day doing some follow-up prospecting at the site after the claims were staked.
Exploration at the Harry site won’t start this summer, but when it does, it’ll involve rotary drilling, trenching and geophysical surveys.
“What we’re always trying to do is find places that are going to be acceptable to make a mineral discovery,” Drechsler said.
“The last thing you want to do is spend a bunch of shareholders’ cash to do some work in an area, and you’re lucky enough to find something, but it’s in an area that’s too sensitive to ever be developed.”
The next step for the Harry Property will be obtaining a land-use permit, which must conform to the YESAB recommendations.
Sixteen kilometres away, at Judas Creek, a placer mine proposed by Nicolai Goeppel was rejected by YESAB and the Yukon government.
That project involved 45 claims about five kilometres north of Jake’s Corner, in the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dun and Carcross/Tagish First Nations.
During the consultation process, both First Nations expressed concerns about potential impact on the Carcross caribou herd.
Despite the proximity between the Judas Creek project and the Harry Property, Holmes said they were very different.
The Judas Creek proposal was a placer mine, so it would have been more intrusive, with large amounts of earth being moved, while work at the Harry Property will be relatively low-impact.
As well, the latter is located at a higher elevation, in the subalpine, and occupies a less critical habitat for caribou in the assessor’s view, Holmes said.
“The footprint of where Judas Creek was key caribou winter range and migration route, whereas the Harry project is largely in summer range,” he said.
And, lastly, the Harry Property is a four-year project, while activities at the Judas Creek mine were proposed to take place over 10 years.
Contact Rhiannon Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org