Exploration crews hunting for minerals have staked an unprecedented number of claims in the Yukon.
Last month alone there were almost 4,000 stakes pounded into the ground – that’s more than seven times the amount staked in January of last year.
“It’s been a massive jump,” said Dion Parker, the manager of the Dawson City base for Trans North Helicopters. “The only thing slowing things down at all is probably the availability of staking crews and helicopters.”
It’s the same story across the territory.
“Usually it’s not this busy,” said Sylvain Rapatel who works at the airport in Faro. Rapatel said he’s seen a fourfold increase in airport traffic from a year ago.
This bonanza of exploration started months ago and has not let up at all this winter, a normally slow season for the industry.
“In a typical year we might get 10,000 to 15,000 claims staked. Last year we had a little over 83,000,” said Jesse Devost, a communications analyst for Energy, Mines and Resources. “That’s a record year, you could say.”
With strong demands for minerals of all kinds, the booming commodity market is the main driver for the exploration activity the Yukon is seeing.
However, that’s only one factor among several, said Devost.
“In a lot of other jurisdictions things are pretty staked up,” he said. “In the Yukon, as of a couple of years ago, you could stake right up next to a former mine, which is fairly unheard of in other parts of the country.”
The Yukon’s business-friendly regulatory regime also encourages the trend, added Devost.
In 2009, the Yukon government amended the Yukon Quartz Mining Act to allow companies to combine 750 adjacent claims together. Before the change the limit was 16.
This means that by doing work on a single claim, or paying a fee, companies can easily maintain their mineral rights on much larger tracts of land.
“I can understand from an industry perspective why they did it, but from an environmental perspective it encourages a lot of staking and that’s not necessarily a good thing,” said Lewis Rifkind, the mining co-ordinator for the Yukon Conservation Society.
Commodity prices are the main driver for the frenzied activity in the Yukon mining sector, but Rifkind is pessimistic about the long-term results of what he considers unplanned, unsustainable growth.
“These cycles come and go. We see these huge staking rushes and these mines go up and then when the commodity prices start to go down everything collapses,” he said. “It’s your typical boom-bust society. It’s not sustainable, and, from an environmental point of view, it can be very negative.”
Faro has seen its fair share of boom, bust and environmental consequences. When the Anvil mine shut down in the early ‘90s the town lost its industry, most of its population and was left with a massive amount of toxic waste.
However, at the moment Faro is facing a problem it hasn’t seen in a while – a demand for housing.
“I know even this winter, in January, there’s some nights that people couldn’t find any place to stay,” said Sylvain. “Companies are looking for the summer. I don’t know – I think maybe we’ll have a problem.”
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