Anton Beets stands in front a fire created by pouring gasoline in a dredge pond in this video still from the Gold Rush television show. Beets was convicted and fined under the Yukon’s Waters Act. (Yukon territorial court exhibit)

Commentary: Reality shows bite

Why do tax dollars support reality shows when participants break laws and destroy the environment?

Lewis Rifkind

Once again, another placer miner reality television celebrity has hit the media headlines, for all the wrong reasons.

A participant in the reality television show Gold Rush recently pleaded guilty to killing a bear at his placer mine site. The fine imposed was a $3,500 penalty payable to WildWise Yukon.

Now, WildWise Yukon is a great organization actively working to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions. It needs all the money it can get and no one should begrudge it any funds it receives, no matter the source.

And if these reality show participants continue acting in the same way as they are doing up to now, WildWise Yukon is going to continue to be very busy.

According to media reports, the bear that resulted in the $3,500 penalty was but one of four killed over the summer at this particular placer mining operation.

It is worth noting that violations of this sort under the Wildlife Act could have resulted in a $100,000 fine, up to two years in jail, or both. Instead, $3,500 total was levied.

This follows on the heels of another participant of the Gold Rush show being fined for flouting Yukon laws.

In 2014 gasoline was poured onto a dredge pond and ignited, all of which was captured by the cameras and shown on the airwaves. The resulting fine was $31,000, although the Yukon government had requested a fine in the $50,000 range.

To be fair, this particular television show is not the only one behaving badly. A participant in Yukon Gold was fined $145,000 for leaving a horrendous mess at his particular placer claims from 2012 to 2014. In the opinion of the Yukon Conservation Society this is getting off extremely cheaply, as the media reports that the Yukon government estimates the clean-up could cost taxpayers about a million dollars.

To add insult to injury, the Yukon government has been pumping millions into the placer mining reality television show industry.

Thanks to the Yukon Film and Sound Incentive Program, Gold Rush has received a grand total of $2,894,933 from 2013 to 2017. Yukon Gold received $17,275 for the 2013-14 season.

Why are Yukon tax dollars supporting reality shows whose participants are breaking Yukon laws and destroying the environment? These shows, or at least some of their participants, are obviously out of control when it comes to environmental issues.

No doubt this form of entertainment does create local jobs due to the hiring of film and sound crews and promotes Yukon tourism.

Given the low unemployment rate currently in the territory, the emphasis on job creation rings a bit hollow. And do we really need people inspired by these shows to visit our territory, when they may think that the environmental destruction they see onscreen is considered acceptable in the Yukon? On the contrary, we need to make an effort to install a leave-no-trace ethic in our visitors – an ethic that YCS trail guides regularly share with hundreds of visitors each summer.

The intent of the Yukon placer mining legislation, antiquated and inadequate as it is, is to permit placer mining, not provide the physical setting and theme for TV shows glorifying and enabling environmental destruction and lawbreaking.

The Yukon Conservation Society is not opposed to mining; we just want it done right, respectfully, and in appropriate locations.

The Yukon Conservation Society is not opposed to reality television; we just want it done right, respectfully and, ideally, focused on the real stars of placer mining – the responsible, respectful operators who are at the forefront of the best reclamation techniques and that have the lowest impact.

Lewis Rifkind is a mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society

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