Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board recommended that the wetlands should be avoided and that mining could not occur in wetlands because mining damage cannot be mitigated. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)

It’s time for a Yukon Wetlands Protection Act

Why do we not have one?

Sebastian Jones | Special to the News

Yukon is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada without any wetlands policy, let alone a Wetlands Protection Act.

There is a general consensus that wetlands warrant special status in Yukon: One of the few items that almost everyone agreed upon in the Yukon protected area strategy debate was the need for protection of wetlands.

The Yukon Water Strategy calls for a wetlands management policy.

So why do we not have one?

To answer that, we can consider what activities take place where wetlands are.

Wetlands are generally found in valleys, where the climate is warmer and the soils are richer. That makes these areas more suitable for humans to live and farm. We have already seen the Lake Laberge Shallow Bay wetlands sold off and converted to residences and farmland.

Further north, most placer mines occur in river valleys. Most of the lower Klondike Valley, and its tributaries such as Bonanza and Hunker Creeks, have had their wetlands overturned in the search for gold. The Indian River, home of the most extensive wetlands in the Klondike, is completely staked and placer miners have plans to mine all of it.

So it is difficult for government to do what they know they need to do and protect the most biologically important landforms in Yukon — because of pressure from special interests.

However, things are changing and we now have a better opportunity to protect the remaining wetlands than ever before. We have the Yukon’s modern land claim agreements to thank for this. The Umbrella Final Agreement imposes rigorous, transparent decision making on governments, making it harder for them to disregard environmental and social concerns in favour of short-term political goals.

A good example of how this works is happening in the Indian River.

In 2015, an Indian River placer miner submitted a proposal to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board for a placer mine that would dig up a large chunk of the remaining wetlands. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Yukon Conservation Society and the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun all weighed in with concerns about how much of the remaining wetlands would be mined.

YESAB agreed and recommended that the wetlands should be avoided and that mining could not occur in wetlands because the type of wetlands prevalent in the Indian River are fens and bogs which take thousands of years to develop — thus, mining damage cannot be mitigated.

Yukon’s mining-friendly regulator overturned this recommendation, and decided that the miner could proceed.

However, the Yukon Water Board (YWB), which has to issue a water license before a mining permit can be issued, agreed with YESAB, the First Nations and YCS that the value of the wetlands was such that the wetlands should be avoided, and issued a water license that contravened the government’s decision document.

The government was incensed and took the YWB to court. The YWB eventually backed down, but in the interim, an agreement was struck between the First Nations and Yukon that before a mining license could be issued, the mining company had to produce a scientifically defensible wetlands reclamation plan.

Bear with me here. This is where it gets really important.

Before wetlands reclamation plans can happen, there needs to be some guidelines on what those plans should include.

Currently, guidelines for placer mining in wetlands — that is, guidelines for wetland reclamation — are the subject of intense negotiations between the placer miners and the old guard at the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources on one side, and the First Nations and the more forward-thinking folks in government on the other.

I am very concerned by how these guidelines are shaping up. They are essentially a blueprint for how to mine in wetlands, rather than rules about how to look after our wetlands.

It is not too late to turn things around, however it will be much harder to do so if we continue to:

• Make wetlands mining rules before we have wetlands protections in place, and

• Exclude the public from the process.

Therefore, consistent with its mandate, and acknowledging the importance of intact wetlands, YCS is calling on all governments in Yukon to commence a public consultation, leading towards the ultimate goal of a world-class, nation-leading, made–in-Yukon Wetlands Protection Act.

Sebastian Jones is an energy analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society. He lives in West Dawson.

EnvironmentWetlandsYESAB

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

d
Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

g
Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Whitehorse RCMP will provide internet safety training due to an uptick of child luring offences. (iStock photo)
RCMP hosting internet safety webinars for parents and caregivers

The webinars will take place on March 23 and 25

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

Most Read