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Today’s mailbox: Placer mining and tourism

Letters to the editor published Dec. 23, 2020

Placer mining shouldn’t be in water board’s crosshairs

The placer mining industry has put a lot of food on my family’s table over the years.

Its essential economic contributions are especially critical in 2020, considering the devastating effects of the border closures on Yukon small businesses and our tourism industry.

It produces approximately $100M worth of gold per year and almost 90 percent of its total operating expenses are paid to Yukon-based companies.

With approximately half of the workforce consisting of family members, that also means the wages stay in the community, further supporting Yukon businesses and citizens.

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in-owned Chief Isaac Group of companies are heavily invested in freight hauling, road construction and fuel distribution, simultaneously both supporting — and benefiting from — placer mining.

When the George Black ferry ran aground a couple summers ago, it was a placer miner who towed it to safety.

On the way into Dawson, there is a sign by the airport warning motorists of moose on the road, as this short strip of highway has more moose-vehicle collisions than any other in the territory.

This is because the goldfields boast the healthiest moose population in the Yukon — not in spite of placer mining — but because of it.

Just ask a Klondiker where they go every year to harvest a moose to feed their family.

Modern placer mining converts relatively barren permafrost areas into lush, productive habitat which is a magnet for all kinds of wildlife.

It is among the most environmentally-friendly of all resource extraction industries; gold is separated from naturally eroded mineral sources and there are no chemicals or cyanide used — just water and gravity.

The Yukon territory was literally founded on placer mining in 1898, and the industry has continuously provided for generations of Yukoners for over 120 years, with fifth-generation miners proudly and responsibly continuing their family’s traditions today.

A placer miner is depicted on Yukon license plates, and many of our flagship tourist attractions — the SS Klondike, Dredge No. 4, the Palace Grand — all celebrate the Yukon’s proud placer mining origins and heritage.

Placer miners also provide support for the Yukon Quest, Dawson Women’s Shelter, Dawson Food Bank, Dawson City Museum, Dawson Film Festival, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Moosehide Gathering and many other community events which benefit Yukoners.

But these benefits are not guaranteed.

The Yukon Water Board’s new conditions threaten placer mining’s ability to continue to provide such overwhelming value for Yukoners.

These conditions are redundant, unnecessary, and well beyond the technical or financial capacity of these modest family operators, which as an entire industry are collectively smaller than a single publicly-traded corporate hard rock mine.

I urge the Yukon Water Board to stick to its mandate concerning water quality and quantity, and let the appropriate government agencies enforce and develop reclamation regulations in partnership with affected First Nations governments and industry.

Poet Robert Service famously said “Somehow the gold isn’t all,” and implementing duplicative, expensive and complicated regulations will only diminish this industry’s historic, vital and irreplaceable contributions to Yukoners’ culture and quality of life.

Jonas J. Smith

Whitehorse, Yukon

Think of Tourism Operators this Holiday Season

The Yukon has 400 tourism businesses that employed over 4,000 Yukoners last year. Now in the dark days of the second-wave, they are at the bottom of the trough.

They are grateful for relief funds because, with no revenue from visitors, they have no other way to keep their business afloat.

They want to be fully operating, but they can’t — they understand that this is for the public good, but it doesn’t make the financial realities any easier to process.

Calculated to the break-even point, they have one nostril above water. In truth most operators are hanging by a thread, investing personal savings to try to retain key staff.

All this while fighting fires and bailing the boat as they navigate the waters of COVID-19 shorthanded.

They try to read the crystal ball to know when to invest their last dregs in marketing and staffing to optimize their chance of surviving the distant “opening.”

Surrounded by an economy that seems to be thriving and oblivious to the COVID-19 tourism crisis, they are asked by well-meaning people if the pandemic is providing time for a “breather.”

Inside they deflate further; they consider explaining that they have never been busier — doing everything they can just to survive. They often then change the subject, because they are wrung out like a dish rag.

The Yukon’s tourism businesses have contributed greatly to our economy, to our society, and to the overall vibrancy of the territory.

Behind every tourism business are real people. You likely know tourism operators and have many in your neighbourhood.

Please show them some love this holiday season; they need it.

Some operators have cabins or lodges for rent. How about treating your bubble to a holiday retreat or New Year getaway, and patronize local restaurants, even if it’s for take-out? Check out the TIA Yukon website for more information at www.tiayukon.com.

And if you are an operator who has been unable to fully access relief funds, or simply lack the time, contact the TIA and we will help you navigate.

Neil Hartling

Chair, Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon

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