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By Rose Ragsdale
For Mining News 

Wanted: Mineral prospectors with skills

Far North territories, B.C. governments use mining incentives to ease financial burden of grassroots exploration by individuals


Last updated 1/17/2010 at Noon

Just as junior and major mining companies have important roles to play in the chain of developments that lead, hopefully, to discovery of substantial mineral deposits and subsequent commercial development, individual prospectors occupy a critical niche in the industry's life cycle.

In the vast and remote stretches of northwestern Canada, this is especially true and the need for mineral prospectors is acute.

Yet, rather than being thick on the ground, individuals who hunt for minerals are relatively rare. Most mineral prospectors, in fact, pursue the profession on a part-time basis, devoting weekends and summers to the rugged pastime.

Part of the problem is the difficulty individuals encounter trying to earn a living from the profession.

Solid interest in prospecting

In Yukon Territory a number of individuals have made prospecting a way of life for decades.

"In Yukon Territory, we've got a solid prospecting community, and a lot of people have made prospecting their profession for a long time," said Mike Burke, manager of mineral services for the Yukon Geological Survey. "But it's a tough grind, and prospectors find themselves living hand to foot."

Though recent attention has focused on the work of prospectors in the White Mining District south of Dawson City, individual prospectors, including First Nations members, are seeking minerals all over the territory, Burke told Mining News.

"We have a long history in the Yukon of First Nations prospectors," he said. "It was First Nations prospectors who found the Klondike."

Burke said the Yukon Chamber of Mines also encourages prospecting by regularly offering prospectors' courses that have been well-attended.

Rather than continuing to seek the mother lode in old-fashioned ways, Burke said Government of Yukon geologists are hoping more prospectors will adopt modern techniques in their searches.

"Looking for that one rock is pretty elusive. It's a lot tougher than to outline a soil anomaly that gives you a nice red blob on a map that you can sell to a company," he said.

Yukon is beginning to see more prospectors doing this and, for that reason, earmarked new funding last year for its Mining Incentives Program to encourage the trend.

Government officials approved a one-year C$1.1 million increase to the incentive program, bringing its total annual support to C$1.8 million.

The program aims to stimulate mineral discoveries and advance existing discoveries to a mature exploration stage. Since 2003, projects receiving funding through the mining incentive program are credited with 20 significant new discoveries, including the Andrew lead-zinc deposit and the White Gold property.

Focus on modernizing

A key factor in the presence and number of individuals who prospect for a living appears to be government support for their activities. However, the level of such support in northern British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and Nunavut varies.

In Yukon Territory, as government support for prospectors increased, so did corresponding exploration activities.

In 2009, Yukon recorded 102 licensed early stage mine projects, many of which were operated by individual prospectors. The territory attracted 173 applications for prospecting assistance, and of the 64 successful applicants, about 30 were individuals, including six placer miners, according to Danièle Héon, mineral development geologist and acting manager of the Yukon Mining Incentive Program. She said the placer prospectors also may have producing placer operations.

Unlike traditional prospecting which requires little more than time and a lot of sweat equity, modern prospecting requires individuals to spend considerable sums on laboratory tests.

"If a prospector takes 30 soil samples, about $600 of analysis is needed," Burke said. "That requires a significant financial investment and the Yukon Mining Incentive Program's objective is to reduce that burden."

More part-time prospectors

In more populous British Columbia, mineral prospecting is attracting significantly greater numbers than in Yukon.

The Mineral Titles Branch of the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources has about 5,000 individual registered clients, though not all clients are active to the same degree, according to B.C. officials.

In all, British Columbia has about 55,000 mining claims and leases throughout the province.

According to a Ministry spokesman, some 200-400 individuals are active mining prospectors in British Columbia, with most spending all of their weekends and the majority of their summers conducting prospecting activity.

In addition to information about prospecting, the B.C. government provides a 20-30 percent mineral exploration tax credit for qualified expenses to both individuals and companies. The credit applies to exploration for all base and precious metals, coal and some industrial minerals. Exploration expenses may include expenses incurred in the course of prospecting, carrying out geological surveys, trenching, digging test pits, or preliminary sampling.

Prospectors active in Far North

Individuals prospecting in the Far North territories of Nunavut and Northwest Territories also receive encouragement through government funding.

The Minerals & Petroleum Resources Division of Nunavut's Department of Economic Development & Transportation administers the Nunavut Prospector's Program, which provides financial assistance to eligible applicants for prospecting activities.

Since 1999, 124 resident prospectors have participated in the program.

Individuals may apply for a contribution of up to C$8,000 per year to help pay for basic prospecting costs such as fuel, vehicle maintenance, food while on the land, assistant's wages, prospecting supplies, and mineral assay costs.

In April, the government of Northwest Territories Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment discontinued the NWT Prospectors Grubstake Program, despite protests from the mining community.

NWT prospectors have a long and successful track record, and are credited with major historic discoveries including the Con and Giant mines as well as the impetus behind the discovery and development of the territory's huge diamond mines.

Cutting the grubstake program in 2009 followed a 67 percent reduction in its funding in 2008 for incentives aimed at encouraging prospecting by individuals in the territory. That change left only C$50,000 budgeted to assist independent NWT prospectors, down from C$150,000 in 2007.

NWT prospectors and NWT-based junior exploration companies were directed in 2009 to seek financial assistance for qualified expenses through the Support to Entrepreneurs and Economic Development Program. This program provides small grants ranging from C$1,000 to C$15,000 for qualified business expenses.


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