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By Rose Ragsdale
For Mining News 

Peel land use plan gets 1-year timeout

Government of Yukon vows to work with all stakeholders, including First Nations and the public, to achieve an equitable agreement

 

Last updated 2/28/2010 at Noon



The Government of Yukon has issued an immediate one-year interim withdrawal from mineral staking for all Crown Land, Category B settlement lands and fee simple lands in the Peel Watershed Region of Yukon Territory in hopes of providing certainty during an ongoing regional land use planning process.

The Peel Watershed Region is one of eight regions for which mineral-rich Yukon Territory is developing land use plans. The Peel watershed is located north of Mayo in northeast Yukon Territory. A major subbasin of the Mackenzie River, it generally forms the planning region boundary. Ecoregions within the planning region, include the Mackenzie Mountains, Peel Plateau, Fort McPherson Plain, North Ogilvie Mountains, British-Richardson Mountains and Eagle Plains.

"This interim withdrawal ensures that the public, stakeholders and First Nations involved in the process can fully review and assess the plan on the basis of the current mineral claims in the region," Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie said Feb. 4 in announcing the move. "This withdrawal will allow work on existing mineral claims, while enabling continued progress on the region's planning process."

Effective immediately, the staking withdrawal applies to subsurface mineral staking administered under the territory's Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act until Feb. 4, 2011.

During the 12-month period, rights for oil and gas, and coal will not be issued in the 67,000-square-kilometer, or 25,869-square-mile, region, which is an area a little larger that the state of West Virginia. Current regulatory processes for surface activities also will continue to apply.

However, the interim staking withdrawal does not pre-determine any outcomes in the planning process, which encountered significant controversy in 2009.

A review panel recommended in December that most of the Peel River Watershed be withdrawn from industrial use, including mineral resource development. In long-awaited recommendations, the Peel Watershed Planning Commission is seeking to ban mining activity in 80 percent of the region.

Compromise satisfied no one

The commission is an arms-length panel with members jointly nominated by the Yukon government and the governments of four First Nations.

After four years of deliberations, the six commissioners adopted recommendations Dec. 2 that differ substantially from an initial plan that they drafted in April.

The draft drew strong opposition from Yukon's mining industry because the commission called for a prohibition on mining activity in the vast wilderness area.

The commission said responses to the draft "made clear that the conflicting visions for the Peel Planning Region were intractable and that its compromise approach satisfied no one."

As a result, the panel scrapped the draft plan, and instead, focused on measures to minimize actual and potential land-use conflicts, and to recognize and promote the cultural values and well-being of "Yukon Indian People" by crafting "a conservative, cautious plan that preserves the maximum degree of future options for society."

The current recommendations favor a high degree of protection as special management areas for 80.6 percent of the planning region, emphasizing a range of priorities: Heritage Management (2.1 percent), Fish and Wildlife Management (19.6 percent) Watershed Management (27.7 percent) and General Environmental Protection (31.2 percent).

More mixed reactions

The commission's final plan in December also drew mixed reactions.

The Yukon Conservation Society says the recommended land-use plan strikes the right balance between conservation and development.

But members of the mining industry disagreed.

Carl Schulze, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, said he was extremely disappointed in the plan because it will render mineral claims in the area worthless.

The commission's recommendation to let existing mineral claims, which cover about 3 percent of the watershed, stand is meaningless to the industry, according to Schulze.

"The area has seen a lot of mining exploration in the last 50 years and several deposits have been identified, including the world-class Crest iron formation," Schulze said. "These claims are effectively valueless if there's not a reasonable prospect of working them and accessing them if there's a deposit on them."

According to Yukon government records, there are 245 Minfile occurrences in the Peel watershed, 12 of which are deposits - seven coal deposits, three iron deposits (including Crest iron), one zinc deposit (Goz Creek) and one copper-zinc deposit (Hart River). Also, mineral explorers have conducted diamond drilling programs on 45 occurrences in the Peel area.

All of the deposits identified in Minfile are historical deposits, and none have current NI 43-101-compliant resources.

"It's really striking that the area has been declared 'pristine wilderness,' but it has more than 200 Minfile occurrences and some oil and gas exploration," Schulze observed.

Public input will be sought

To complete the planning process, the territorial government said it is working collaboratively with the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and the Gwich'in Tribal Council.

Yukon planners will continue to follow the processes outlined in existing regulations to enable completion of the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan. They said the public and other stakeholders will get opportunities to offer their perspectives on the commission's recommended plan later this year.

For more information on the Peel Watershed Regional Planning process, visit http://www.emr.gov.yk.ca.

 

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