Thursday, March 28, 2013

0.2% = 4 mines + Wind River Road

Airstrip on Bonnet Plume River.
Documents obtained by the Yukon Conservation Society through access to information show the government is paving the way for up to four mines and an all-season road in the Wind-Bonnet Plume River region of the Peel watershed.
Although the region is slated for protection under the Peel commission’s final recommended plan, the government’s new land use designation, allowing .2% surface disturbance in that area, means major industrial development, says the Conservation Society.
“Through the recent Peel consultations, and again in the budget speech, government has said that their proposed ceiling of .2% surface disturbance in restricted use wilderness areas in the Peel watershed would protect tourism and wildlife,” said executive director Karen Baltgailis in a news release.
But after doing the math, she said the government’s spin doesn’t add up.
“A .2% disturbance footprint in the Wind-Bonnet Plume landscape management unit would allow 3,834 hectares of disturbance. This would allow an all-season haul road up the entire length of the Wind River and four or more mines.”
The Wind-Bonnet Plume region has been the most contentious area in the seven-year land use planning process.
Not only is it heavily used for recreation, tourism and hunting, it’s rich in First Nations culture and history. It is critical habitat for an array of wildlife, including the Bonnet Plume caribou herd, mountain sheep and grizzly bears.
It’s also where the 2006-07 uranium claim staking rush occurred and has several coal exploration permits on the books.
That’s likely why it was chosen by the government as the place to put a hypothetical open pit mine, power plant and all-season road during a planning exercise last May.
According to the government documents, one afternoon more than a dozen bureaucrats, mostly from Energy, Mines and Resources, gathered in a boardroom to put the government’s newly-dreamed-up land use designation to the test.
Designed “to nestle” between the final recommended Peel plan’s protected areas and integrated management areas, the “enhanced management area” (later known as the “restricted use wilderness area”) provided a way “to manage and minimize the impact on key ecological and wilderness values in areas where the issuance of surface and subsurface rights is permitted.”
The selling point – only .2% of these new land designation areas would ever be developed.
In the case of the government’s hypothetical mine – which it gave a lifespan of 65 years and a “direct footprint” of 600 hectares – the threshold of .2% disturbance would allow development to go ahead.
They figured it would take 25 years from the time the first of the 3,000 claims were staked through to mine production. That included years of drilling, trenching, blasting and other exploration activities. Also construction of the mine, developing “nearby natural gas or coal gasification resources” to power the industrial complex and building a 132-kilometre all-season road. The mine would then run for 20 years and take another 20 years to clean up.
But even government officials were skeptical about some of the assumptions made.
“This doesn’t reflect what is happening in the rest of the territory or likely to happen in the Peel; multiple, air-supported exploration projects over large areas of promising mineral potential for several years (or more) before a possible mine location is identified,” wrote one official in an email.
“Neither scenario requires low flights over key remote rivers which in the real world is very likely given the location of existing claims, airstrips and the ability to land on gravel bars.
“In the Peel, it will be intense, wide-spread, multi-year, air-supported exploration that has the most potential to seriously impact tourism and guided hunting businesses long before a mine and road access are considered.”
Click here to read the documents.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pasloski attacks Peel protection advocates

The following is an excerpt from Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski's 2013-14 budget speech March 21:

"The protection of additional lands in the Peel watershed region will likely make Yukon the leading jurisdiction in Canada in terms of environmental protection of its land area.

Whatever the amount of land that the Yukon government protects in the Peel watershed region, it will never be enough to satisfy the demands of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).

CPAWS has a grand design for Yukon that is called Y2Y or Yellowstone to Yukon.

Y2Y is a joint U.S.-Canada non-profit organization that works with more than 110 organizations to implement a shared vision for conserving the biodiversity of a 500,000 square mile or 1.3 million square kilometre region stretching from Yellowstone National Park in Montana to the Peel Watershed Region in northern Yukon.

The Peel watershed region is in fact the northern anchor of this grand vision to create a corridor for Alaskan grizzly bears to allow them to wander down to Montana.

Established in 1997, Y2Y has offices in Canmore, Alberta and Missoula, Montana and between 1997 and 2012 it raised more than $46.5 million in conservation funding for the Yellowstone to Yukon region.

In 2009, Y2Y was successful in having the Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories expanded to become the largest core-protected wildlife habitat in the entire Yellowstone to Yukon system.

In Yukon, Y2Y is working with the territorial chapter of CPAWS and the Yukon Conservation Society.

Y2Y’s demands for new protected areas will not stop at the Peel Watershed Region.

Its next targets for protection include the Wolf Lake Ecosystem in south central Yukon including Teslin and the entire Upper Liard Basin in southeast Yukon including Watson Lake.

You can bet the bumper stickers are already prepared.

Should Y2Y succeed in protecting all these areas in conjunction with the existing parks – Ivvavik, Vuntut, Tombstone and Kluane – Yukon as we know it today would cease to exist.

Most of Yukon would be covered by parkland and the territory’s resource-based economy would not be able to sustain itself nor our current population, resulting in a substantial loss of jobs and an exodus of people. No jobs means no people.

CPAWS is not trying to save Yukon for Yukoners. It is trying to save Yukon from Yukoners.

Yukoners have to ask themselves if this is what they want.

Yukoners should be asking the territory’s political parties if they support the Y2Y initiative.

The Yukon Party, for the record, does not support the Y2Y initiative.

While we do not support the Y2Y projects or the CPAWS agenda of making the Peel region the northern anchor of Yellowstone to Yukon, we do support environmental protection and are committed to preserving Yukon’s wilderness beauty. We have created large protected areas and parks, and we intend to create more.

But we believe environmental protection starts with effective regulations that set high standards, while allowing responsible use – and this balanced approach is the best way to manage most areas of Yukon, including the Peel planning area.

Our proposed creation of Restricted Use Wilderness Areas in the Peel region allows for potential economic activity, while capping the maximum footprint of all activity at significantly less than 1%.

Doing this would ensure that 99.8% of the areas remains pristine wilderness – while allowing for the potential of responsible uses that provide significant economic benefit to Yukoners, and preserving both pristine wilderness and economic opportunities for future generations.

It is critical we find that proper balance that the final recommended plan failed to achieve.

The mineral wealth of the Peel watershed region could sustain the territory for generations to come.

The size and value of the Crest ore deposit alone are astronomical. The estimated volume of iron ore in the conceptual pit or just 15 percent of the total estimated deposit is 1.68 billion tonnes. Based on the 5 years average price of iron this fraction of the deposit would have a market value of $139.7 billion.

It would be irresponsible for any Yukon government to declare that this resource potential is off limits.

Future generations of Yukoners cannot afford to have this generation ignore the economic value of potential future development of large mineral resources like the Crest iron ore deposit. That deposit is a large strategic resource, and the former Commission acknowledged that it could provide over 100 years of economic benefit to Yukoners if it were to be developed. This government will not deny Yukon’s children, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren the potential of economic benefit from responsible resource development.

Providing financial compensation for expropriation simply would not be possible as it would be far beyond the financial means of any Yukon government, both now and for the foreseeable future.

Accordingly, we are continuing to follow the planning process set out in the Umbrella Final Agreement and are now nearing the end of that process.

After completing consultations with affected First Nations, we will be adopting a plan that protects the environment and respects all sectors of the economy."

Related stories:
CPAWS responds to 'vitriolic diatribe' - CBC Radio, March 25, 2013
Premier warns of environmentalist threat - Yukon News  March 22, 2013
Premier launches spirited attack on CPAWS - Whitehorse Star  March 22, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Make that 10,000+

More than 10,000 people answered the call for written feedback on the Peel watershed land use plan, according to Yukon government statistics released the day before MLAs return to the legislature.
And more than 800 people attended one of the eight open house meetings held in Yukon and N.W.T communities over the winter.
This is the first information the tight-lipped government has shared since it began its public consultation on the final recommended Peel land use plan nearly five months ago.
And while the statistics are dense with detail on how people submitted comments and from where, they don’t say boo about what they had to say.
CPAWS-Yukon’s said recently its records show more than 7,500 of those 10,000+ people urged the government to support the commission’s plan which protects most of the watershed.
That’s about 75-80 per cent, the same result as the 2010 consultation.
But since the government still hasn’t posted any of the submissions it received to its website as promised, there’s no way to verify its numbers.
It says only: “The release of the participation statistics will be followed by the posting of public comments on the government’s consultation website as well as a What We Heard document, summarizing the comments received.”
It doesn’t say when that might happen or why it's taking so long.
According to the figures it did release, it received 763 submissions by email, 14 by fax, 201 by mail and 10 by voice mail.
Six hundred and thirty five people filled out the online feedback form but only 175 filled out that same form, which was mailed to all Yukon households as well as to the four affected N.W.T. communities.  
Another 304 people left written comments at the open houses – either filling out the government questionnaire or scrawling their thoughts on brightly-coloured giant sticky notes.
More than 7,500 people signed petitions or form letters circulated by conservation groups and Yukon First Nations. A postcard campaign by the Yukon Chamber of Mines had 299 participants.
The government figures don't include oral submissions made during the open house meetings or any one-on-one conversations with officials during those events. They were held in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Mayo, Old Crow, Aklavik, Inuvik, Tsiigehtchic and Fort McPherson.
Officials also met with a number of groups and organizations during the consultation period but there is no information about these meetings.
However the number crunchers did go to great lengths to separate the written submissions by territory and country, even assigning detailed percentages to each individual item.
Yukon Party government MLAs are expected to lean heavily on these location details to fend off questions from the opposition when the legislature resumes sitting on Thursday.
Conservation groups are planning to welcome MLAs back to work with a “River of Names” march from downtown Whitehorse to the legislative assembly on Second Avenue. It begins at the Old Firehall at 11:30 a.m.
They’ll be delivering a banner bearing the names of the more than 7,500 people who told the government they support the Peel commission's plan.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A 'staggering' 7,500+ favour Peel plan

Preliminary numbers show more than 7,500 people threw their support behind the Peel’s final recommended plan during the recent round of public consultations, says CPAWS-Yukon.
That’s “a staggering figure” compared to earlier phases of the watershed's land use planning process, said executive director Gill Cracknell in a news release.
And the numbers are likely much higher since these are only based on CPAWS' records.
“The sheer volume of individuals speaking up in favour of the final recommended plan should send a strong message to the Yukon government. We expect this represents just a fraction of the total public contribution,” said Cracknell in the release.
“It is gratifying to see how important this issue is to the public - that thousands empowered themselves and engaged in the process through letters, emails and petitions.”
The public comment period closed on Feb. 25. That’s more than two weeks ago and the government still hasn’t released any numbers or posted any submissions on its website, as it had promised to do.
It won’t say why it’s taking so long or when it plans to share all the information it gathered.
However, a government spokesperson did say this week that all the submissions have been forwarded to a “third-party contractor” who is using them to prepare a “What We Heard” report.
There’s some speculation the government plans to sit on the results for as long as possible because it doesn’t like the story they tell.
Based on the CPAWS' numbers and public meeting response, it looks like most people support the commisison's plan which protects 80 per cent of the watershed from industrial development.
The final recommended plan was released by the Peel commission in July, 2011 after six years and $1.5 million of work. 
It was prepared based the feedback received when an earlier version - the recommended plan - underwent a full round of public consultation in 2010.
Unlike this round, those consultations were designed and conducted jointly by the Yukon and four affected First Nation governments.
Public comments were posted to a Peel consultation website as soon as they were received. Community meetings were recorded and transcriptions of all that was said were put online shortly thereafter.
This time the government cut First Nations out of the loop entirely, even though land use planning is a central component of the Yukon's modern-day treaty.
It also refused to put any comments on its website until after the Feb. 25 deadline had passed. Its meetings were not recorded and transcribed – officials simply jotted down a few notes when people spoke..
And instead of limiting the consultation to the commission's plan, the government threw a new plan into the mix in an attempt to move public sentiment away from large-scale protection.
Many found that extremely confusing, and others viewed it as illegal - a gross violation of the land use planning process agreed to under the treaty.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Peel public feedback still not public

It’s been more than two weeks since the public comment period on the Peel land use plan closed but the Yukon government still hasn’t posted any results on its website.
Nor has it yet put any of the submissions it received online as it had promised to do.
Infact its Peel spokesperson says the government has “no idea” when it will be able to share the public’s feedback with the public.
People were invited to submit written comments or simply fill out the government questionnaire. They could do so electronically or by fax, by mail or in person at one of the open houses/public meetings.
During consultations officials told the public all the submissions would be posted shortly after the comment period closed.
Today its website says only that the comments will be posted, but it doesn’t say when.
“All feedback received during the consultation will posted on this website and is currently being processed for uploading and publication,” it says. “Please check this website regularly for up-to-date information.”  
However, it has sent all the submissions to a “third party contractor” to prepare a “What We Heard” report.
The government had planned to continue consultations with the four First Nations with a stake in the Peel through March.
It’s not saying much about that right now, but it’s going to have to come up with a few answers when the legislature resumes sitting on March 21.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Penny stock poised to pounce on Peel?

A B.C.-based exploration company, chaired by Canadian diamond-finder Chuck Fipke, has big summer plans for the eastern Yukon, including parts of the Peel watershed. 
Cantex Mine Development recently applied to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board to build two temporary camps – one at the Rackla airstrip, just south of the Peel border, and the other at Macmillan Pass, on the North Canol Road.
From the two camps, it plans to use helicopters to carry out “a sampling and possibly staking program” within a 200-kilometre radius, the Kelowna company said in documents recently filed with the Mayo and Watson Lake YESAB offices.
“The actual sampling will take place in a radius of about 200 kilometres from the camp location and will consist mostly of 10-kg stream sediment samples collected by hand,” said company rep Arnold Bauslaugh in an email that accompanied the proposals.
The Yukon government's Peel staking ban expires May 4.
In its submission, Cantex said the camps would each have a kitchen tent, a shower tent and up to six four-man sleeping tents. Helicopter fuel would be flown from Mayo by chartered airplane to the Rackla camp and trucked to the Mac Pass camp. About 19 205-litre drums would be stored at the each site. It would burn as much garbage as possible and send the rest to the Mayo landfill.
Other than that, the company provided few details. Many of the questions on the 32-page standard YESAB form were simply left blank.
It completely ignored all questions about Yukon First Nations. That included one about which traditional territory or territories would be affected by its project and another about its proximity to settlement land.
Asked if it had contacted the affected First Nations, it said no, and skipped over the next question on heritage resources.
It also said the project required no water use and left the rest of water section unanswered.
According to the company there are no other land users in the region such as trappers, hunters, plant/berry harvesters or recreational users. It also said its project won't overlap with any trapping or hunting concessions.
As for wildlife, it said “none known, bears, caribou assumed to be in general area” and said it wasn't aware of any key wildlife or environmentally sensitive places in the region.
In a response to the submissions, Yukon assessors told the company they're going to need a lot more information.
Especially problematic is the 200-kilometre radius sampling program, they said.
“This makes the spatial scope of the project complex to assess,” writes the Mayo office. “Narrowing the scope of the project, and therefore assessment, to reasonably defined areas within your claim blocks will allow more appropriate consideration of the effected values.”
The board needs detailed maps of the proposed camps, a list of the company’s mineral claims and an explanation of where work is expected to occur.
It’s asked for “a complete list of the expected maximum level of ground and air based activities associated with your camp and exploration program.” That means how many helicopter and fixed wing flights on a daily and weekly basis and what route they plan to use.
And it's requested more details about “any watercourses or drainages that will be affected by your planned sampling program” as well as where the company plans to take water for camp use.
The company should contact the other land users – First Nations, other mineral claim holders, trappers and hunting companies, said the board. Any agreements made or permissions granted should be communicated to assessors.
Cantex arrived in the Yukon in 2011.  That summer it told investors it had staked 86 claims in the Rackla region and collected 2,315 heavy metal samples in a 30, area of “prospective ground.”
In 2012 it said in a news release it had staked another 1,300 claims and collected 1,392 more samples on “staked and unstaked ground” without giving any other geographical specifics.
To date, its financial statements show it’s spent $3.4 million on its Yukon exploration project. It also has gold plays in Yemen and Nevada.
Cantex is currently trading on the Toronto Venture Exchange for 2 cents a share.
The company has not yet responded to a request for an interview.
Click here to read the documents on the YESAB public registry.