Paul Watson is a columnist for the Toronto Star, which has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on Canada’s federal and provincial politics as well as shaping public opinion. This article was originally published May 15, 2011.
WHITEHORSE—Park officers are normally on the lookout for rowdy campers, untended picnic baskets, guests that won’t go away and the odd ornery bear that lumbers into Wolf Creek Campground on this city’s edge.
Now they have to add voracious mining companies to the list of threats to fend off from the popular retreat in an old growth spruce forest overlooking the Yukon River.
Arcturus Ventures Inc., a Vancouver-based, penny-stock mineral exploration company, has staked its claim on the park, in a zone the city of Whitehorse has designated environmentally sensitive.
It’s a landmark where, every summer, some 60 campgrounds fill up with tourists who travel the Alaska Highway to the park to enjoy its hiking trails and spectacular wilderness vistas on the capital’s southern outskirts.
Chinook salmon fry released from a fish hatchery swim downstream through the park on their journey to the Bering Sea. Lynx, moose, wolves and bears and other wildlife pass through as they roam the Yukon River corridor.
Arcturus, whose stock is trading at around 8 cents a share on the Toronto Venture Exchange, thinks there might be a rich vein of copper, maybe even gold, in the area. It wants to drill on land the city insists is out of bounds for mining.
Whitehorse is trying to block test drilling, which it says would violate city bylaws in an environmentally sensitive recreation area that’s to be preserved for future generations under the official community plan.
Similar clashes between industry and environmental protection are becoming more common in Northern Canada as governments try to balance the need for jobs and economic development against risks to pristine wilderness that many consider a national treasure.
Wolf Creek Campground is a small front in the conflict.
“Both exploration and mining should be banned in parks,” said Mike Dehn, Yukon executive director for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
“The access, disruption, disturbance to wildlife, and effects on traditional activities and wilderness tourism created by extraction exploration and mining are not consistent with the purposes of parks.”
The group also thinks the government should regulate the runaway staking of mineral claims, which are quickly spreading across enormous tracts of the territory.
“And once these mineral claims are obtained, it is relatively easy for companies to obtain the necessary permits to proceed with exploration,” Dehn said.
Conservationists complain the Yukon government’s obliging relationship with mining companies often undermines officials tasked with safeguarding parks and the environment.
“I think it’s a little ominous that the mining industry’s needs and wishes kind of dictate what will be done with these protected areas,” said Greg Cote, a former Peel Region police officer now in charge of enforcement for Yukon’s parks.
“We all are benefiting, in some way, with industry coming up here, whether it’s from the jobs, a bigger tax base or that sort of thing,” he added. “But you could argue that there will be much more jobs if we protect these areas and we become more of a tourist mecca, and that will create some better ‘green’ jobs.”
In a territory roughly the size of Spain, with a population just over 34,000, a lot of people have a personal stake in mining and exploration. Last year, those sectors contributed some $600 million to Yukon’s economy, almost half its gross domestic product.
Even a member of the rockabilly band Sasquatch Prom Date, who supplements his earnings by selling hotdogs outside the mining department headquarters on Main St. said he had staked a claim along a remote creek.
Just to try his luck. In case the music thing doesn’t work out.
Yukon’s many prospectors often go to great lengths chasing their fortunes. Last fall, the territory ordered Canadian United Minerals to leave the middle of Tombstone Territorial Park, famous for its razor-edged granite peaks, Arctic tundra and wildlife.
Owner Joel White’s camp, where he began exploring for gold and uranium several years before the park was created in 2004, was a dangerous, unsightly mix of leaking fuel barrels, live explosives, trenches and a wooden shack at the headwaters of the Blackstone River.
Although Arcturus’s proposed drilling site is just outside Whitehorse’s Wolf Creek Campground, local bylaws and the official community plan don’t allow mineral exploration in the area, said Brian Crist, the city’s director of operations.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/992088–mining-companies-raise-stakes-in-whitehorse