The construction of two cabins in the wilderness south of Ross River is under investigation by the Yukon government, officials have confirmed to the Star.
One of the cabins was seen in a TV episode of a big game hunting series.
Colin McDowell of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR) explained Thursday if it’s determined the cabins were built without authorization, they would be put on a list of sites to be dealt with in a policy yet to be developed.
Its looks like one of the cabins, the one located on Rick Lake, is built inside the 30-metre buffer zone along all lake shores and riverbanks that is referred to as the normal high water mark, he said.
If it is, he suggested, it’s likely it will have to be removed – in any case.
Under federal regulations, the 30-metre buffer is off-limits to everybody, and cannot be owned by anybody, not even First Nations with land claim settlements.
EMR communication officer Rod Jacob said this morning staff have not been able to find any authorization for the cabins, nor any legal reason for them being there.
Department officials confirmed Thursday a letter of concern about the two buildings was written in the last couple of months to EMR Minister Ranj Pillai.
The one at Rick Lake can be seen during the filming of a moose hunt.
Jacob said the cabin on Rick Lake was first noticed last July by staff with the compliance, monitoring and inspection branch during a routine flight.
A complaint was later received from the Ross River Dena Council, and then there was the letter of complaint to the minister, officials explained Thursday.
McDowell said his department has been directed by the Liberal government to take a new, more holistic approach to dealing with land tenure issues in the wilderness, and not just for big game outfitters.
In 2006, for instance, the Yukon government released a policy aimed at providing big game outfitters with authorization for cabins or tent camps where historical use prior to April 1, 2003 could be demonstrated.
April 1, 2003 was the date on which the Yukon government took over responsibility from the federal government for managing lands and resources in the Yukon – commonly referred to as devolution.
It was the government’s intent to document and authorize historical use prior to taking applications from big game outfitters for new land leases and licences.
Information was not available this morning regarding how many of the territory’s 20 big game outfitters have used the land application policy to receive authorization for cabins and camp sites used prior to 2003.
Initially, however, there was very little interest in the first few years.
McDowell said the department is still inviting outfitters to seek authorization of sites used prior to 2003.
But when it comes to requesting new land tenure for cabins or camp sites, the department has been instructed to develop a new approach, he said.
McDowell said the intent is to bring together the three major groups with specific interests in land tenure in the wilderness – outfitters, trappers and wilderness tourism businesses.
He said it will take a year or two to develop the new approach, but the government will still accept applications from big game outfitters to authorize sites used prior to April 1, 2003.
Speaking to the Star this morning, Pillai said the government wants a more holistic approach to addressing land tenure in the wilderness because of the competing interests.
First Nation governments, he insisted, have to be directly involved.
Many First Nations were left out of the conversation in the development of the existing outfitter land policy, he said.
Pillai said there are also the interests of the mining industry to be addressed.
The department has had discussions with the outfitters and the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association, the minister said.
He said a team from EMR has been created to meet with a sub-committee formed by the Council of Yukon First Nations to advance discussions on the issue of land tenure in the wilderness.
The holistic approach was first advanced in 2009 during a Yukon Forum meeting between the territorial government and the First Nations but was never fleshed out, Pillai said.
With his government’s commitment to use the Yukon Forum as a means of addressing common interests, he added, he expects there will be ample opportunity to advance the matter of land tenure.
Land tenure in the wilderness, the minister insisted, is a tough issue right across the board.
First Nations still have concerns with the existing outfitter policy to provide authorization for pre-2003 sites, he said.
Pillai said he was thankful for the letter sent to him regarding the concern over the two cabins.
The territory is awfully big, and having Yukoners notify the government when they see something that does not look right is really helpful, he said.
Land tenure for big game outfitters was a hot topic about 10 years ago, when the construction of new sleep cabins and a cooking lodge at Copper Point on the Bonnet Plume River ended up in court – a couple of times.
There was also substantial push back around the same time when a big game outfitter in southern Yukon wanted authority for the exclusive use of a campsite on a popular lake that was used frequently by the general public.
In recent years, however, the discussion about land tenure for outfitters has gone quiet.
The Star has been told by a source the cabin on Rick Lake was built in 2015, and that the issue goes beyond the two cabins under investigation by EMR.