Whitehorse Daily Star

No authorization for cabins found so far

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.

By Chuck Tobin on January 26, 2018

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.

Comments (17)

Up 0 Down 0

Terry on Feb 2, 2018 at 9:46 am

Once an outfitter builds a cabin on a Yukon Lake he "owns" the lake because no commercial air charter company will fly a Yukon resident to that lake. When will this end and when will Yukon Fish and Game Association get some back bone.

Up 4 Down 1

dave laveck on Jan 30, 2018 at 7:14 pm

We have a trapline south of Ross River, I had to apply for leases for my cabins. It took well over a year to get that approval. EMR make regular visits to make sure I'm not making a mess and staying within my boundaries. I was told outfitters fall under the same rules, or it would seem not. It's not hard to tell this is politically driven. I was told there was a draft policy in place many many years ago. So where is it?

Up 5 Down 1

Clairity on Jan 30, 2018 at 4:51 pm

Stories like this along with the one about the miner who got a $500 wrist slap for building an illegal 21km road are just further proof the Yukon’s lands legislation needs to be rewritten.

Write a new lands act, make the rules clear for all users of the land. Consult with the necessary parties. Then give the enforcement staff in the field the proper tools to educate, enforce and solve these problems as they arise.

End the era of “it’s a grey area” and “we’re drafting a policy for that” and make the rules and the consequences clear and consistent for everyone.
Get the decision making (or lack thereof) out of the hands of Deputy Ministers, ADMs and Directors and into the hands of the enforcement staff on the ground.

Up 3 Down 1

sheep hunter on Jan 30, 2018 at 4:43 pm

I've had outfitters buzz me in their Cub while I'm sheep hunting in the Ruby range, I've had the, try and chase me off "their" lake, I've had a certain air transport service in Mayo refuse to fly me into "the outfitters area", and now they are getting to build their camps wherever they please apparently. Wonder where the Yukon Fish and Game association stands on this? I've paid membership fees for the last 25 years, but they never seem to say anything on these issues.

Up 3 Down 2

Sarah on Jan 30, 2018 at 10:53 am

Marsh Lake resident....Streicker, is that you? lol

Up 6 Down 1

Yukon Watchdog on Jan 30, 2018 at 9:36 am

Special rules for some. How are the Liberal politicians any different than the Conservatives????? Everyone's comments are bang on. Why special rules for "special" folks? Why aren't there policies yet? I also recall the burning of a cabin or two a year or two or three ago...what has Lands been doing all this time? Do your damn job! Same rules should apply to everyone! Protect our wilderness from those arrogant outfitters that seem to think they own the area they operate in!

Up 6 Down 1

BnR on Jan 29, 2018 at 7:30 pm

Two "policies"; one for residents, one for outfitters, 'cause you know what would happen if you or I went and built a cabin illegally. I doubt it would be placed on a list for a future policy decision.
Enforce the regulations bureaucrats!

Up 4 Down 1

Seen this before too on Jan 29, 2018 at 6:00 pm

Let us all know where all the illegal outfitter built cabins are and we can all make a point of going there for a camping trip. Two can play at this ignorant game.

Oh, and all you hunters out there, make sure you camp right there while they are guiding their trophy hunters around. That might get the message across better than the government does.

Up 5 Down 1

Blah on Jan 29, 2018 at 3:12 pm

I agree with Groucho. I recall a cabin being torched in the Mayo area by YTG uniforms because it "was on crown land without authorization".

McDowel said "they would be put on a list of sites to be dealt with in a policy yet to be developed." I thought the thousands of bureaucrats that the government has brought up here in the last 2 decades would have been able to sort it out by now, especially as they had it taken care of back then.

This will likely be a bigger and bigger problem as more sourtherners and Europeans seek their "freedom" up here.

Up 5 Down 1

Yukon Hunter on Jan 29, 2018 at 2:34 pm

What this is basically saying is that an outfitter operating with full knowledge that they cannot construct new cabins.. chose to construct new cabins... This wasn't an accident, it was complete arrogance and disregard for authority or reputation of law abiding outfitters.
If no authorization exists.. that means the cabin can belong to the outfitter.. or it can belong to me or you, anyone really.
Sounds like Rick Lake has free cabins belonging to no one for local hunters to stay in this season!
Also, what is the Director of lands saying? if you build a cabin illegally, it will be put on a list of cabins to be legitimized in future policies? So the precedent being if no policy exists.. go ahead .. build a cabin, and Lands will create a policy for you. Remove the cabins immediately is the only appropriate response at this time.
I'm hoping the star continues to follow this so it doesn't get swept under the rug.

Up 5 Down 1

Groucho d'North on Jan 29, 2018 at 10:43 am

I recall some other 'unauthorised' cabins were burned down a few years ago for failing to comply with the development approval process as these cabins appear to also have omitted. There was a policy in place back then to address the violation and I suspect the same one is still in power- so what's all the debate about? Is a 'friend' of the government the owner of these newer cabins?

Up 5 Down 1

Mitch Holder on Jan 27, 2018 at 10:27 pm

Well, screw this, I want to build a free cabin in the wilderness with no harassment pending, have my whole life. Absolute hypocrisy when people are being priced out of the territory.

Up 5 Down 4

Shelly T on Jan 27, 2018 at 12:29 pm

Sounds like government is willing to write a policy so as to permit, or forgive, outfitters for breaking the present lands act. Minister Pillai, time to stand up for Yukoners and say no to these cabins and the actions of outfitters. Or forgive, which says, this government is too afraid to take a stance. And I think First Nation governments and Yukon residents have strong interest in wilderness land tenure. How insulting to think there are only 3 interested parties.

Up 7 Down 1

Jim on Jan 27, 2018 at 9:11 am

Contrary to comments attributed to Mr. McDowell, there is a policy in place which states that " no physical work can occur on the land under application until you have a copy of the Lease Agreement". Obviously, if the Dept is not aware of the cabins there have been no leases applied for much less granted. Shouldn't the rules be the same for every eligible applicant? What is to keep cabins from popping up everywhere?

Wilderness Wonderer

Up 9 Down 1

Wes on Jan 27, 2018 at 7:48 am

Uh, if there's no legal reason for them to be there, and no authorization, then why the hell are they being allowed to stay? If I don't follow the zoning regulations in my country residential neighbourhood, I have to remove the offending structure, even on land I own, but outfitters get a pass?? This is public land, it's not theirs.

Up 3 Down 10

Marsh Lake Resident on Jan 26, 2018 at 5:29 pm

I think that what's clear is that the Yukon Party had years to deal with this, and now here we are.
Interestingly, both the Copper Point camp in Bonnet Plumes area and the campsite on Big Salmon lake had leases given to them in 2012, well after the moratorium was given. That's ministerial level decisions making right there.
So, once again it appears the Yukon big game outfitters will be driving wilderness land use policy, they'll get to keep these camps that were built after 2003, and Yukon residents will have no say and will be kept in the dark.

Up 5 Down 0

Matt on Jan 26, 2018 at 3:28 pm

The main questions to ask. Can the cabins explode? Should we lockdown anything? Will the owners come forward? These questions and more need to be answered on the next episode of 'how the wilderness spins' .

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