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Environmentally Responsible Practices of Yukon Placer Miners

by Josée Bonhomme

Discovery Claim, by Jim Robb     The Yukon Territory exists because of mining. For most of the 105 years since it was created as a legal entity, mining has paid the bills, and has made it worth Ottawa's while to pay at least a modicum of attention to the wishes of the populace.

    In recent years, there has been a growing feeling among many people around the world that mining (and many other industries) are a threat to the well-being of the planet. As a result, many jurisdictions are instituting new regulations to control the environmental "footprint" of the industry. In the Yukon, placer gold miners have been the target of these regulations more and more frequently.

    There is concern among miners, however, that many of these regulations are not based upon the realities of their industry, but upon the perceptions of people who have never seen a placer operation.

    Josée Bonhomme of Whitehorse has just released a report that was originally prepared for the Yukon Government, "to inventory the efforts made by placer miners to be environmentally responsible." In 115 pages, the author covers a great deal of ground, looking at Yukon placer mining history, why the gold is found where it is, the skills needed to be a placer miner today and, of course, the many aspects of environmental care that are regulated and/or practised by the miners.

    From her first meetings with placer miners in Dawson in 2000, the author's attitudes seem to have changed dramatically:

Witnessing the independent, self-taught and creative miners problem-solve or strive for efficiency was the satisfying and inspiring learning experience I was searching. Three summers taught me volumes on how human perseverance may bear fruit for those who truly hold the knowledge and the genius of adaptation in difficult, at times cruel, environments. The more I observed the mining community, the more I abhorred the injustice perpetrated by those who were distant or careless in their assumptions against this little known northern industry. The powers of society's denial, bias and ignorance were a scary concept indeed.

    The report is extensively illustrated, with photographs of people, equipment and claims, with graphs and charts, and with drawings by famous Yukon artist Jim Robb, one of many locals who have thrown their support behind this project.

    In the Table of Contents below, there are links to several pages of extracts from the report. If you would like a copy of the full report, they are available in either black-&-white print form or in colour on a CD, at Mac's Fireweed Books in Whitehorse or Maximilians in Dawson City.

CD case

Table of Contents

Summary/Résumé (bilingual)
About the Author
Study Participants & Acknowledgements
Map of Placer Mining Areas of the Yukon
Link: People Pages (photographs)
Captions for People Pages

Study Method
Efficient Mining and the Environment

A.     Introduction to Placer Mining
1) What is Placer Mining?
    -    Modern Uses of Gold
2) Link: Introduction to Yukon and Klondike Geology - Why is the Gold Here?
3) Tradition and History
    - Geological Survey of Canada Tradition
    - Figures 2.1 & 2.2 (Graphics by Yukon Geologists)
    - Placer Mining Tradition
4) Challenges of the industry today
5) Socio-Economic Impacts of Placer Mining for the Yukon and Canada
6) Link: Skills required of a Typical Yukon Placer Miner
7) Yukon Environmental Notions as they affect Mining
    - Vegetative Succession
    - Moose Habitat
8) Brief Overview of Relevant Scientific Studies
    - Fish Studies
9)   Regulatory Regimes and how they affect Placer Mining

B.     Information collected from Interviews
1) Examples of Opposing Views
2) Modern Knowledge by Category of Placer Mining Effects
    -   Access roads and trails
    -   Archaeological/palaeontological finds
    -   Avoidance of damage
    -   Best practices award in reclamation
Concentrator plant on Irish Gulch     -   Biodiversity
    -   Bio-engineering
    -   Bird habitat enhancement
    -   Bridges and fords
    -   Cold weather operations
    -   Community education & outreach
    -   Dams and ponds
    -   Equipment efficiency
    -   Fish habitat enhancement
    -   Fuel conservation methods
    -   Ground sluicing methods (hydraulic monitoring)
    -   Happy wildlife encounters
    -   Land reclamation
    -   Low-impact operations
    -   Machinery recycling
    -   Materials management
    -   Mercury considerations
    -   Mud management
    -   Natural processes observed and used in mining
    -   Natural re-vegetation
    -   New Zealand floating dredge and lighter dredges
    -   Permafrost considerations
    -   Remote camps or life on the claims
    -   Responsibility as it reflects on stewardship
    -   Restoration and preservation of antique machinery
    -   Stream management
    -   Useful/meaningful scientific study
    -   Waste management
    -   Water management/chemistry
Further Reading
Endnotes/Bibliographic References

- Photos illustrate the text throughout. Illustrations to augment the text are provided by Jim Robb.

Appendix A - Excerpt from Randy Clarkson's Placer Gold Recovery Research (1990)
Appendix B - Seewolf Enterprises 2002 product and price list for remedial materials
Appendix C - Dam design parameters from 1898 Edition of Hydraulic Mining Handbook
Appendix D - Mercury Information Sheet published circa 1983, DIAND
Appendix E - Diagram of New Zealand Dredge Operation by Bill Claxton, Fortymile Gold Placers (1986)
Appendix F - Diagram of In-Stream Diffuser System for Mining Effluent, Fortymile Gold Placers (2003)
Appendix G - Alaskan and Canadian total utilization of Yukon River chinook, chum and coho salmon, 1903-2001 - actual numbers caught and graph comparing the extent of both fisheries.

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