Placer Mining and Reality TV

Scott Kent, MLA for Riverdale NorthAs submitted to Yukon newspapers on Monday, March 23rd, 2015
by Scott Kent, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources

Dear Editor,

Last week, a letter to the editor was published from Stuart Schmidt, a well-regarded Yukon placer miner and president of the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association. Mr. Schmidt expressed his grave concern about the impression created by a popular television program purportedly depicting placer mining activity. He observed that the alarming televised images bear little resemblance to the responsible and progressive practises of genuine Yukon placer miners.

I share the KPMA’s concern about the inaccurate representation of typical placer mining activities. The Yukon government has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with the industry, the most recent example of which is a robust and modern regulatory regime, integrating requirements under the Waters Act, Placer Mining Act, and the federal Fisheries Act. This government continues to work with the industry and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to ensure the regime is adaptive, and respects modern environmental standards.

The placer mining industry has been active in Yukon since before the Klondike Gold Rush. Often, the imagery presented on television programs shows evidence of works that occurred in previous, unregulated eras. Modern placer miners must adhere to strict conditions, and activities that demonstrate this are seldom depicted on television.

Generally speaking, these television programs do not accurately portray features and activities common to every placer mine, such as waste water treatment facilities, effluent conveyance structures, land reclamation, stream channel restoration, and the clean-up work that is mandatory at these sites. Required licences, authorizations, approvals and permits outline the terms and conditions for operations, including effluent discharge standards, design standards for works on site, spill plans, reporting requirements, and seasonal and final reclamation standards.

The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources supports this regulatory regime through a pro-active compliance monitoring and enforcement program, and conducted 415 inspections of operating placer mines in 2014. In addition to inspecting conventional placer mining operations, our staff monitor the sites depicted in the television shows.

We have received numerous complaints about the activities shown on these programs since they began. Our inspection staff always respond by following up appropriately. Some of the incidents shown on television broadcasts this season are under investigation.

As president of the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association, Mr. Schmidt’s open letter raises important issues about the depiction of resource industries in Yukon and across the North. I’d like to thank Mr. Schmidt for putting a spotlight on the Yukon government’s inspection and enforcement efforts, and for his contributions to Yukon as a placer miner and representative for his industry.