SOURCE: The Narwhal

DATE: September 11, 2018

SNIP: In Dawson City, Yukon, you can get a Chinese buffet at Gold Village before picking up a few essentials at the Bonanza Market. A block away, across from the river, you can get some Yukon gold from the Klondike Nugget & Ivory Shop.

The gold rush, it seems, is in full swing: the Yukon Geological Survey pegged total placer mining production at $94 million in 2017, an amount comparable to the peak production during the Klondike.

The name Klondike … derives from a mispronunciation of the word Tr’ondëk, which loosely translated refers to a part of the river.

You basically have to destroy the stream that the gold is in,” Lewis Rifkind, Mining Analyst at the Yukon Conservation Society says.

The rounded riverbed stones piled high into miniature mountains along the Klondike Highway tell the story of how that damage comes to be: placer miners scoop up the rocks and gravel from current and historical riverbeds, sort through them for gold, and dump the waste rock, or tailings, as they move along.

“Such mining can gut invaluable riparian areas and can severely and permanently damage streams, devastate fish, and threaten human health,” wrote the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre in a letter to the B.C. Auditor General last year.

“It can interfere with traditional hunting, fishing and gathering practices and infringe Indigenous rights.”

Digging up the river kicks up silt, choking and smothering downstream plants, insects and fish. Fish have trouble moving, feeding, reproducing and growing in water with even low amounts of sediments hanging in the water.

Placer mining also disturbs the habitat of the riverbanks, the fragile and extremely productive riparian areas that the Environmental Law Centre says house two-thirds of Canada’s rare and endangered species.

Any return to normalcy, [a study] found, “could take many decades to centuries.”

The growth in the industry in recent years — driven in part by high gold prices as well as the notoriety from the reality TV shows — is unprecedented. The Yukon Geological Survey counted 25,219 placer claims in good standing in the territory, “which is the highest number of claims dating back to 1973 when our records were initiated.”