Mineral exploration in the Yukon did not recover in 2001 and the low levels of exploration spending experienced in 2000 continued, with expenditures estimated to be $7.2 million.
Exploration continued to focus on a wide range of deposit models and commodities, with approximately 60% of expenditures directed towards base metals, and the remainder towards precious metals. Among the precious metal targets were intrusion-related gold deposits in the Tintina gold belt, epithermal gold mineralization in the vicinity of the Grew Creek deposit in central Yukon, structurally controlled gold mineralization in the Wheaton River district near Whitehorse, and platinum group elements (PGEs) in the Kluane mafic-ultramafic belt.
Base metal targets included polymetallic volcanogenic massive sulphides in the Finlayson Lake district, Yukon-Tanana Terrane in southern Yukon, and the Pelly Mountain volcanic belt. Exploration was conducted for sedimentary-exhalative and replacement zinc-lead deposits in the Selwyn Basin, porphyry copper-gold deposits in central Yukon and near Whitehorse, iron-oxide-associated copper-gold deposits in the Ogilvie Mountains, and tungsten occurrences in the Selwyn Basin.
Half of the dozen small drill programs conducted during 2001 were directed at gold as the primary commodity. The remaining drill programs targeted base metals, mainly zinc, copper, and PGEs. Claim staking in the Yukon continued to decline with only 1,720 claims staked in 2001 and the number of claims in good standing reduced to 48,982.
The Brewery Creek gold mine was the Yukon’s only operating hard rock mine last year. Heap leaching continued with production of 336 kg (10,811 oz) Au in the first half of 2001, at a cash operating cost of US$199/oz. An additional 137 kg (4,419 oz) was produced in the third quarter to bring production to 474 kg (15,230 oz). Production to the end of 2001 is projected to be 560 kg (18,000 oz).
Seasonal mining has been discontinued at Brewery Creek and will not resume unless gold prices increase. Viceroy Resources has continued its reclamation program.
Mine development expenditures of approximately $500,000 were incurred at Minto Explorations‘ Minto copper deposit and at A.M.T. Canada Inc.’s Keno Hill silver mine. Minto Explorations has a mining venture agreement with ASARCO Inc. (a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico). ASARCO Inc./Grupo Mexico also approved a confirmation diamond drilling program for the Minto property in the 2001 season. Five HQ (63.5-mm) diamond drill holes were drilled, with a total length of 552 m, producing excellent results.
North American Tungsten Corp. Ltd.’s CanTung mine, in the Northwest Territories, was slated for re-opening in January 2002. Access to the mine and support for the operation are dominantly Yukon based, and the Yukon government has signed a road maintenance agreement to support the re-opening.
The government is increasing funding in the Yukon Mining Incentive Program to $850,000 for the 2002 season and also supports the industry through the Yukon Mineral Exploration Tax Credit that provides a 25% tax refund on eligible exploration expenditures. The eligibility period for the tax credit was recently extended to March 31, 2003.
The initialing of the Devolution Transfer Agreement in September 2001, by federal, territorial and First Nation negotiators, also gave the Yukon’s mining industry a boost. The federal government is transferring its responsibilities for managing most of the Yukon’s natural resources to the Yukon government. The negotiators have recommended to their principals that the effective date of devolution be April 1, 2003.
By December 2001, eight Yukon First Nations had reached land claims and self-government agreements. Negotiations on the remaining six agreements are progressing well, with a target completion date of April 1, 2002.
Mike Burke is staff geologist at the Yukon Geology Program