Placer mining heated up in the Yukon Territory this year as mostly family owned outfits mounted more exploration programs.
The value of gold produced in the Yukon’s growing placer mining sector shot up 18 percent, according to William LeBarge, placer geologist for the Yukon Geological Survey.
The territory had 107 active placer mines in 2007, plus 24 exploratory ventures. That compared with 106 active placer mines in 2006, and nine additional exploratory properties.
With only two weeks left in the year, LeBarge reported an 8.6 percent jump in placer gold production to 63,330 crude ounces as of Dec. 17 and total value climbing 18 percent to $37.5 million. That compared with total production for 2006 of 58,294 ounces of placer gold.
Given past years, LeBarge said he expected several thousand more ounces of gold to be reported as royalties since November, but Yukon Government records showed only a few more ounces by mid-December.
More than 100 years after the discovery of gold in the Yukon, placer mining is still an important sector in the Yukon’s economy. More than 16.6 million crude ounces, or 518 metric tons, of placer gold have been produced in the Yukon — at today’s prices that would be worth more than $9 billion.
Placer mines in the Yukon are still mostly family owned with fewer than four employees. About 350 people were directly employed at 115 Yukon placer mines in 2006, and several hundred more were employed in businesses and industries that serve the placer mining sector.
Scattered over the southwestern and central areas of the territory, most of the placer operations are clustered in traditional mining areas from Whitehorse to Dawson.
YGS reported 10 operations moving to new drainages, nine outfits being sold, five new startups and four operations shutting down.
Indian River, Dominion Creek lead packPlacer mines on the Indian River and Dominion Creek, and their tributaries, accounted for 24,421 ounces, or 38.6 percent of total production this year, compared with 18,008 ounces, or 30.9 percent in 2006.
Production at the Forty Mile, Sixtymile and Moosehorn range also rose, accounting for 23 percent of total output, up from 16 percent last year.
The largest drop in production occurred on the Klondike, Bonanza and Hunker watersheds, down 8 percentage points from 26.5 percent of total 2006 production to 18.4 percent of this year’s output.
Recent trends in the sector include small, inactive mines being purchased by investors from southern Canada and larger operators acquiring multiple properties and growing in size, LeBarge said.
Yukon officials also report a shift to mining in traditional unglaciated areas and expect placer mining and exploration to increase in the territory over the next few years.
“I think as far as placer mining and exploration activity, we will see an increase (in 2008), although it’s difficult to say how much,” LeBarge said. “Fuel prices and the new standards for water quality, which take effect next season, will be major factors that could offset much of the increases in mining activity related to higher gold prices.”