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'Window of opportunity' used to get cabin leases
Applications increase for hunting and fishing spots on Crown land in Yellowknife area

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, May 25, 2013

A flurry of recent federal lease applications suggests Yellowknifers have become aware of a "window of opportunity" when it comes to acquiring a lease to build a cabin near the city.

NNSL photo/graphic

New cabins have been cropping up around Yellowknife lately, such as this new shack on David Lake a short distance off the hiking trail into Martin Lake. The land surrounding the lake is Commissioner's land, however if this is a houseboat which it appears to be it would be under federal jurisdiction. What will happen, if anything, to this shack will be determined by an inspector who goes out to survey the site, said Eleanor Young, assistant deputy minister with the territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. - Tim Edwards/NNSL photo

Despite a moratorium on cottage leases in the area, an increasing number of residents are taking advantage of another kind of lease dubbed hunting and fishing cabin leases -- from the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada (AANDC).

Of the 49 hunting and fishing cabin leases approved on Crown land from 2008 to May 1, 27 have been awarded in the past 16 months. Since 2008, 33 hunting and fishing cabin leases were awarded in the Yellowknife area.

"We've received more applications," said Annette Hopkins, director of operations for AANDC when asked why the number these leases have been increasing.

"That's the direct answer," she said. "But also, Yellowknife is the capital of the Northwest Territories and this is the most densely populated area, and so (it has the highest) number of applications. I have no idea why some years we get more applications than we do in another year."

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley takes issue with the amount of leases being given out by AANDC, saying it circumvents the territorial government's recent efforts to limit the amount of development near Yellowknife, where a large number of cabins puts pressure on wildlife and the environment.

The GNWT's Department of Municipal and Community Affairs has had a moratorium on new cabin development on Commissioner's Land near Yellowknife since 2009.

"It's highly suspicious. This is exactly why I insisted they put a moratorium in the territorial leasing," said Bromley. "(The hunting and fishing leases) are being given out for those who have an inside track and happen to know there is a window of opportunity."

Of the four types of federal leases available to NWT residents, two traditional leases and trapping leases are only available to First Nation applicants. Seasonal recreational lease applications are accepted only in settled land claim areas, and so Akaitcho territory surrounding Yellowknife does not apply.

However, with hunting and fishing cabin leases, anyone over the legal age of majority who is legally able to enter into a contract can apply, said Hopkins.

"We do not issue any applications for seasonal recreational uses outside of land-claim areas and so around this area we do not entertain those types of applications.

"Hunting and fishing applications that we receive, there aren't really any restrictions as to who can apply for those. Anybody who holds a hunting licence can go out hunting, or anyone who holds a fishing licence can go out fishing," she said.

After a consultation process, AANDC decides whether or not to approve the lease application. Hunting and fishing leases are of 0.5 hectares in size and may not be within 300 metres of an existing lease. The combined footprint of any structures on the lease may not exceed 100 square metres and it may not be more than two storeys tall. Lease holders have a maximum of two years to erect a structure after securing their lease.

AANDC does not approve any new leases near Madeline Lake, Small Lake, Pickerel Lake, River Lake or Reid Lake because these lakes are at maximum capacity, stated AANDC in an e-mail to Yellowknifer providing background information on the leases.

Hopkins declined to speculate on what will happen after powers over lands and resources devolve to the GNWT.

However, Bromley did not mince words.

"They are doing this knowing we are going to inherit this problem they are creating," he said. "It's been done knowing parts of the devolution deal is the territorial government will honour existing federal leases."

AANDC is still accepting applications to lease Crown land for hunting and fishing cabins, and will continue to do so for as long as it is managing Crown land in the territory, said Hopkins.

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