Commercial Wilderness Lands Policy

Although there has been little movement in this area, WTAY remains dedicated to working with the Yukon Government to implement a fair and reasonable Commercial Wilderness Lands Policy for commercial wilderness operators.

Wilderness tourism is growing in the Yukon, and after big-game outfitting, it generates the highest earnings per client of any sector of the tourism industry. For decades, backcountry expeditions have been the mainstay of wilderness tourism. If the Yukon wants to increase the economic contribution from this sector, it will have to look beyond existing wilderness travel markets to underdeveloped markets: there is untapped capacity and potential in commercial wilderness lodges.  In order to reach this market, the Yukon needs new product.

For almost two decades, lack of policy has made it impossible for wilderness tourism operators and investors to apply for or obtain backcountry land to develop new wilderness tourism products. Because most provinces, territories and Alaska, have policies in place for obtaining back country land for tourism, Yukon's economic opportunities are being lost to competitive destinations that are successfully developing and marketing sustainable, high-end remote wilderness products, supported by small lodges, cabins and other infrastructure.

Most other resource-based industries have access to land through policy or legislation. (i.e. agriculture, mining, oil & gas, forestry). Suitable locations for backcountry tourism development are becoming very limited, especially on lakes or rivers. There is a real concern that opportunities for growth will be lost if the Commercial Wilderness Lands policy is not developed soon.

Wilderness tourism operators have waited and watched intently while other land policies have moved ahead (Big Game Outfitting and Agriculture Policies). WTAY supported proceeding with the Big Game Outfitters policy in 2002 with the understanding that work on a Commercial Wilderness Lands policy would follow within a reasonable period of time. WTAY also agreed to wait until devolution was complete to begin formal work on a policy. In February 2003, WTAY wrote to Premier Fentie asking that work begin on this. In his March 19, 2003 response, Premier Fentie suggested that WTAY meet with Tourism and EMR Lands staff to discuss how to proceed with the Commercial Wilderness Lands policy.  After a significant amount of well-developed research, countless meetings, and numerous years, wilderness operators are still awaiting movement on the creation of a policy.

At a formal meeting, in December 2011, EMR explained that the slow down on the policy was partially due to First Nations government and partially due to the Outfitters policy. There is a commitment to change the Outfitters policy because as it stands, the outfitters are dissatisfied.  WTAY explained that we have  no objection to working with the Yukon Outfitters Association or the non-represented outfitters, as long as there is no priority given to them.  In fact, WTAY requested that the Yukon Government facilitate a "round-table" discussion that includes all stakeholders.

If you have an invested interest in the development of land tenure for commercial wilderness operators and would like to get more involved, please contact the office at 867-668-3369 or

More Information About the CWL Policy

Big Game Outfitting Lands Policy Application
Yukon Land Application Glossary of Terms

Yukon Commercial Wilderness Lands Policy Research Project (2005) by David Loeks is available upon request at the WTAY office.