One of Canada's most prominent environmentalists, David Suzuki, is wading into the debate over the protection of Yukon's Peel River watershed.

Suzuki is taking part in a canoe trip this week in the Peel River region, a 67,000-square kilometre wilderness area in northeast Yukon.


The Peel Watershed Planning Commission's final report, issued last week, called for 80 per cent of the central Yukon wilderness area to be protected from development. ((CBC))

Before embarking on his trip, Suzuki told reporters in Whitehorse that he is glad the Peel Watershed Planning Commission is calling for most of the area to be protected from industrial development, including mineral staking.

The commission's work in developing a land-use plan for the Peel River watershed has sparked public debate since 2009, when it first proposed that 80 per cent of the region should be withdrawn from development.

The commission has maintained the same recommendation in its final report, released earlier last week.

"I know that it's a time to congratulate the committee that has released its report, recommending protection of 80 per cent of the Peel. I wish it could be 100 per cent," Suzuki said on Friday.

"What we need is large intact areas as a hedge against our ignorance. And to me, the Peel represents that."

Consultations expected this fall

The Yukon government and the territory's First Nations have the final say in the proposed plan. Public consultations are expected to be held this fall.

While the Peel Watershed Planning Commission has kept its original recommendation of protecting 80 per cent of the area, it now says 55 per cent of that land should be protected permanently, while the rest could be reviewed in the future.

But while environmental groups and First Nations have called for 100 per cent of the region to be declared off-limits to development, those who want to explore for minerals in the area say 80 per cent is too much.

"So long as the Yukon government or the B.C. government or the Canadian government thinks the economy is the highest priority [and] everything else must be subordinate to that, we're hooped!" Suzuki said.