Yukon government readies Peel Watershed decision

The Yukon government is pledging to release a decision this week regarding the Peel River Watershed, a region that has become a symbolic environmental issue in the territory.

Industry, environmentalists, First Nations clash over area the size of Nova Scotia

CBC's David Croft reports from Whitehorse 1:58
The Peel River Watershed is the size of Nova-Scotia and could hold hundreds of billions' worth of mineral resources. (Protectpeel.ca)
The Yukon government is set to announce a decision that could be remembered as its legacy, and set the course for the territory's future development.   

The issue is the Peel River Watershed. The pristine area is the size of Nova Scotia and home to an abundance of wildlife and fresh water.

Yukon's government under Premier Darrell Pasloski has said it is seeking balance between industry and preservation.

In his budget address for 2013, Pasloski portrayed parts of Yukon's environmental lobby as dismissive of Yukon's resource economy and uninterested in compromise. 

"Whatever the amount of land that the Yukon government protects in the Peel watershed region it will never be enough to satisfy the demands of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society," he said. 

The current Yukon Party government has often mentioned the size of the watershed, arguing that even pockets of large-scale development would not ruin its overall potential for hunting, photography and eco-tourism as well as its suitability for wildlife.  

The Peel River watershed measures 67,000 square kilometres — almost the size of Ireland. 

The watershed holds mineral reserves which have been estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Pasloski has said the Crest ore deposit alone could be worth $140 billion.

It is critical that we find a proper balance.- Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski (Budget address 2013)   

Recommended Land Use Plan rejected

Activists have expressed disgust and outrage at the government's plans for development, arguing the Peel Watershed is a uniquely bio-diverse region that should be preserved for all time.

The Yukon government first created a public consultation process called the Peel Planning Commission but then rejected its recommended Land Use Plan.  

That report was created over five years at a cost of $1.6 million dollars. 

The Commission found overwhelming public support for preservation of the Peel Watershed. Its recommendation was to protect up to 80% of the region from industrial development.  

In his 2013 budget address, Pasloski said the plan went too far. "It is critical that we find a proper balance that the Final Recommended Plan failed to achieve," he said. "The mineral wealth of the Peel Watershed Region could sustain the territory for generations to come."

The Peel Watershed region itself has sustained Yukon First Nations for myriad generations. During public consultations many Yukon aboriginal people spoke of having a spiritual connection to the land which provided their ancestors with water, fish, edible and useful plants, fur, wood and all the necessities of traditional life.

Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Joe Linklater who lives in Old Crow says the original recommendations were balanced and should stand. 

Whether this goes to a lawsuit situation or doesn't, that's going to be the next phase or the next determination that we have to make.-Chief Joe Linklater, Vuntut Gwitchin

"The government is going to do what the government is going to do, so whether this goes to a lawsuit situation or doesn't, that's going to be the next phase or the next determination that we have to make."

Na-ChoNyak Dun Chief Ed Champion also says he's waiting to hear the government's decision.

He said if Yukon First Nations agree with the government's decision it could be a celebration. However a plan for increased industry could rekindle the now-familiar battle between government, environmentalists, industry and First Nations, each with different visions for this large section of land.  

The Yukon government has pledged a decision this week but has not yet provided further details.

"Protect the Peel" has become a rallying cry of the Yukon environmental movement, with letters of support being mailed from around the world.


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