Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent says his party understands it made mistakes during the Peel watershed land use planning process, and that it respects Friday's Supreme Court decision.

The country's highest court issued a ruling that brought an end to a years-long legal battle that was prompted by the Yukon Party government's decision in 2012 to come up with its own plan for the Peel region. 

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ordered the Yukon government to instead consider the final recommended plan that was proposed in 2011 by an independent commission. The government's plan had no validity, the court ruled, because it effectively ignored the land use planning process spelled out in Yukon's Umbrella Final Agreement with First Nations.

"We understand that there were mistakes made," Kent said. "And we respect the findings of the court, and we look forward to moving forward with the land use planning process here in the territory."

The Yukon Party was ousted last year by Sandy Silver's Liberals. After Friday's decision came down, Silver said his government would accept the commission's final recommended plan, and now move forward with consultations on that plan.

"We're very keen to start working towards finalizing a regional land use plan that now reflects a shared vision," he said.

'Restrictiveness' of final plan

Kent still has concerns, though. The former resources minister says his party questions the "restrictiveness" of the final recommended plan, which calls for 80 per cent of the 68,000 square kilometre region be off-limits to development.

Peel Watershed

The Peel watershed region is about 68,000 square kilometres in size. (CBC)

The Yukon Party's plan would have protected just 30 per cent.

Kent says whatever happens now, there are a lot of exploration claims in the region that will need to be dealt with.

"We're interested in what the government plans to do with the thousands of legitimately-held mineral claims in that region, and whether they plan on compensating those claim holders for either direct or indirect expropriation that may occur as a result of accepting the final recommended plan," he said.

"These claims were staked legitimately, and they're held legitimately."

Samson Hartland, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, also wonders about possible expropriation of claims, but acknowledges it's still "early days, so we'll see exactly where this all leads."

Hartland says the chamber's larger concern is about the withdrawal of lands available for staking in Yukon. 

"We're concerned about the trajectory that we're on," he said.

Samson Hartland

'There's a quickly evaporating land base that is going to push investor confidence into other jurisdictions around the world,' said Samson Hartland of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. (CBC)

"It's our duty to bring a light to the fact that there's a quickly evaporating land base that is going to push investor confidence into other jurisdictions around the world."

Hartland also rejects the idea that opening areas to exploration means they'll be irrevocably damaged.  

"A lot of major exploration programs have existed in that region through the course of history. We also know it's highlighted as a pristine area, one of the most pristine in the world," he said.

"That, to us, is a testament to the fact that mineral exploration and the environment can co-exist, and they're not mutually exclusive."


Wind River

The Wind River, in the Peel watershed region. (Ellen Woodley)

With files from Nancy Thomson and Claudiane Samson