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Support Peel watershed protection 'one last time,' say Yukon environmental groups

'When we won the victory in court, that was fantastic. But what it didn't do was fully protect the Peel watershed,' says Julia Duchesne of the Yukon Conservation Society.

Deadline for public comments on the Peel watershed land use plan is Nov. 19

Julia Duchesne, who works in public outreach with Yukon Conservation Society, wears a 'Protect the Peel' hoodie. The group is asking supporters for one final push in submitting pubic comments on the recommended final plan. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Environmental groups in Yukon are making one final push in their campaign for greater protection of the Peel watershed region. 

The Yukon government, the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Gwich'in Tribal Council are accepting public comments on the final recommended plan for the vast area, until Nov. 19.  

Julia Duchesne, who works in public outreach with the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS), believes there may be a perception that the issue is settled, after First Nations and environmentalist groups won a Supreme Court decision last year.

"When we won the victory in court, that was fantastic. But what it didn't do was fully protect the Peel watershed," Duchesne said.

"What it did was protect the process, and send it back to the Yukon public's hands. Even though it's been so long, we really urge Yukoners to come out and stand up for the Peel one last time."

The YCS and the Canadian Parks And Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Yukon chapter have organized events in the next few weeks, including documentary screenings, a portrait exhibit and what's called a "pop-up art shop." Visitors to the events will be encouraged to submit comments on the Peel plan, online

"We're hopefully at the end of a very long road," says Duchesne. 

The Peel watershed land use plan has been the focus of consultations and court battles for nearly a decade. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Group asks for more than Recommended Land Use Plan 

Land use planning for the Peel watershed began nearly a decade ago. A protracted legal battle began after Darrell Pasloski's Yukon Party government replaced the recommended final plan for the region, as delivered by independent commission in 2011, with its own plan. 

During the 2016 territorial election campaign, Sandy Silver's Liberals pledged to accept the final plan as recommended by the original Peel Watershed Planning Commission.

However, after being elected, the new territorial government had to re-open the issue to public consultation as per the court's decision. 

Duchesne says that groups such as YCS are still pushing for more protection than what is recommended in the final recommended plan, which calls for 55 per cent of the watershed to be permanently protected from development, and another 25 per cent to be an area of "interim protection," with review from time to time.

Duchesne says the entire 80 per cent should be "fully protected, as soon as possible." 

"We know there's a strong appetite to protect the majority of the Peel watershed and to protect it now," she said.

An open house was held this week at the YCS office in downtown Whitehorse. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the Yukon government is now accepting comments on the final plan. In fact, the affected First Nations are also accepting comments as part of the public consultations.
    Oct 29, 2018 4:05 PM CT

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