the tip of the iceberg
From the Alaska Highway you can see that the new Raven’s Ridge subdivision road has no treed buffer between the first part of the road and the McIntyre Creek wetland.
In places power line pole pads are right in the wetland.
The Raven’s Ridge subdivision is located beside the Miles Canyon Railway Society on the Alaska Highway.
Development of the subdivision was controversial because of its proximity to McIntyre Creek, which is one of Whitehorse’s only two remaining large east/west wildlife corridors.
The area is habitat for moose, coyotes, bear, beaver, otter, mink and muskrat. It is also a salmon spawning stream, and has rainbow trout and grayling.
And it is home to many bird species including songbirds, birds of prey like Northern goshawk, red-tailed hawk, bald eagle, and great horned owl, waterfowl and shorebirds.
The vegetation along the wetland is a big part of what makes it excellent bird habitat.
Riparian vegetation also maintains water quality for fish and other aquatic species by filtering sediment, slowing run-off, regulating water temperature by providing shade, and providing large woody material for fish to shelter under.
It is also important visual cover for animals drinking and moving through.
Clearing the vegetation along the wetland for the Raven’s Ridge road has now created a bottleneck in the McIntyre Creek wildlife travel corridor near the Alaska Highway, which is already a significant barrier.
Why was the road built so close to the wetland?
First the city of Whitehorse, against considerable opposition, rezoned an area along the wetland from Environmental Protection to Future Development.
Fortunately, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board recommended a 60-metre buffer between any clearing or disturbance and the high-water mark along McIntyre Creek.
Unfortunately, the board is only a recommending body. The final decisions about how developments proceed are made by the ‘Responsible Authority’ — in this case the Yukon government.
YTG’s Decision Document only called for a 30-metre riparian setback — and only for lot boundaries. The Decision Document did not refer to the road at all because the city of Whitehorse was responsible for issuing the permit for building the road.
This means that the public had no way of knowing about, or influencing, the impacts of the road on the wetland.
The city of Whitehorse’s Official Community Plan states that there should be no development within 30 metres of a creek or wetland.
It appears that the city may not have surveyed the area on the ground before issuing the permit — frequently maps or aerial photos are used to save time.
This may be why one stretch of the 30-metre wide road and right-of-way completely occupies what should have been a buffer. It isn’t the developer’s fault that the road is so close to the water — that is where they were told to build it.
However, the developer did not have permits for the pads for the power lines — tons of fill dumped into the edge of the wetland at several points.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is investigating the Raven’s Ridge road development, and has required plastic barriers to be installed to prevent silt from construction from entering the water.
But since DFO was not on site when the road was laid out it is too late to do anything about the most serious impacts — the clearing of riparian vegetation and proximity of the road to the wetland.
YESAB’s recommendations would have mitigated impacts on the wetland, but as is frequently the case, the ‘Responsible Authority’ (Yukon government) weakened the recommendations.
YTG turned over complete responsibility for the road to the city. As is also frequently the case, the city did not follow the Official Community Plan.
The Yukon public needs to demand a more responsible system: YTG must stop ignoring YESAB recommendations, and start ensuring better communication between governments and departments before projects go ahead.
The city of Whitehorse needs to follow the Official Community Plan.
Both governments need to make sure that proposed projects are ground-truthed.
The destruction of a few hundred metres of riparian habitat on McIntyre Creek is the tip of the iceberg. If our governments keep ignoring the processes we count on to protect the environment, we will lose the healthy habitat and wildlife that make this such a great place to live.
Karen Baltgailis, Yukon Conservation Society, Whitehorse