Letter to the Editor
Wildlife has prior claim
on McLean Lake
Open letter to the Whitehorse city council,
It’s recently come to light that McLean Lake and the surrounding area were legally designated as a game sanctuary in 1953, when Commissioner W.G. Brown made the following regulation under his authority established in Section 75 (g) of the Yukon Game Ordinance of 1951: “All that portion of the Yukon territory which lies within a half mile of the shore of McLean Lake: said lake being situated approximately two miles west of Miles Canyon in the Yukon territory.”
McLean Lake game sanctuary was the only game sanctuary chosen by the Yukon government on its own initiative.
At the time, it was strongly supported by the federal Fisheries department, which had already designated it a fish sanctuary, the Yukon Fish and Game Association and the Canadian Wildlife Service.
There are many things that people will find of interest in the story of the McLean Lake game sanctuary.
The sanctuary was set aside to support the extensive efforts of the Yukon Fish and Game Association to stock the lakes around southern Yukon with fish for the benefit of locals and tourists.
In the classic conservationist trend of the time, and one that has recently regained respect, the Yukon game director, Them Kjar, re-colonized the lake with beavers to raise the water level.
Inspection reports and articles from the Whitehorse Star from this era indicate that at times, hundreds of residents and tourists would be at the lake when fishing was opened for limited periods.
Records show that local people were aware of the management restrictions in the game sanctuary and reported breaches to the RCMP and the territorial game department. In short, the McLean Lake game sanctuary was a vibrant, active part of the Whitehorse landscape.
Yet McLean Lake game sanctuary apparently vanished from the collective local memory sometime around 1958.
Why? Does it in fact still legally exist?
We think it does. No records seem to exist that the commissioner’s order was ever officially repealed.
And the habitat values that lead to the creation of the sanctuary are just as important today as they were in 1953.
Over the past several years, numerous studies have been done on the McLean Lake area, and all have confirmed its high environmental value.
It has complex hydrology, sensitive habitat for fish and birds, and is associated with wetlands that exhibit rare and unique landscape features for this region of the Yukon.
McLean Lake is also one of the few natural lakes left so close to downtown Whitehorse, since Schwatka Lake and Chadburn Lake are both creations of the hydro dam.
Because of these values, many consultants have recently made recommendations to make McLean Lake an environmental preserve.
Yet in the current Official Community Plan, and the proposed zoning bylaw currently before city council, the city is proposing to establish a quarry and batch plant operation close to the lake, and well within the boundaries of the McLean Lake game sanctuary.
We think this is inappropriate. And so do many others.
Even in the city’s draft Watershed Management Plan back in 2004, note was made that the Official Community Plan designation for natural resource extraction so close to the lake was problematic.
As well, for years, city residents, members of the Yukon Fish and Game Association, and residents of the area have made multiple submissions opposing the proposed industrial development at the lake.
We wonder now what effect knowledge about the McLean Lake game sanctuary would have had on the reception to all these concerns.
As many citizens are undoubtedly aware, consultation concerning the OCP and the proposed zoning bylaw has been an ongoing process.
Mayor and city council have heard from many resident and interest groups echoing the importance of greenspace for an enhanced quality of life, not only for current area residents, but also for future generations.
More than a half-century ago, two levels of government recognized that the McLean Lake area was an invaluable asset in proximity to a growing city, and made a conscious decision to set it aside as a protected area for public benefit, before development encroached upon it.
This decision to establish the McLean Lake game sanctuary long predates the interests of current residents and proponents of industrial development within the area.
Maintaining the area in its natural state is just as important today.
Residents and visitors alike repeatedly mention that what they treasure most about Whitehorse is its “wilderness city” aspect: that anybody can enjoy an intact natural environment that is situated a mere six kilometres from downtown Whitehorse.
The McLean Lake Residents’ Association is inviting public support for our request to the city to recognize and honour the McLean Lake game sanctuary that was established by the commissioner in 1953.
City councillors currently have a critical decision before them: to decide whether the Official Community Plan and its proposed zoning bylaw will become the blueprint for municipal development for future generations.
The McLean Lake Residents Association encourages city council to reconsider the proposed quarry zoning for the McLean Lake area, and instead recognize the long-standing values reflected in the foresight of the Yukon Game department, department of Fisheries, Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Yukon Fish and Game Association, who acknowledged the importance of the McLean Lake area 53 years ago.
Sue Moodie, for McLean Lake Residents Association, Whitehorse