If Premier Darrell Pasloski’s plan for the Peel watershed is as wise as he claims it to be, why can’t he promote it on its own merits? Instead, he’s decided to attack his opponents in a transparent ploy to change the subject.
In Pasloski’s budget speech last week, he spent more than two pages attacking conservationists, stopping just shy of calling them economic terrorists.
If the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has its way, Pasloski warned, “Most of Yukon would be covered by parkland and the territory’s resource-based economy would not be able to sustain itself nor our current population, resulting in a substantial loss of jobs and an exodus of people. No jobs means no people.”
This is all based on the fact that CPAWS is a member of the Yellowstone to Yukon initiative, or Y2Y. It’s an umbrella group formed in 1997 to promote the goal of creating wildlife corridors between designated parks.
This goal doesn’t actually require turning most of the Yukon into a park. But even if it did, so what? Members of CPAWS are conservationists – their desire to protect the wilderness is not exactly a secret agenda.
And no pressure group is expected to balance society’s competing interests. That’s Pasloski’s role – and one that he’s done a poor job living up to.
If he were being honest, Pasloski would acknowledge that any plan for the Peel necessarily involves painful trade-offs. You can’t please conservationists and First Nations residents who both value the region for its rugged wilderness, while also pleasing miners, who seek to dig up the landscape in search of shiny metal.
While it’s true that there ought to be enough space for competing groups in a region the size of Nova Scotia, the fact remains that everyone is largely interested in the same spots in the Peel, focused around the Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume rivers.
Say what you will about the planning commission’s final plan, but it at least acknowledged that the addition of roads necessarily changes the character of an untrammelled place like the Peel.
Pasloski, meanwhile, simply pretends that tradeoffs don’t exist. Conceptual maps released by his government may be shaded comforting hues of green, but they would allow mining in most of the watershed.
Just how much isn’t clear. Pasloski asserts that the government’s new schemes for the Peel would “ensure that 99.8 per cent of the area remains pristine wilderness.” But that’s probably only true if you mangle the meaning of wilderness.
The government has never put into concrete terms how much development their plans would entail, but the Yukon Conservation Society reckons that this amount of disturbance in the area surrounding the Wind and Bonnet Plume rivers would allow for an all-season road up the entire length of the Wind River and four or more mines.
Graduates of Yukon College’s environmental and conservation sciences program, meanwhile, have also taken a look at the government’s plan. They estimate that it would allow approximately 15,000 kilometres of roads, trails or cutlines. That’s approximately twice the length of the Trans Canada Highway.
That could be bad news for the Peel’s caribou populations, as these skittish animals tend to avoid paths any wider than a horse trail. The government plans could make one-quarter of the watershed a no-go zone for caribou, according to the students’ calculations. That could throw into doubt the ability of herds to maintain self-sustaining populations.
The students are quick to note that more research is needed to shore up their numbers. But they seem to have put more thought into the matter than the government, which pulled its caribou threshold numbers straight from North Yukon Regional Land Use Plan, which were themselves based on computer models rather than actual scientific field studies.
If Pasloski hasn’t addressed his plan’s costs, he’s all too keen to play up the perceived benefits. If Chevron’s massive Crest iron deposit is ever developed, he notes that it would produce hundreds of well-paying jobs for a long time to come.
Emphasis should probably fall on “if.” Many mine projects never get built. Chevron itself concedes that the challenges of developing the project are “enormous,” thanks to the area’s remoteness, steep terrain and lack of a nearby power source. Past schemes to get Crest’s ore to market have also depended on governments spending billions to help build a railway to tidewater.
There’s certainly a reasoned case to be made that the benefits from building mines outweigh whatever damage may be incurred to the Peel. But Pasloski hasn’t made that argument, which is kind of odd, considering how fond he is of talking about the Peel and “balance” in the same breath.
Given that a nasty, drawn-out lawsuit between the Yukon government and affected First Nations now seems to be a foregone conclusion from this whole mess, the least that the premier could do is treat the public’s reservations with a bit more respect.
Deadline extended for F.H. Collins design contest
It’s not too late to enter our drawing contest to design a replacement for F.H. Collins Secondary School. We’ve extended the deadline for submissions to Monday, April 8. (Given how many deadlines the government has blown on this project, we figure we’re allowed one.)
Are you a student or parent who feels left in the lurch by the school’s construction delay? Well, here’s your chance to help set matters straight.
Go grab a black Sharpie marker and prepare to dazzle Education Minister Scott Kent with your creative designs. We’ll print the best submissions in a forthcoming edition.
Please use a letter-sized sheet of paper. Draw nice and simple, so that your masterpiece is easily reproduced in the newspaper. Scanned images should be 200 dots per inch and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To encourage a healthy number of entries – this is, after all, for the greater good of the Yukon’s school system – submitting your name is entirely optional. Or consider coming up with a name as another creative exercise.
The winner, to be picked by an esteemed panel of judges, will receive a well-used copy of The Norton Anthology of English Literature.