We had a short conversation with an outfitter the other day.
He was talking about the Wind River region.
Combined with the Snake and Bonnet Plume rivers, it makes up about 32,000 square kilometres of the Yukon territory — if lines drawn on a map are important.
Unfortunately, these days they are.
And 32,000 square kilometers sounds like a lot of land.
And perhaps it is. To the territory.
But seen through the outfitter’s eyes, the watershed seemed small. Tiny even.
This is a guy who’d sought wild places. He’d initially settled in BC.
But loggers, miners, oilmen, ATVers, hikers, drivers and countless others had pushed him out of the province.
The wilderness was gone, trammeled by many diverse interests.
And so he went looking for more.
He came north. And eventually settled on the Wind River region.
And there he worked for about a decade.
Then, about a month ago, southern developers caught up with him again.
In this case, it’s Vancouver-based Cash Minerals.
The junior company has an interest in ferreting out uranium and coal deposits in the Yukon.
And its focus is the Wernecke Mountains.
The headwaters of the Wind River is found in those same mountains, which average 1,800 metres in elevation.
Cash wants to reactivate about 250 kilometres of the Wind River Trail, a long-abandoned winter road. It also wants to build 39 kilometres of spur roads, landing strips and fuel caches.
It seekis approval for all this activity in a wilderness that, except for a very few exceptions, is intact.
And so, you have the old fight brewing again: develop or preserve.
The fight has moved north, inexorably.
There are small enclaves of wilderness, including quite a swath in northern BC. But even those have been warped and damaged by development interests.
“This is it,” said the outfitter.
It is one of the last wild places in North America, he said.
And so Cash Minerals’ bid, which is currently under review by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, represents the first push towards the end of the proverbial plank.
It represents, literally, the loss of one of the very last wild ecosystems on the North American continent.
For, in this region today, there are no permanent roads, mines, sawmills. No human settlement. Heck, there’s virtually nothing.
But that’s changing.
And so the battle lines are drawn again.
It’s a struggle that has played out again and again. And it hasn’t worked out well for champions of intact ecosystems — there very few left.
And the odds of this one surviving aren’t that great either.
Despite the public outcry, the Yukon government is a shameless booster of resource development. And it prefers to allow industry to stake its claims well before the planners can draw borders around the important bits.
In fact, planners have drawn borders around the important bits. They identified the watershed of the Wind River, the last intact wilderness ecosystem in the Yukon.
And industry strode in and laid claim anyway.
The outfitter has seen this type of thing before. Like many other critters, he’s been pushed to find new habitat. And he’s at the limit of his range. There is no other wild to go to.
The Wind is it.
Which is why the 32,000 square kilometres of that watershed seems small.
Microscopic, in fact.
And its loss will be as significant as the death of the last tiger or polar bear.
With the loss of each piece goes a chunk of ourselves. (RM)