peel process skewed toward development

There are serious problems in the Peel land-use planning process. To find out what they are, one has only to read Environment director Ed van Randen's March 4 memo to John Spicer, his counterpart in Energy, Mines and Resources.

There are serious problems in the Peel land-use planning process.

To find out what they are, one has only to read Environment director Ed van Randen’s March 4 memo to John Spicer, his counterpart in Energy, Mines and Resources.

The memo reveals how the Peel planning process has been screwed up by both the government and the planning commission.

On the eve of the end of public comment, the document leaves little room for optimism that the Peel will be adequately protected.

It is clear from the outset that Environment officials were not pleased with the conduct of Energy, Mines and Resources, which was overseeing the government’s Peel Watershed review.

Despite its critical tone, the memo was approved by the department’s senior management and was supposed to be forwarded to the commission as part of the government response to the Peel Watershed planning process.

It wasn’t.

Instead, the 22-page document found its way into Premier Dennis Fentie’s hands.

He placed an irate phone call directly to the department’s deputy, Kelvin Leary. And Environment submitted a vague four-page response to the commission.

Van Randen’s original memo makes for interesting reading.

It was often blunt, making it clear the process was strange and not friendly to the Environment department.

A group of high-level territorial officials met and forwarded information to the commission without Environment input.

“I understand the senior liaison committee has already met and that the commission has already been provided high-level policy advice by the parties,” wrote van Randen.

“While I understand that you are not totally in control of the timing at which the parties agree to meet in order to develop their response, it does make the advice we are being asked to provide on “how should Yukon view this scenario report” somewhat futile when things occur out of sequence like that.”

The response process “feels hasty and rushed,” wrote van Randen.

“While we appreciate the need for closure on this plan, it should not come at the expense of proper process and diligence.”

But Environment officials also thought the government should challenge the commission’s approach.

“Undue consideration has been given to retaining economic opportunities in an area that is unlikely to experience any significant industrial development for a long while,” notes Environment’s response.

Also, “there is little explanation of ‘how’ exactly the commission made tradeoffs and little evidence that the background data Yukon provided to develop scenarios was used,” officials wrote.

Finally, “scenarios three and four were produced in ad hoc and after-the-fact fashion, responding to stakeholder concerns.

“We feel additional diligence in developing and assessing these scenarios will be required if they are to be seriously considered.”

The addition of these other two impromptu plans is seriously compromising the planning process, noted the parks branch in its stand-alone submission.

“By any measure of experience, the current planning process is both inconsistent and confusing,” said the parks submission.

“The fluid nature of the scenarios for review results in a lack of comprehensive documentation of each scenario and suggests a lack of analysis on the part of the commission.

“This situation brings the entire planning process into question.”

The commission has done a poor job backing up its decisions, its scenarios “do not capture the value for parks, wilderness and conservation that reflect the significance of the region in the Yukon.”

Economic factors are given significantly greater weight than environmental concerns and ecological integrity, “thus undermining the long term sustainability of any of the scenarios developed.

“What makes these conclusions so significant is that, in the context of the Yukon as a whole, this region is devoid of any protection and, at the same time, possesses some of the territory’s most significant areas of park, wilderness and conservation values.”

Again, the whole process appears to be tilted towards development, wrote the fish and wildlife branch.

“The scenarios options report only shows a map of the non-renewable resource values, one of selected conservation values (sheep, caribou, waterfowl) and none of the renewable resource values (tourism, outfitting etc.).”

That branch concludes by debunking the resource development approach.

“The uniqueness of this region should not be understated,” the branch writes. “The long-term economic value derived from eco-tourism, hunter-guiding and outfitting, as well as the positive implications of strong conservation measures in one of the last remaining pristine wilderness refuges on Earth, could equal or surpass the resource-extraction values associated with this landscape.”

There is much more in the report.

All the branches provide detailed analysis of each of the four land-use plans, including information about which one does the best job protecting critical sheep, caribou and bird habitat, water resources and a table that outlines deficiencies in watershed-level protection, connectivity, eco-region representation, access, significance and recreation.

None of this information was ever received by the commission.

The document raises serious concerns about the process, both within government and the commission.

It should have been public long before now. (Richard Mostyn)

To view the document go to www.yukon-news.com