The 80 per cent solution

A unique region has received a unique report. The Peel Watershed Planning Commission has just shielded a smidgeon more than 80 per cent of this fantastically wild region from mineral development. However, it did not bestow blanket protection.

A unique region has received a unique report.

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission has just shielded a smidgeon more than 80 per cent of this fantastically wild region from mineral development.

However, it did not bestow blanket protection.

Instead, four special management areas have been established.

In these places – which focus on important heritage, fish and wildlife, watersheds and broader environments, existing mining claims can exist and, presumably, trenches can be dug and drill holes bored, subject to special conditions.

Chief among those special conditions is access.

Exploration companies cannot get to their claims on the ground.

“New surface access development is prohibited within special management areas,” in the words of the commission. “A plan amendment will be required to modify this recommendation.”

And, “The Wind River Trail should no longer be classified as an access corridor to ensure compatibility with the management intent of this proposed SMA.”

Clever.

The commission has not put the kibosh on development.

While it recommends the government immediately remove the special management areas from any new staking, it allows existing claims - and there are many –

to be worked.

“Continued aerial access to, and development of existing mineral claims in SMA’s will be allowed subject to specific management conditions,” the commission wrote.

“Development of existing mineral claims in (special management areas) will be allowed subject to specific management conditions.”

So if companies want to explore in specific areas, they can fly in and poke around.

But such work is expensive. So prospectors are bound to be more discriminating before proceeding.

The commission has gone to lengths to ensure the majority of the wilderness characteristics, wildlife and habitats, cultural resources and waters are protected from short-term, speculative development.

After its months-long consultation, it decided protecting the region is what the majority of the Yukon public wants.

So it has slowed the pace of exploration and development of this unique and wild region of the Yukon while preserving the existing claims in the region.

In doing so, it has eliminated the need for the government to buy out the claims that were hastily staked after the management plan exercise was announced.

The commission has also expanded the size of the region to be shielded from development.

It’s clear why it adopted this approach.

The region’s value to society is defined by its wild nature. Roads, exploration sites and other rapacious development, which is so easy to do in this era of cheap energy, would quickly ruin it.

And, currently, society is incapable of ensuring such effects would not happen.

In the words of the commission, “Cumulative environmental and socio-economic effects are neither well understood nor evaluated in the current practice of project assessment in the Yukon.”

So it put the brakes on.

Miners won’t be happy. But, in this case, somebody was bound to be miffed.

The commission realized that, in the Peel Watershed, the interests of miners and conservationists could not coexist.

After a long, controversial evaluation period - that included surprising jiggery pokery on the part of the cabinet – it decided the hard-and-fast wilderness values took precedence over the largely hypothetical and hopelessly isolated mineral deposits buried in this vast region.

It favoured conservation.

But, it also went to pains to allay mining industry fears this document would set a precedent.

“The plan cannot be viewed as a template for other future regional land-use planning processes,” the commission wrote. “Its provisions result from the region’s unique biophysical and socio-economic features and values.”

And so a unique place got a unique report.

Perfect.

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