I realize the Peel Watershed Planning Commission has a major conundrum: namely between the fundamentally incompatible interests of those seeking to protect the area as wilderness versus those seeking the right of free entry for mineral staking.
Unfortunately, during the lifespan of the commission, there was no moratorium on land development or land disposition. As a consequence, the “conflict” between the two polar opposites has been exacerbated, and the freedom of choice for the commission has been reduced.
I believe the commission feels it must recognize the value of the mineral deposits, and create a “balanced” scenario. Unfortunately, that balance point has shifted with the staking rush of recent years.
The commission’s April 7 message made many fine statements of intent. It recognized the Peel Watershed is particularly special.
I suggest the upper portion of the watershed, the Hart, Wind, Bonnet Plume and Snake watersheds, are even more special. To me, these landscapes are not unlike the beauty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Their value as wilderness will only increase over time.
Now, it is true that roads were built through Banff and Jasper, and that without these roads many would never be able to appreciate the beauty of these parks.
However, those parks are mostly roadless and relatively inaccessible, which enhances their wilderness value. In that regard, the wilderness quality of the Upper Peel, for the most part, is still intact.
It is fair to comment that the mineral exploration has been relatively unobtrusive in this region. However, mineral exploration and mining are two different stories.
It’s not possible to fairly weigh the benefits and costs of wilderness tourism and landscape preservation, versus mining. I question how successfully mining could be done as an “interim activity,” with subsequent restoration of the landscape.
Although the mining industry argues that poor mining practices of the past should not be used to judge future mining, it is difficult not to be a bit cynical, given the history of mining in the Yukon.
Was Faro truly a “net benefit” to the Yukon?
Perhaps this was so, during the extractive years. But, likely not, when you factor in the remediation costs.
Can a road truly be returned to a natural state? As well, will the public, once they have easy access to an area, be willing to give it up?
Recent experience with the plague of ATVs suggests that the wilderness is threatened wherever there is relatively easy access. Perhaps we need to save the area from our rapacious selves.
I hope the final report reflects Scenario 2, keeping much of the watershed “managed for protection.”
I would also be delighted if the commission were to recommend the government refund the staking fees and terminate the claims that have been staked during the commission’s mandate.
The commission should not be forced to bias its perspective based on these recent claims. (I know, this is only dreaming, under the current government and with the current laws.)
Still, I fundamentally think it was wrong to not have placed a moratorium on staking during the planning process in areas of obvious conflict.
Perhaps the government could have issued “interim” staking rights within this area, over the last few years, with no guarantee these rights would be allowed to continue if they were incompatible with the ultimate plan for the area. (I know, I know, the Quartz Mining Act isn’t written this way.)
I was disappointed, but not surprised to hear that the Yukon government’s Environment Department was effectively made subservient to the Department of Energy Mines and Resources, and ordered not to provide the commission with its full report.
I can appreciate that the commission may feel compelled to appeal to what they think the government of the day will deem acceptable.
Given this government’s clear pro-mining and anti-conservation bias, I’m sure it will feel obliged to shift its bias in that direction.
All I can say is I hope they don’t. I’m sure many Yukoners feel the same.