Let’s get our values straight: protect the Peel

Let's get our values straight: protect the Peel The Peel watershed is an extremely special area and needs to be protected from industrial development. As the wilderness areas of the world continue to shrink in size and diversity, we have a responsibili

The Peel watershed is an extremely special area and needs to be protected from industrial development.

As the wilderness areas of the world continue to shrink in size and diversity, we have a responsibility here in the Yukon to make land-use decisions that recognize the intrinsic value of the wilderness we are still fortunate enough to have within our borders.

We have an opportunity to act wisely, with foresight, and out of respect for other values besides those of the resource-extraction industries. Currently it seems that it is those industries that have the ear of government. It is time for this to change!

Decision and policymakers in the Yukon government now have an opportunity to protect the Peel watershed before it is too late.

Protecting the Peel watershed not only protects the wilderness character of the region, it ensures wildlife species, such as grizzly bears, woodland caribou, mountain sheep and wolves can continue to thrive.

It ensures bird species that depend on the watershed’s wetlands can continue to feed, to breed and raise their young.

It ensures that the human economy of the region can continue over the long term to be diversified and more stable than the boom and bust mining industry, which only offers jobs in the short term and only when a mineral deposit is economically viable to extract. No deposits are viable yet, after half a century of exploration in the region, and to set up the infrastructure to develop deposits would irreparably damage the wilderness integrity of the region.

It is precisely this integrity that draws visitors from around the world. Some come specifically to experience a river or hiking journey in the Peel watershed. Many more come because of the reputation of places like the Peel watershed – its wildness, its wildlife, its remoteness and its incredible beauty.

The Yukon has appeal because of this wildness. The Yukon is a place where visitors, as well as Yukoners, can still expect to experience some of this wild essence.

And in the years to come we will find that this essence will be as essential to the human spirit as clean air, water and food is to the human body.

I have personally benefitted tremendously from my own wilderness experiences in this watershed over the last three decades. They have helped to shape how I view landscape and wilderness and the need to legally protect land and waters from industrial development. Without protection the land is wide open to the activities of those who care more about short-term economic gain than long-term conservation of irreplaceable values.

As owner/operator of a wilderness guiding business I have chosen to share what I have personally gained from my own wilderness experiences with hundreds of people from around the world, including many Yukoners. Over the last 25 years I have witnessed time and again how transformative the experience of the Yukon wilds can be for my guests and trip companions.

My sincere hope is that the Yukon can continue to offer such potentially transformative experiences in a sustainable way that does not damage the wild character of the territory, in the centuries to come.

The Peel watershed is one of the places that can offer this, but not if it is trashed by industrial development.

In a few short years a mineral development that might singularly be responsible for airstrip and road development, toxic tailing piles that might need to be monitored for centuries (eg. Faro), pollution of otherwise pristine air and waters, and potentially a drain on taxpayers’ resources well into the future for cleanup costs – will no longer be “economically viable.”

A few Yukoners might have procured income for a few short years. And yet a great intact roadless wilderness, significant on an international scale, will have been irreparably scarred, wildlife populations impacted, lands within three First Nation settlement areas damaged, and longterm ongoing economic opportunities for people in the tourism and outfitting industries severely compromised.

And there will be one less place on this increasingly industrialized planet that offers inspiration to the human spirit and psyche. All for short-term economic gain.

Truly we need a paradigm shift in our way of thinking. My hope is that the decisionmakers within the Yukon government are willing to be true leaders and innovative thinkers, as they consider the scenarios presented by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, as well as sentiments and ideas expressed by the First Nation governments, the Yukon public, and people who live outside the territory who care about what happens here.

My hope is that this innovative thinking carries over into future land use decisions, and that we start to see decisions and policies that reflect the true immense value of the Yukon’s lands and waters – as sacred places worthy of a great deal of respect and care.

Jill Pangman