Letter to the Editor

Minister must act to curb caribou decline Peter Harms, I share your sense of frustration and appreciate the time and effort you put in writing your…

Minister must act to curb caribou decline

Peter Harms, I share your sense of frustration and appreciate the time and effort you put in writing your October 27 letter to me, published in the News.

I look forward to meeting you personally at some point in the future to engage in a more lengthy response than I can provide today.

I wish to address your comment that, “the Official Opposition party must oppose everything that the ruling party is trying to do.” A more accurate statement is, “Opposition parties question government decisions to ensure government actions are in the best interests of all Yukoners.”

It is a strong public voice and the hard work of many Yukoners objecting to any industrial development in the caribou calving grounds that is testament to the fact that big oil is not drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge right now.

In 1958, some 50 years ago, Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker commissioned the building of the Dempster Highway, also known as the “The road to resources,” along an old Gwich’in trail, right through prime Porcupine caribou herd habitat.

The Dempster Highway now provides expansive access for thousands of people into prime Porcupine caribou habitat that wasn’t previously available.

For many years now, motor vehicle access to the Porcupine caribou has increased harvesting pressure on the herd, which has created a conservation concern. The increased traffic has also created a public safety concern.

“First Nations” is used to identify the living descendants of the original inhabitants of Yukon.

There is no such thing as “Second Nations,” and the implication that anyone might be superior to anyone else is disturbing.

All Yukoners have an obligation to conserve the herd and ensure a sustainable harvest. We know that this is not happening. We know that the population of the Porcupine caribou herd is declining.

Always remember that we are in uncertain times. We do not know: the current population of the herd; the grand mortality of the herd; the actual numbers of caribou that are harvested each year; wounded loss estimates; the numbers of caribou lost through sickness or predation and the actual effects that climate change is having on the herd’s health.

I don’t care who it is … No one should be allowed to harvest the caribou in an unsustainable manner on Yukon lands and, in these times of uncertainty with other large caribou herd populations crashing all around us, harvesting practices are critical.

I have been advocating a new Porcupine caribou conservation agreement for years.

I was elected to Yukon’s legislative assembly as a member of the Official Opposition party, not the governing party.

My job is to make sure the Yukon Party government includes important environmental concerns on the public agenda and to ensure that acceptable solutions are politically supported and adequately funded.

The Porcupine Caribou Management Board is the primary instrument for the management of the Porcupine caribou herd and its habitat.

It is the minister of Environment in the governing party that has the power to support the recommendations of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board and act for the conservation of the Porcupine caribou herd.

The Minister can act to protect both the Porcupine caribou and the Yukon public.

Having the power to act and doing nothing with that power is the worst thing our minister of Environment could do right now.

My message to the Yukon Party government Environment minister is:

“In the absence of complete information and where there are threats of serious irreparable damage, the lack of complete certainty shall not be a reason for postponing reasonable conservation measures.”

It is called the Precautionary Principle.

Other references and information to the many statutes, regulations, commitments and agreements that clearly identify the Environment minister as the ultimate authority on these matters are available on my website — www.northyukon.ca.

The Environment minister has compelling evidence and adequate ammunition to initiate conservation measures for the Porcupine caribou herd and stop the population decline. This message will be repeated to the minister as often as necessary.

This is my job as Environment critic and advocate. Please expect me to hold this government accountable as long as I am an opposition MLA.

Vadzaih yeendoo gweeheendaii geenjit….

Darius Elias, MLA Vuntut Gwitchin


Think before you chop

The time is approaching when families will be driving out of town to select Christmas trees.

In an area as big as the Yukon, with a very low population, there is certainly no shortage of trees.

Overharvesting of trees can occur when too many people choose the same area for convenience reasons, which are proximity to town and easy access.

I am talking specifically about the Fish Lake Road.

The last couple of weekends before Christmas, I regularly watch never ending parades of vehicles on their way to town with freshly cut trees on top.

Have you ever wondered why there are long stretches of the Fish Lake Road where the only trees to be seen are the occasional poplars? My best guess: deforestation due to Christmas tree cutting.

You might argue that only fairly small trees are taken as Christmas trees. As a matter of fact, it is common practice to cut tall trees and take only the very tip for a Christmas tree. The biggest tree that I witnessed being cut measured 35.5 centimetres in diameter at the stump. The tip was cut off, only to be abandoned because too many branches broke off when it fell. This tree was probably more than 200 years old.

What’s the solution to the problem? I observe beautiful trees growing along the highway right-of-ways and under power lines, which need to be cut down on a regular basis anyway. Wouldn’t they make suitable Christmas trees?

Reinhard Saure


Train wreck article raises questions

I was pleasantly surprised to see your article on the White Pass train wreck.

The item was long overdue and barely scratched the surface or other issues.

The story found the government lacking in direction, inspection and regulation.

It also found White Pass short on policy and preparedness, which means lack of supervision and a deficiency of safety policy, equipment and programming.

This was a human tragedy that goes far beyond the points raised in this story. The item raises more questions than answers.

1) Which employees were called in to do the cleanup and recovery of their fellow worker, killed in this accident?

2) Was adequate warning given about the nature of this work detail?

3) Were proper counselling services given to the workers involved in this detail? Was long-term employee assistance in place for them?

4) How many of the employees who were involved in the recovery of their fellow worker are employed at White Pass today? If they are no longer there, why?

5) Did the company, government or union representing these employees look to their best interests in this whole tragic event?

Loss trauma and grief are very human emotions. They can affect people in many different ways and bring about many reactions under different circumstances.

Fragile people will sometimes turn to liquor and drugs. Long-term personal problems that were considered defeated will resurface. Drinkers who have been sober for years will fall off the wagon. It may be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder in some cases,

I hope this letter will prompt some further discussion, as I expect your reporter James Munson did. I would like to thank him for his original article. It was very thought provoking.

Neil Johnson


Power for the People

Open letter to Jim Kenyon, minister responsible for electrical energy:

“I found a place.”


“Yeah. It’s a two-bedroom house with everything we need.”

“Sounds good.”

“It is. The only problem is it’s heated with electricity.”

That recent conversation illustrates an important fact of living in the Yukon: we pay outrageous prices for electricity.

Whether you’re renting or own your home, high electrical bills make you think twice about plugging in. Most people that have been around for a while use as little electricity as possible or try to avoid using it at all costs. It’s a convenience that costs so much that even people in Riverdale have turned to alternative energy sources, like wood or oil furnaces, to heat their homes.

You would assume that this is today. However, it is from a 1978 newspaper article, another era of economic downturn.

It continues:

(Northern Canada Power Commission) produces the power and Yukon Electrical Co. is the main distributor or supplier of it. The following rates for Whitehorse were in effect September, 1978.

First 40 kilowatt hours. — 7.43c./kilowatt hour.

Next 160 — 5.71c./kWh.

Next 100 — 4.56C./kWh.

Over 300 kwh. — 3.32c./kWh.

For 1,000 kWh., a Whitehorse customer’s monthly bill would be $42.21 with this latest rate hike.

The Yukon government has a rebate system that helps stabilize electricity costs, especially for those who use less, but as demonstrated above, the rates themselves promote consumption.

Today a residential customer is paying approximately $140.00 for 1,000 kilowatt hours of power.

Since spring our electrical rates have gone up some 32 per cent with the various rate riders and the plunder of half our Rate Stabilization Fund rebate.

This is before either of the two utility companies, Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd. and Yukon Energy Corporation, have appeared before their regulator, the Yukon Utilities Board. Nearly half of this increase is due to diesel fuel adjustment riders and rate equalization to diesel communities. It should be noted that secondary power users and industrial customers (i.e. the mines) do not pay into fuel and rate-equalization riders.

Why? (These two ratepayer groups will be discussed in letters coming soon).

Kenyon, before you holiday in China, what are you doing about your own back door?

Roger Rondeau, Utilities Consumer Group


Open letter to Al Pope

Re Canadians in Congo: War and Profit (the News, October 31):

I have the following to say in regards to your derogatory comments on Canadian mining companies who may have had mining interests in the Congo.

As a Canadian who grew up in Africa, I can categorically say from firsthand experience, African unrest (wars, genocides, gang rapes, brutal killings, including prevalent government corruption, etc.), in this case in the Eastern Congo, almost always have their foundations in deep-rooted, multi-ethnic African tribalism.

Although Canadian mining companies have operated in the Congo during the recent past, and a selected few continue to have their sights on the very rich resources of that country as well as other African countries, as far as I know, registered Canadian mining companies are not physically operative in the Eastern Congo at the present time.

Most of the Congo’s current mines are government owned. I speculate considerable interests are now held in these mines, officially and unofficially, by the governments of Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Angola, as well as several Congolese warlords, and a likely cause, besides the tribalism factor, of the current conflict.

One of the key metallic ores found in the Congo is the solid solution series Columbium-Tantalum, or “coltan”, a colloquial African term for the highly prized metal.

Tantalum from coltan is used in consumer electronics products such as cellphones, DVD players, computers and GPSs, etc. Congolese exports of coltan to European and American markets is quoted by at least one international agency as playing a major part in financing the current fighting in the Eastern Congo.

Therefore, Al Pope, if you just happen to own a cellphone, a computer, a DVD player or even a GPS, then you, like millions of other North Americans, could unwittingly be in possession of some Congolese coltan stored in an electronic gadget you own.

If this is the case, you personally could then be unwittingly complicit in aiding the financing, albeit “micro-financing,” the current mind-numbing brutal tribal war in the Eastern Congo.

Clive Aspinall, M.Sc., P.Eng., geologist