Picking apart the new Peel plans

Much of what the Yukon government has published on its new website about the latest round of Peel consultations is simply false.

by Jim Gilpin

Much of what the Yukon government has published on its new website about the latest round of Peel consultations is simply false. I’ll point out the distortions by quoting from the website, then comment on these points.

“The Government of Yukon has been clear in expressing its concerns throughout the planning process.” Not true. The commission was formed in October of 2004. The government waited until mid-December of 2010 to state its opposition to the plan.

A month later, the territory signed a letter of understanding with the four First Nations involved in the process. It included the following statement: “Notwithstanding any independent positions that may develop on certain aspects of the plan, the parties will endeavour to develop positions and make final decisions that are consistent with a collaborative approach to resource and land management.”

This did not happen. Instead, the government embarked on a media campaign and started to create a new planning process. “Government also outlined its five main concerns to the planning commission.” When? Certainly not prior to December 2010.

Moreover, the territory accepted the commission’s statement of intent. This clearly stated that a primary purpose is to maintain the area’s wilderness characteristics and ecological integrity.

“However, the final recommended plan does not address government’s concerns surrounding access and balance.”

No, it addressed the concerns of a vast majority of Yukoners through an extensive planning process. The territory never stated its concerns clearly during its review of the recommended plan. By contrast, the First Nations’ review was clear, detailed and specific.

As a result, the commission had nothing from the territory to act on in preparing the final recommended plan, unless it was to go back to a much earlier planning stage. The government released its detailed and specific agenda only after the final recommended plan was submitted and the commission was finished.

“The government also realized that the land use designations proposed in the final recommended plan are polarized and focus on either end of the spectrum. There is nothing in the middle to address multiple users of an area.”

Just exactly what is a “multiple user”? Wilderness is wilderness. It is incompatible with resource extraction, by definition. They need to be separated, not “integrated.”

Why did this “realization” come so late in the process? The territory had six years to make its concerns known.

“The Restricted Use Wilderness Area (RUWA) designation not only builds on the designations found in the North Yukon Land Use Plan but also provides more detail and clarity to manage land use.”

The North Yukon Land Use Plan is not a suitable template to use in the Peel for one fundamental reason. In the North Yukon, 36 per cent of the region is set aside as protected. These areas are withdrawn from staking. Nothing like this is being proposed by the government for the Peel plan. And it is dishonest to use the term “wilderness” for a land use designation that will permit roads.

“The new Restricted Use Wilderness Area (RUWA) designation proposes to manage the land uses and resources using a combination of tools such as: allowing temporary and controlled access to the area or coordinating and planning use of the area to avoid conflict.”

I’m assuming that “temporary and controlled access” means roads. Temporary roads are a delusion – with perhaps the exception of a winter road. Roads destroy wilderness. Likewise, “coordinating and planning use of the area to avoid conflict” does not really apply to wilderness. “Managing land use and resources” in wilderness is an oxymoron, if that implies resource extraction.

“Intensive active management of the area could include protecting the corridor’s viewscape by applying specific limitations on activities such as restricting visual obstructions and noise levels.”

No “intensive active management” is appropriate in the river corridors, other than prohibiting mining activity, roads and bridges. Where mining claims already have been awarded, (because the government did not place a ban on staking in 2004, at the start of the planning process) no surface access should be permitted.

“The concepts were created to stimulate a discussion about how we can expand our land use management tools to actively and effectively manage multiple uses in the region.”

Fact is, multiple-use management of an area that ought to be primarily wilderness is wrong-headed.

“The proposed new land use designation system aims to provide a balance between actively managing various land uses while providing significant protection for existing values in an area.”

That may be the stated aim, but the aim is off the mark. There is no realistic protection for First Nation subsistence use, outfitters and wilderness recreation.

“Overall, the Government of Yukon supports and accepts the goals and many of the recommendations presented in the Final Recommended Plan.” 

Not true. The government has created a new process, and it has clearly rejected the recommended plan.

Why not just say that? Could it be that such a clear and honest statement would trigger a court action by the First Nations?

Jim Gilpin is a former park planner and wilderness guide. He lives in Whitehorse.