Preserve the Peel

Preserve the Peel Many years ago, I worked for a mining company exploring for uranium in the Barrenlands of the eastern Arctic. I had hoped to work for Shell exploration after graduation from university, but a downturn in the oil business put me on a di

Many years ago, I worked for a mining company exploring for uranium in the Barrenlands of the eastern Arctic.

I had hoped to work for Shell exploration after graduation from university, but a downturn in the oil business put me on a different path.

Three of my four children have worked directly or indirectly for the mining and/or mineral exploration industry here in the Yukon. I understand and appreciate the benefits that the mining industry has given our civilization. Nevertheless, on the issue of development in the Peel River Watershed, I must place myself firmly in the “environmental” camp.

There are many reasons for this.

1) The Peel River Watershed is the largest untouched area in the world’s Arctic regions and this is an historic opportunity to preserve one of the last remaining places of unparalleled beauty in the Earth’s Arctic region. Our window of opportunity in which to protect it is closing rapidly.

2) Climate change is upon us. The world’s climate is changing at a pace greater even than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated only two years ago. The greatest changes are occurring in the North, and these changes are expected to get only worse as time goes on. The North’s fragile ecosystems are already stressed by these changes, and they will be further stressed from additional climate change. This region should not be stressed even more by industrial activity.

3) Once development in an area starts, it will continue. This will cause unforeseen damage to the environment, and the region will no longer have its unique unspoiled nature.

Joni Mitchell said, “You don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone.” In some ways, this is true, but I will cite two examples that will give us an idea of what we have lost and what we could have lost.

We all know and appreciate the beauty of Canada’s Rocky Mountain parks, but few people realize these parks, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sit on top of large coal and significant oil reserves.

Would we have been better off had these parks not been created, but rather the land was given over to mining?

Would anyone seriously argue that responsible mining could have existed in these parks without detracting from their overall beauty?

Were Canada, British Columbia and Alberta abandoned by mining interests because they were “hostile” to mining companies by protecting land that contained valuable world-class coal deposits?

Is the world’s supply of energy diminished because these coal beds are not being mined?

Are the local populations without “real” jobs because they are not actively mining in these areas?

Is Canada poorer because these mines are not producing wealth?

Are these areas a drain on Canadian resources, and are Canadians tired of supporting the people who live there?

Did the people who created these parks have some kind of anti-mining agendas and did they not understand how the real world works?

We often hear that the Rocky Mountain parks are not large enough to protect some of the wildlife that live in them, and I don’t ever recall hearing that these parks are too big. The Rocky Mountain parks, which don’t seem all that large, are about a third the size of the Peel Watershed.

Acting on foresight, early politicians protected parts of the Rockies, so let us consider the Prairies. These expansive grasslands seemed without limit, but we have lost nearly all of them. Although the state of Illinois once had 89,000 square kilometres of untouched prairie land, only eight square kilometres now remain.

A lot of work has taken place to re-establish wild prairie land at various places. At the site of the Fermi National Laboratory’s Super Collider in Batavia, Illinois, work started on establishing a restored prairie in 1974 and, after 26 years and a lot of money, they have restored about four square kilometres. Studies have show that these restorations, while important, do not adequately mirror the flora and fauna of the original prairie.

Except for a few small fragmented pieces, the original prairie has gone.

We, in the North, are at the stage where people in the south were about 125 years ago. We think we live in a vast uninhabited land, with lots of undeveloped space. But that is an illusion.

We can have the vision of Sir John A. Macdonald and create a world-class park of untouched nature, or we can let the area share the fate of the prairies.

People say that our new rules and permitting regulations will allow for “responsible” development, and we can have both.

I would remind you that only 10 years ago, Justice Heino Lillies convicted BYG Resources of three charges related to the abuse of a water licence. Lillies stated in his judgment that “the above examples demonstrate an attitude consistent with “raping and pillaging” the resources of the Yukon É There is little evidence of any diligence.”

He went on to describe BYG as “inept, bumbling, amateurish and possibly negligent.”

We couldn’t keep out the irresponsible developers just 10 years ago, do you really think we can do it now?

So, I say “NO!” to any development in the Peel watershed. To allow it would, in my opinion, be a crime against the future.

Michael Purves

Whitehorse