The Yukon government has finally publicly stated a position on the Peel region plan. Public money has been used to initiate a propaganda campaign, proposing that the government can find a way to “manage intensity of use” and thus “best protect the environment” of the Peel.
The government implies that the principle of “managing intensity of use” used in the North Yukon regional plan could work for the Peel plan as well. The full-page ad (p.11, Feb. 17, Yukon News) attempts to appeal to our sense of fairness and balance and goes so far as stating that the government will now determine how to protect the Peel.
Let’s try to separate the truth from the illusions of truth.
1) North Yukon Land Use Plan. The ad fails to mention that there are, in fact, large tracts of protected lands in northern Yukon such as the national parks established by two land claims agreements.
2) The ad states that government’s duty is to “balance competing interests” to the best extent possible. Of course, this is so. But government should also reflect the will of the people. In the case of the Peel, a vast majority of polled Yukoners were in favour of protection of a significant portion of the Peel watershed. All the directly affected First Nations supported protection. The government has turned a deaf ear to these calls. Is this a fair balance of competing interests?
3) One of the stated principles in the ads is to “respect the Umbrella Final Agreement.” However, the government has been disrespectful of the land use planning process, mandated by the UFA. It did not transparently participate in the process, and it has rejected the wishes of the First Nations to protect the Peel. Some respect!
4) Another guiding principle stated in the ad is to give “special protection for key areas.” Again, sounds good. But what does it mean? What is a key area? Conservation biology in northern areas is very clear: Wildlife needs substantially unfragmented habitats, and in the mountain country of the Peel, roads would have to follow river valleys, which are of key ecological importance. In most parts of the world there is precious little wilderness left. Postage-stamp-size “key areas” may be all that remains. In such cases, perhaps their protection is better than nothing. But in this case there is still the opportunity to protect a vast wilderness. Why miss it?
5) The government wishes to “respect the importance of all sectors of the economy and manage conflicting land uses in a manner that is fair, balanced and equitable.” Again, a noble statement. But one way to manage conflicting land uses is to prevent the conflict in the first place, when uses are incompatible. Mine development, with associated roads or railroads, clearly is incompatible with wilderness preservation and wilderness tourism, and with the stated interests of First Nations regarding their subsistence economy.
If government truly had respected all sectors of the economy, it would have placed a moratorium on staking in the Peel at the start of the planning process, rather than waiting for several years, thus allowing an unnecessary land use conflict to be created.
6) Another principle stated in the ad is “respect for private interests” with provision for “reasonable surface access.” The plan, however, does respect private interests. It recognizes claims and the right to access, explore and develop claims even in the conservation zone. The plan, justifiably, restricts surface access, in order to protect the wilderness quality of the Peel.
7) The ad states that planning will be “future looking” and that government should retain options for additional conservation. This is nonsense. You can’t create additional wilderness. Even pre-schoolers know “You can’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.”
This “future looking” idea is true doublespeak. The Peel plan’s final recommendations, on the other hand, truly do keep future options open, since minerals in the ground don’t vanish. If, in the future, they become so strategically important and valuable that society is willing to forfeit the wilderness designation in order to allow for mineral development, so be it. But, why the rush to exploit them now? It seems that the mining industry is doing just fine even with the current interim moratorium on staking in the Peel region.
8) The government ad says that it wishes to have “active management” and yet ensure that the plan be “practical and affordable.” I suggest that these two principles are somewhat contradictory. Will it be the government that is “actively managing” the landscape? Trying to actively manage multiple uses surely will be far more expensive than actively managing a wilderness area. If the government really wishes to balance its resources throughout the territory, getting bogged down managing multiple uses in the Peel is not the way.
So, without scrutiny, the “guiding principles” in the “finding the balance” ad sound fair and reasonable. But, sadly, the words are hollow. In fact, they are cynical and manipulative.
If the government really was principled, it would have created a moratorium on mineral staking at the start of the planning process, rather than after thousands of new claims were staked.
If the government really is interested in respecting the UFAs, it would have been more open with the First Nations and more engaged in the planning process, rather than waiting several years and only now coming out with a statement of principles.
If the government really is future looking, it would concur with the Peel plan’s recommendations to designate 55 per cent of the watershed as wilderness and to set aside an additional 25 per cent for interim protection to be reviewed every 10 years.
If the government really wants a practical and affordable plan, it would not be rejecting the Peel plan’s fundamental tenets and be heading into a multi-use quagmire.
And, be certain, in spite of what the minister says, the government is rejecting the plan, since it has rejected the most central tenet of the plan, to retain the vast majority of the Peel as wilderness.
So, what can be done when a majority government does not represent the majority view? What level of public outrage and protest could sway the government? Perhaps showing support for the Peel final recommendations and disdain for this slick, hypocritical government strategy to unravel that good work may work. Perhaps First Nations will need to seek a legal recourse.
It’s not too late to save the Peel (I hope). Too bad the government didn’t seize the opportunity to represent Yukoners and endorse the final recommendations. I had hoped that, with the change in leadership, the Yukon Party might have had an epiphany. Guess not.