Open letter to members of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission:
I am writing to express my support for establishing full wilderness protection for the Peel Watershed.
As I have not visited this area, my knowledge is based on volumes of materials that speak of its natural beauty as well as its cultural, heritage, economic and wilderness values.
The importance of this area is emphasized in a description of the Peel Watershed found in your news release of April 28: “The social, economic and environmental values – together with very few roads and little industrial development in the region – make this area unique at a territorial, national, and even global level.”
Focusing on your description of the Peel Watershed, would it not follow that increased recognition of wilderness and environmental values would be granted to this area if there were no roads and no industrial development?
And would it be reasonable to imagine under such a scenario the Peel Watershed declared a National Park, or perhaps a World Heritage Site?
The main argument of critics of such a vision is that withdrawing lands from mineral extraction will establish a dangerous precedent not just for the Peel Watershed, but other areas subject to land-use plans. This concern is difficult to accept considering all areas for future development of land-use plans have either a history of mining or are being mined.
As a consequence, none of these areas hold large tracts of pristine wilderness like the Peel Watershed. Thus, few, if anyone, will register objections to mining activity in these areas.
In reality, mining will be identified as the prime activity in these remaining areas for a wide variety of reasons.
Mining employs many Yukoners and is a major player in the economies of our small rural communities.
Yukon mining projects are responsible operations, subject to environmental and socio-economic impact assessments, as well as ongoing environmental monitoring throughout the life of the project.
Recent mine-reclamation projects in both placer and hardrock operations have earned Yukon a reputation as one of the best jurisdictions for this work in North America. And we all personally benefit from Yukon mining activities in a myriad of ways.
The simple fact is that I, like most people, not only acknowledge the need for mining in the Yukon, but want to see responsible mining flourish in the territory.
But why not in the Peel Watershed?
Because it is obvious to all that if exploration efforts beat the 1,000-to-one odds and locate in this remote area a deposit that can be developed into an operating mine, it would have to be a large, rich one to justify the required investment.
Activity, from construction of the minesite and the infrastructure – roads, bridges, airstrips – to access and support for the mining operation, would gradually destroy the wilderness character of the Peel Watershed. And road access would threaten its wildlife.
So why promote the exploration and extraction of non-renewable resources in the Peel Watershed?
Does not the Yukon, and Earth for that matter, already have enough areas available to mine without the need to alter an ecosystem of large intact boreal forest and pristine waters, which support a rich diversity of wildlife?
I am arguing that we – Yukoners, Canadians, Earthlings – have far greater need for an area left as wilderness than we need another mine.
As the devastating effects of climate change and environmental degradation have become standard fare for daily newscasts, the world is beginning to develop a greater understanding of, and appreciation for protecting this quickly diminishing resource of large tracts of wilderness lands.
In its present state, the Peel Watershed has the potential to become a World Heritage Site.
If fully protected, it will come to pass and the majority of people will wonder what took so long for this obvious candidate to earn such designation.
This sentiment was expressed recently when the Nahanni National Park was expanded six times its original size.
Given the ecological integrity of the Peel Watershed, the healthy and diverse populations of fish and wildlife it supports, and the significant cultural, heritage and economic values of this area to Yukon First Nation people, I support its full protection.
In my humble opinion, the greatest tribute that could be paid to our Yukon community is to be widely acknowledged as responsible stewards of our wilderness lands for the enjoyment of our and future generations.
Is full protection of the Peel Watershed too much to ask in order to achieve this laudable goal?