I imagine a lot of Yukoners are asking that question given that the comment period about the Peel watershed is now closed. A lot of us outside the territory are wondering the same thing.
The Peel planning commission’s final recommendation to protect 55 per cent of the watershed permanently and 25 per cent until future plan reviews has garnered a lot of national and international support. The recent report by MiningWatch Canada that existing mining claims in the Peel watershed are worth very little means that implementing the commission’s plan would not cost tax payers a big compensation bill. All eyes are now on the Yukon government to do the right thing.
I have direct experience of the Yukon and its wildness. In 1998 and 1999 I spent a year and a half walking from Yellowstone to the Yukon to explore and promote a vision to connect reserves with wildlife corridors all along the Rocky and Mackenzie mountains. I followed that trip with another a few years later, migrating alongside the Porcupine caribou herd on foot and skis from their Yukon winter range (which includes the Peel) to their endangered Alaskan calving grounds and back.
The thing about wildness is that we take it for granted where and when we have it. It’s easy to do in a place as unfettered as the Yukon. Meanwhile, down in Yellowstone, which only a century ago was considered a vast wilderness, the grizzly bears are becoming inbred because of surrounding development. Similar trends are happening in a northward trajectory, through Montana, Banff, and even into northern British Columbia. Such habitat fragmentation happens quickly in the absence of good planning. And, once it’s happened, it costs a lot to turn the clock back. Just look at the example of the Florida panther: the state is spending over $1 billion of taxpayer funds to restore the habitat and corridors to rescue the cat from extinction.
There’s also a cost to humanity. It’s the reason an airline flies direct from Frankfurt to Whitehorse, to service all those European souls searching for what they’ve lost.
It takes vision and courage to step outside the day-to-day business of running a government, see the coming stresses, and take decisive action for the future. But it is not without precedent. In 1980 Alaska protected an area six times as large as the Peel (400,000 square kilometres) under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Many of Alaska’s most iconic wildernesses were established as a result and, despite some residents’ fears, it fuelled a boom in tourism and related industries that continues today.
So how about some vision and courage for the Peel? How about following through on the six-year multi-stakeholder planning process the government set up in the first place? How about honouring the desires of the four affected First Nations and the majority of Yukoners? How about engaging in something other than an economy of loss?