The commission’s work should be respected

The commission's work should be respected Open letter to government of Yukon re Peel consultation: I fail to see the need for another round of public consultation on the Peel Watershed Planning Commission's report. The people have already spoken and the

Open letter to government of Yukon re Peel consultation:

I fail to see the need for another round of public consultation on the Peel Watershed Planning Commission’s report.

The people have already spoken and the message is loud and clear Ð protect the Peel Watershed from industrial development and roads!

The members of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission spent six years collecting data and seeking opinions.

They engaged the public at large as well as all major stakeholder interests in roundtable consultations, presentations and community meetings.

They met with the staff of all affected Yukon government departments, the Land Claims Implementation Secretariat and First Nation land-use offices.

They also met three times with the Yukon government’s internal working group “to gain a better understanding of regulatory issues and domain expertise.”

They deserve our gratitude for doing such a challenging job so well.

By all accounts, they were objective, dedicated and diligent.

Their recommendations are visionary and sweeping, and we should not allow them to be dismissed, or disparaged, by a few self-serving members of a single-interest group with close ties to the current government.

As the commissioners say in their letter of transmittal to the governments of Yukon, Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Gwich’in Tribal Council and Vuntut Gwitchin dated December 2, 2009, their recommendations are “grounded in both scientific fact and traditional or local knowledge, shaped by public consultation and formed into a practical framework for implementation.”

And I have no reason to believe otherwise.

The commissioners go on to say their recommended regional land-use plan respects First Nations’ rights as set out in Chapters 11 and 12 of the Umbrella Final Agreement, the individual First Nation settlement agreements and the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claims Agreement.

But it also respects the wishes of the majority of Yukon people, as expressed in public meetings, letters to the newspapers, formal submissions and a public opinion poll commissioned by Yukon conservation and tourism organizations. Three of the four First Nations with vested interests in the Peel Watershed have asked for even more land to be protected from development and roads than the commission is recommending.

They want to see 100-per-cent protection of the planning area.

“We know,” they said in a joint news release earlier this year, “the Peel region has significant non-renewable resources. But those resources aren’t going anywhere, and there is little prospect that the infrastructure necessary to extract those resources will be developed anytime soon.

“If, at some point in the future, there is a critical need for those resources, or new technologies are developed that make industrial development more environmentally friendly, we can always amend the plan. Unfortunately, the reverse is not true.”

I consider the public comments made by the Yukon Chamber of Mines and some of its members since the recommended plan was released to be shortsighted, inflammatory and even misleading.

They have tried to frighten people into believing that whatever decisions are made in the Peel region will be applied to other planning areas.

They have even suggested the territory will suffer economically if the recommended plan is accepted.

There is no basis for these views.

The economic feasibility of mineral exploration and development are determined by high prices and strong demand for minerals. Period.

Mineral exploration in Yukon continues unabated despite the government’s one-year moratorium on new mineral staking in the Peel region. In fact, the total number of new quartz claims staked during the first eight months of 2010 was 30,216. During the 2009 season, 15,069 quartz claims were staked.

“The plan cannot be viewed as a template for other future Yukon regional land-use planning processes,” the planning commission says on page 4 of the foreword (Findings 7).

“Its provisions result from the region’s unique biophysical and socioeconomic features and values.”

The commission goes on to argue that it would be impossible to come up with a compromise plan that is acceptable to everyone.

As a result, it proposes “a conservative, cautious plan (that) preserves society’s options” for the future, as articulated in the following findings.

9) Cumulative environmental and socioeconomic effects are neither well understood nor evaluated in the current practice of project assessment in the Yukon;

10) Existing surface access routes, including off-trail ATV use, are impacting caribou populations. Existing voluntary conservation measures are not sufficient to sustain these herds;

11) Some resource conflicts are intractable and cannot be solved by on-site management techniques.

“We can always decide to develop in future, but once the decision is made, we cannot return to a pristine ecosystem and landscape Ð not in our lifetimes and not in the lifetimes of our greatgrandchildren,” says the commission.

“Better, in our view, to go slow.”

This has many advantages, it concludes, “including the possibility that we may be able to do things better and with less expense in the future.

“Changes in techniques, knowledge, technology, and, perhaps, attitudes can open windows of opportunity for development.”

Much of the anti-protection, pro-development talk has focused on the much-ballyhooed Crest iron deposit in the Snake River Watershed.

Proponents say development of that resource is just a matter of time.

I beg to differ.

Society will determine whether that deposit gets developed. We should not assume that the highest and best use of land is always mining.

The Peel commission realizes that.

Three of the four First Nations with vested interests in the Peel region realize that.

The majority of Yukoners realize that.

We hope that, some day, even the Yukon government will come to realize that.

As the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said in a January 2007 report, “Society’s interest in properly managed public lands requires setting limits on where and how industry can operate. This applies as much to the mining industry as to other sectors.”

That report goes on to say this: “Repeated references (by proponents of mining development in the Peel region) to upswings in markets and technological changes cannot breathe life into properties that are fundamentally undevelopable, or that will likely be uneconomical without sustained, dramatically higher mineral prices and/or heavy subsidy by taxpayers. And development scenarios must be informed by constraints as well as possibilities, and must be able to withstand geological and economic scrutiny.”

In addition, there is evidence that much of the Crest iron deposit has a relatively high phosphorous content, which inevitably means higher production costs and reduced commercial viability.

We have known about the Crest deposit for 40 years, and if it were commercially viable, it would have been developed by now.

It is my view that all 11 key findings and recommendations of the Peel commission should be accepted by the Yukon government.

I humbly submit this is the most prudent course of action at this time.

It respects the wishes of the vast majority of the Yukon people and is in their best interests over the long term.

Peter Lesniak

Whitehorse

See more letters page 10.