We should all care about this special place

We should all care about this special place I'm in favour of strong protection for the Peel Watershed for a number of reasons. Before I get into that, I want to say that despite the apparent polarization of Yukoners, I believe we have much in common. We

I’m in favour of strong protection for the Peel Watershed for a number of reasons.

Before I get into that, I want to say that despite the apparent polarization of Yukoners, I believe we have much in common. We choose to live here in spite of the challenging environment – and because of the challenging environment.

The fact that wild places like the Peel Watershed still exist is one reason why many of us love the Yukon.

Why do I think we Yukoners have things in common?

I don’t drive a snowmachine, but lots of my friends do and I’m grateful when a sledder slows down (as they almost always do) when I’m out skiing.

I don’t like granola, but my partner Wendy loves it and so do many of my friends. My priorities for government spending might be different than some people’s, but I agree with staunch conservatives who hate it when governments waste our taxes (doesn’t matter the particular political stripe of the government in question).

I have a Vancouver Canucks flag flying from my vehicle, which happens to be a bicycle, but lots of people in trucks wave when they see it.

I haven’t eaten red meat in 30 years, but most of my friends do.

I don’t hunt, but many of my friends do and two-thirds of my kids love to eat wild meat.

I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with many camo-wearing Yukoners in the cold waters of the Chilkat River hoping to catch coho salmon for the freezer.

I spit, drink beer and swear, damn it, just like most of you do.

I have no car, but I have two bicycles – one made of aluminum and one made of steel. I cook in a cast iron frying pan.

These things are made of metal. I think that we need some mining – and there are many places in the Yukon where responsible mining is appropriate.

In a world of looming climate change and worldwide environmental degradation, I also believe we all need to question our consumption – and I’m sure most Yukoners would agree. I know that all of us care about the future of our children – and like it or not, we aren’t moving to Mars anytime soon.

Which brings me to the Peel.

I admit that I have flown into the Snake River with a crowd of Gortex-wearing conservationists. I’ve also travelled with wool-clad trappers and sworn at the bugs when I was by myself in a kayak below Aberdeen Canyon.

I’ve paddled several of the rivers with First Nation people and enjoyed tea and bannock with Gwich’in people at their camps along the Peel. The dried fish they gave me was the best thing for dragging a canoe up the Rat River when I was headed to Old Crow.

I’ve paddled in some of the world’s most celebrated watersheds – the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, the Alsek, the Nahanni, the coast of Baja. The Peel Watershed is as spectacular as any of them, but that isn’t the main reason I believe it should be protected.

A common value of Yukoners is that we love wildlife. We may look at them in different ways, but all of us want wild animals to be an ongoing part of the North that we love.

This morning I heard Carl Schulze of the Yukon Chamber of Mines say that mining exploration has been a part of the Peel Watershed for 50 years and that all interests should be able to coexist there.

Last week he also expressed concerns about “peak oil” and climate change – two issues that I completely agree are of paramount importance to both people and wildlife.

I disagree a little with Schulze about the impacts of mining exploration – I have photos of airstrips gouged out of the boreal forest, an open garbage dump and leaking oil barrels at an exploration site beside the Bonnet Plume.

These mining exploration impacts were possible because a winter road was built into the Bonnet Plume.

He is right, though, that the Peel Watershed is still largely intact. One big reason that the wildlife habitat in the Peel is still healthy is that there is no road access into the heart of the watershed. That would happen if mining exploration turned into active mining, which has not yet happened in the Peel.

The heart of the Peel Watershed – the Wind, Snake, Bonnet Plume and upper Peel – is the largest roadless watershed in the Yukon. I’m not sure of this, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it is the largest unroaded watershed on Earth. It is road access that would threaten the wildlife in the Peel Watershed – road access that would be inevitable if a major mine were built.

This wildlife not only includes the Porcupine caribou herd, mountain caribou, Dall sheep, moose, grizzlies and wolves, but declining songbirds such as boreal chickadees that are threatened by widespread degradation of Canada’s boreal forest. 

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission needs to hear from other Yukoners who can connect the dots between road access and dwindling wildlife populations. You don’t need to be an expert on the issue – all you need to do is care.

Schulze said the people who wrote to the commission did so only because they were a part of an organized campaign by local conservation groups. Even if that was true, we can’t ignore their voices.

Many of them are Yukoners and they took the time to write. I happen to know that many others also wrote. Within my own small circle of acquaintances I can list half a dozen people who are not members of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon Chapter or the Yukon Conservation Society who wrote to the commission.

They wrote not because they were told to, but because they cared.

I hope that many others will do the same before the June 30th deadline.

I hope that all Yukoners who agree that we should protect this special place will let their voices be heard. How can you do that? Go to the planning commission’s website:

http://www.peel.planyukon.ca/.

They intend to have an online questionnaire.

Also, talk to your MLAs and your friends and neighbours, and/or write your own letter to the editor.

Ken Madsen

Whitehorse