The Yukon government has approved Karla DesRosiers’ 63-hectare hay farm and a barn near Shallow Bay, ignoring the recommendation of an environmental review board.
That decision flies in the face of concerns raised by the Kwanlin Dun and Ta’an Kwach’an First Nations, Environment Canada, the Yukon Conservation Society and the Yukon Bird Club, among others.
And it contradicts an official recommendation from the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board.
Since November 24, the board has gathered concerns about potential environmental and social impacts of DesRosiers’ proposal to mechanically clear about 50 hectares of land near Shallow Bay for hay crops and a barn, use herbicides such as Round Up and to build a perimeter fence made out of barbed wire.
The board received hundreds of pages of correspondence from more than 10 groups, as well as letters of support.
Many detailed worries about bird and fish habitat and increased impacts to the fish-bearing Horse Creek and Lake Laberge.
But most troubling is official government opposition from the Ta’an Kwach’an and Kwanlin Dun due to the project’s overlap with an historic fish camp at the mouth of nearby Horse Creek, as well as several traditional areas including gravesites.
Private ownership of land described as “the heart” of Ta’an Kwach’an territory will prevent it from being used for subsistence hunting and block access to historic sites, wrote Ta’an Kwach’an lands manager John Pattimore in a letter to the YESSA board.
On February 8, YESSA officer Keith Maguire submitted a 27-page report to the agriculture branch of Energy, Mines and Resources outlining the concerns and how they could not be avoided.
“[I]t is recommended that the project not be allowed to proceed, as the designated office (YESSA) has determined that the project will have significant adverse environmental or socio-economic effect in or outside Yukon that cannot be mitigated,” wrote Maguire.
But on March 9, the agriculture branch ignored Maguire’s recommendation.
“Yukon disagrees that there is no mitigation that could eliminate, reduce, or control the adverse effect on traditional and cultural use,” reads the decision, which is endorsed by agriculture director Tony Hill.
The six-page decision goes on to list several ways the branch proposes to reduce the environmental and social impacts of DesRosiers’ hay farm.
These include shrinking the proposal to 42 hectares from 63.
It also cited a pledge by DesRosiers not to disturb historic First Nation sites.
And the government suggested minimum setbacks from Shallow Bay and Horse Creek.
The YESSA board is set up as a recommendation body on projects that will affect Yukon land, but its recommendations can be ignored.
But many question how the government can so easily mitigate hundreds of documented concerns submitted through a four-month consultation that determined it can’t be done.
“YESSA isn’t the decision-making body, I recognize that,” New Democrat Steve Cardiff said on Friday.
“But they determine what mitigation factors need to be taken.”
It recommended the application be denied.
“Then the government turned around and developed their own mitigation measures to address the concerns raised by YESSA, and what’s problematic is they developed them without consulting Ta’an,” he said.
“If they’re serious about involving First Nations governments and respecting their authority and jurisdiction, it would have been appropriate for them to have consulted.”
Despite vocal opposition to the proposal by the Ta’an Kwach’an Council, the YESSA decision notes the land DesRosiers is hoping to turn into a hay farm was designated as settlement land during land claim negotiations, but wasn’t selected by Ta’an.
DesRosiers has had a hay-grazing lease for the location since 1978, while her family has used the property since the 1940s.