Assessment board denies land application

This week, Bill Drury made history. His land application is the first to be refused by the new Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment…

This week, Bill Drury made history.

His land application is the first to be refused by the new Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board.

The decision came down Monday.

Drury applied for 65-hectares near Flat Creek, west of Takhini Hotsprings Road.

Initially, he wanted the land to grow hay. Later, in mid process, he added the raising of elk and other animals into the land-use mix.

But the board decided the elk farm would have “an adverse affect on wildlife,” and ruled against his application.

The Takhini elk herd ranges through a wildlife corridor adjacent to Drury’s application, and introducing a domestic elk farm into a wild elk range would create a risk of transferring Chronic Wasting Disease between the populations, the board said in its decision.

“If disease transfer did occur to the proposed elk farm, it is possible that the infected elk could further infect the Takhini elk herd through nose-to-nose contact through the fence.

“The possibility of disease transfer is possible because of the range of the Takhini elk herd and the identification of the proposed area as a wildlife corridor.”

That’s not a valid reason to curb the local agriculture industry, said Drury, who controls hundreds of hectares near Whitehorse where he has raised elk for years.

Recent research and certification show wild Yukon animals and livestock alike to be healthy, he said.

“I’m perfectly happy to have an eight-foot-high fence around my animals and I’m perfectly happy to test the animals yearly and test every animal that is harvested for Chronic Wasting Disease,” said Drury on Wednesday.

“That proves that I’m clean inside the fence, but can some dirty, snotty-nosed wild elk come up and infect my animals?

“I don’t believe that’s a problem. I don’t believe our animals are diseased in the Yukon.”

The board admitted in its ruling that the likelihood of Chronic Wasting Disease transfer is low, but its potential effect is significant.

“The effect of disease transfer would likely affect the entire Takhini elk herd and possibly deer within the Takhini elk range.

“Further, the effect would be long term. Once infected it is unlikely the wild population could ever be determined to be (Chronic Wasting Disease)-free.”

The board’s report mentions the possibility of double-fencing in order to keep wild and domestic animals separate.

But the Environment department, which is the “regulatory body” that would pay for a second fence, said double-fencing would be too expensive and create too large an impact on wildlife.

The board considered submissions from 15 interested parties in making its recommendation, including nine Yukon government agencies.

The Flat Creek area is experiencing a “significant level of agricultural activity” and Drury’s application should not be reviewed in isolation, said Environment.

But only a “small amount” of the Flat Creek watershed is being affected by agricultural development, said the agriculture branch of Energy, Mines and Resources.

Several parties, including the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, were not convinced that Drury needs the land.

“Effects could include alienation of these public lands to private ownership, thwart the use of the corridor and cause increased fragmentation of this important wildlife habitat,” said the society.

The Ta’an Kwach’an Council opposed Drury’s application, and two other First Nations — the Kwanlin Dun and the Champagne/Aishihik — voiced concerns.

“Captive wildlife and game farming is very controversial with the Champagne/Aishihik,” the First Nation told the board.

“Captive wildlife goes against many values held by First Nations.”

The Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Act, which took full effect in November 2005, needs a more transparent process, said Drury.

“People’s own personal agendas and baggage is being put into this and muddying the application, I think.

“There are some underlying personal agendas about elk and the raising of elk in the Yukon.

“The confusion that is created over elk inside the fence and elk outside the fence has never been suitably laid to rest, in my mind.”

The land could be used for hay or elk or cattle, depending on environmental factors, like rain, and economic ones, like demand for meat, he said.

“The standard procedure to get title to a piece of land is to put 50 per cent of it into hay production … and then you have a piece of agriculture-zoned land to pursue agriculture on.

“If the application is from Bill Drury, everybody, seemingly, because of my transparency, would know that likely Mr. Drury is going to do something with Black Angus cows, because that’s what we see on his farm, or elk, because that’s what we know he has.

“Did I need to say that in the initial stage? I don’t know.

“I think a person would be foolish to think that I was going to make an application that didn’t have something to do with either of those two species.”

But the question of whether or not Drury would have received the land if he promised not to raise elk on it remains unanswered.

The board concluded that concerns about “fish and fish habitat” and “appropriate use of public land” were rendered irrelevant, once a recommendation that “the project proposal should not proceed” had been reached.

The board’s recommendation will filter through the government to the agricultural branch, which must rule on Drury’s application within 30 days.

Drury is hoping the agricultural branch will modify the board’s ruling or set it aside.

And he expects to give more input into the decision-making process.

“I do have the distinction of being the first person who has been denied — another gold star for Bill,” he said.

“I really do look forward to working with the concerned parties and finding some reasonable solution.

“There have always been people that are against what I’m doing, but it’s always hard to come up with a reasonable plan or solution if we don’t dialogue.

“That’s where the process all falls apart, in my mind.”