The Caribou Commons Project and the Friends of Yukon Rivers would like to state our strong opposition to the proposal put forth by Cash Minerals to build a winter road into the Wind and Bonnet Plume watersheds.
The proposed Wernecke Winter Road Access Project — as it is named on the Yukon Environment Socio-economic Assessment Board site — is to be used for uranium exploration, drilling, and mining.
If the road proposal is approved we feel it will be to the detriment of the watershed, the wildlife, and the Yukon people that currently depend on the river for their health and well-being. Our objections are outlined below:
1) The Wind, Bonnet Plume and Snake rivers form a wilderness area of international importance.
In both a national and global context, large, healthy and pristine watersheds such as the Peel watershed are becoming increasingly rare.
Wilderness areas where animals can roam freely, where bears, wolves and wolverines thrive and where local people who hunt, trap and explore the wild can still drink the water are precious and vulnerable.
The Caribou Commons Project would like to see a major portion of the Peel Watershed preserved as a park, and the remaining areas of the watershed opened to responsible development that won’t permanently affect the wilderness characteristics and health of the watershed.
2) History has taught us that roads, once built, provide access and encroachment far beyond their original intents and purposes.
This road proposal, if successful, sends a message that the watershed is open to additional developments.
Furthermore it is possible that Cash Minerals will want to expand its exploration further to seek economically feasible deposits.
Further expansion of the road would endanger the Bonnet Plume watershed and possibly even the Snake River watershed.
3) A uranium mine is not compatible with a healthy ecosystem. The threat of radioactive contamination is too great to risk in such an important and currently pristine Yukon watershed.
4) Cash Minerals has already shown a callous disregard toward Yukon regulations and environmental guidelines, according to Yukon Outfitters Association president Alan Young (quoted in the Yukon News).
According to Young, they have “built these 40-man camps, all of which are pretty much permanent structures,” and “they have fuel caches, which leak fuel into the creeks and they don’t hire anybody. They had hundreds of kids in there last year, all from Quebec, Ontario, and Vancouver … not one was from Na-cho Nyak Dun.”
We suggest this is not the kind of company that Yukoners would want to trust with the exploration, drilling, transportation and possible mining of radioactive materials in our territory.
5) It is irresponsible to approve any development proposal in this area before the Peel Watershed Land Use Planning process is complete.
Land use planning processes are specifically intended to insure that development decisions are not made without a careful and informed analysis of the social, cultural, economic and environmental values of the area.
The process currently underway includes the gathering of local, traditional and scientific knowledge and should be respected.
6) We feel that any economic benefits of a uranium mine within the Wind and Bonnet Plume watershed are inconsequential when weighed against the both intrinsic and economic value of intact wilderness.
If history is any indication, the long-term economic impact of a uranium mine may be instead felt by taxpayers responsible for the expensive cleanup of a radioactive mine site.
However, if the Wind and Bonnet Plume rivers are kept in a relatively pristine state, then we will instead see a positive sustained economic impact into the future, through wilderness and cultural tourism, guiding and outfitting, all proven to be sustainable and healthy economic generators.
7) The Wind and Bonnet Plume rivers are part of the winter range of the Porcupine caribou herd and the year-round range of the Bonnet Plume and Hart River woodland caribou herds.
Large intact ecosystems for caribou are increasingly important as development encroaches upon much of their traditional territory.
Road construction fragments the landscape in a way that is incompatible with the caribou’s seasonal use of their range.
Uranium development in the range of these vulnerable herds could cause irrevocable harm to the health of one of our most important natural resources.
Members of the Caribou Commons Project and Friends of Yukon Rivers encourage all concerned citizens to speak up on this issue.
Let’s keep the Wind and Bonnet Plume rivers healthy for our future and for future generations.
Write or call your MLA, Premier Dennis Fentie and submit comments to the Yukon Environment Socio-economic Assessment Board (www.yesab.ca) before December 8.
Your voice is needed!
Peter Mather is president of the Caribou Commons Project/Friends of Yukon Rivers.