Less than 30 days after the Carcross/Tagish First Nations ratified its land claim in January, some yahoo cut a survey swath across its land without permission.
The Yukon government.
“Less than 30 days after our land claim was ratified, the government put a survey cutline through the land,” said Carcross/Tagish land use team chair Patrick James.
The government was surveying an egress road that would give Taku subdivision residents an alternate escape route in case of fire.
Right now there is only one road into the community.
“This has been an ongoing issue since day one for the Tagish advisory committee,” said committee chair Ethel Tizya, who understands the need for a road, but doesn’t appreciate the government’s careless approach, which has drummed up controversy in the region.
“We’ve finally hit a nerve, I guess, so we’re working on that.”
The surveyors made a mistake, added Tizya.
They didn’t know where the land boundaries where. And they shouldn’t have gone through First Nations’ land without asking them, she said.
“The advisory committee didn’t even know they were going to do it. The territorial government didn’t get hold of anybody to say they were going to go in and start the work — and there they were all of a sudden.
“The government just went ahead with it, under the direction of (minister of community services) Glenn Hart, that’s what they told us when we asked.”
Hart couldn’t be reached for comment.
The surveyed land, which belongs to Carcross/Tagish First Nation, has an interesting history.
When the First Nations’ land claim was still under negotiation, this piece of land sparked considerable debate.
“We wanted to reserve that area, that they’re putting the road through, for caribou and moose,” said James.
“The moose calve there in the summertime and we wanted to put a special management area (SMA) in there.
“But YTG said, ‘No, you don’t need to do that; we’ll respect that and we won’t develop in there; we’ll preserve that for caribou and moose.’
“As a result, the First Nations backed off on the SMA and on putting any selections in that area.
“And, lo and behold, less than 30 days after our effective date, they were already cutting in there.”
For the last 10 years, the First Nation, along with area residents, Renewable Resources and the Yukon government have been working to rejuvenate the dwindling Southern Lakes caribou herd.
“And we brought it back from 289 to over 1,300,” said James.
“That’s a good 10 years hard work, with no hunting for First Nations and non-First Nations.
“We all voluntarily quit harvesting the caribou, and, now, we get this habitat destruction and ruin by the government.”
The swampy land is perfect caribou habitat, confirmed Tizya.
That’s where they graze and raise their young.
After discovering the cutline on January 26th, the First Nation met with government representatives and the surveyors.
“We went to a meeting in Tagish and YTG said, ‘We’re sorry, but these things had to happen,’” said James.
“The surveying engineer actually said, ‘We thought we did you a favour’ — by cutting a line through our land.
“But if that’s a favour, you know, then don’t bother.”
Not only does the prospective road threaten vital animal habitat, the road’s placement doesn’t make any sense, said both James and Tizya.
The planned road would run south of the subdivision.
And the Yukon government used fear tactics to justify cutting the survey line for the road, by warning area residents that prevailing winds could easily blow a fire right into the subdivision, said James.
“But YTG is talking about north wind there and, in the summer, the prevailing winds are always from the south.”
The current road cuts north from the subdivision, and would act as the emergency evacuation route if fire was blown in from the south.
“The new aggress road doesn’t make any sense, because the prevailing winds come up from that area, so you’d be driving toward the force of the fire,” confirmed Tizya.
The road won’t get past these planning stages, especially if an environmental assessment is commissioned, she added.
“It’s all too unsure. But it’s costing a lot of money to be doing this planning.
“You can just imagine what that survey cost.”
There are other options, said Tizya.
The First Nation suggested permanent pump stations be set up on the swampy land in question, she said.
And there are two alternate road possibilities, but both are longer than the surveyed route crossing First Nation land.
“Not only would (the other routes) make the road way longer, it would cost an arm and a leg to put a road in there,” said Tizya.
There is also talk of moving the dump, which currently sits on the road out of the Taku subdivision.
“It’s a burning dump and there have been fires there in the past,” said Tizya.
“And, with what we have for equipment, I don’t know how on earth we contained it. The forestry had to be called out each time.
“Right now, the advisory committee is waiting for a planning process to be implemented so we can work together with the First Nation and YTG on it,” she said.