Duo Lakes near the Snake River in the Peel watershed. (Ronny Scholz/Wilderness International)

First Nations representative calls Peel process less confrontational this time

The present consultation process for the Final Recommended Plan for the Peel watershed has seen serious improvements compared to the process undertaken by the previous government, according to a representative for two of the impacted First Nations.

Tim Gerberding, Peel Senior Liaison Committee representative for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, said they have “seen a sea-change of attitude from (this) Yukon government,” compared to the previous.

The process has been “totally collaborative, totally collegial, (a) breath of fresh air from the very confrontational” process untaken by the previous government, he said.

“It seems as if we are more or less on the same angle,” he said.

As part of the final consultation process for the plan, the government, alongside the affected First Nations, hired third-party company Stantec to conduct a public survey on the issue of the Peel and the Final Recommended Plan in October and November 2018. Those results – which Gerberding called “a snapshot” of the public opinion – were released Feb. 26 in 68-page report comprised of multiple public surveys, meetings and consultations.

The report concluded that there is a “very high prevalence of comments expressing a desire to have the full 80 per cent conservation area protected.” There were a lot of questions about “implementation” of the plan, the report found, and support for the “inherent rights” of First Nations in the area.

Respondents also wanted “clarity” about how mining claims would be handled.

Overall, of 2,046 people who answered the written question, “are there any parts of the final recommended plan that you believe should be changed at this time?” 68 per cent answered “yes.”

Of the people who answered “yes,” an overwhelming 84 per cent were specifically concerned about land use designation.

Thirty-two per cent of respondents said they did not feel any changes were necessary to the plan.

The report also found that many people commented on the “general importance of protecting” the Peel. Reasons for this were varied, but included the usefulness of the region as a biological “benchmark,” traditional First Nation use, which includes “many sacred sites throughout the region” and the value and rarity of a “pristine” wilderness in the modern world.

The report recognizes that “there was potential for input duplication” throughout the input process and that it was “possible for people to submit multiple copies of the questionnaire and formal email submissions from several different email addresses.”

At the community meetings, in terms of community representation it was often the smaller communities more directly impacted by decision-making in the Peel that had the highest level of turnout and interaction with the consultation process.

Old Crow had the most robust attendance rate per capita, with 58 people at the meeting from a population 220, or 26 per cent of residents. That community noted concerns about the boreal caribou population which live within the Peel watershed and how grandfathered mineral claims in the region would be handled. The report also noted the community supported limiting the number of people able to travel in the region at any given time – similar to the way the Chilkoot Trail is managed – due to increased tourism traffic, especially on the Wind River.

Whitehorse’s meeting had the highest attendance, at 98 people. The report notes that the primary concerns at this meeting were “about implementation and how variances … and amendments would be managed,” as well as how “tourism access” in the area should be handled.

Residents of Aklavik, NWT, expressed concerns surrounding the potential impact of development on water quality. The report noted that under section of 19.1.8a of the Gwich’in Final Agreement, “water which (is on) or flow(s) through, or (is) adjacent to Gwich’in lands (must) remain substantially unaltered in quality, quantity and rate of flow.”

In Fort McPherson, NT, 66 people representing 9.4 per cent of the community’s 700 residents attended the meeting. The report found that “many people are frustrated with the process and felt like they were repeating themselves” and that the people there feel the Peel watershed to be “vital to the past, present and future” of the community.

Concerns were raised about the need for the area to be available for the use of “traditional activities and (teaching) future generations how to live off the land.” That community supports 100-per cent protection of the watershed and does not want “any type of industrial development.”

In addition to community meetings, the consultation process sought out other parties, including those with commercial interests, for comment — notably, the Yukon Chamber of Mines, which considers certain areas, including the Nadaleen River and Tiger Gold deposits, to be “of importance” to its interests. The chamber expressed “concern about the Plan’s limits to access of mining claims,” such as a moratorium on new roads in conservation areas, as this would make it “difficult” to actually get to and work in those mineral claims.

The executive of director the Klondike Placer Miners Association, Jonas Smith, stated that the “potential cost of compensating the mineral claim holders (in the area) needs to be considered” and was concerned about “feasible and reasonable access to the region for development,” the report says.

Only 3.3 per cent of the total respondents were in favour of increased development allowances in the Peel, the survey found.

Concerns and questions regarding access by tourism and outfitters to the region under the plan were voiced by several interested parties, including the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, who noted that “the plan should support the goals and activities of horse-based outfitters who operate in the area.” The Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon expressed a desire to remove interim protections in favour of permanent protections in some areas because not doing so “leaves uncertainty for wilderness tourism” in the area.

Neither the Yukon Chamber of Mines nor the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation responded to requests for comment from the News by press time.

A complete copy of the consultation survey is available online.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com.

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