Government unveils new plans for Peel

At a glance, the Yukon government's newly unveiled plans for the Peel watershed closely resemble what was proposed by the region's planning commission. But appearances can be deceiving.

At a glance, the Yukon government’s newly unveiled plans for the Peel watershed closely resemble what was proposed by the region’s planning commission.

But appearances can be deceiving. The four maps released by the territory on Tuesday use similar colours as the final recommended plan. But the same colour doesn’t mean the same level of protection.

The new maps will be the centrepiece of the government’s final round of Peel consultations, set to be held over the next four months. The commission’s final plan will be included too, but the Yukon government has said it does not like it.

“We have repeatedly made it clear that we think that the plan proposed by the former Peel planning commission should be modified, and that the final plan can be more fair and balanced,” said Resources Minister Brad Cathers.

The government is touting its new plans as a way of satisfying both developers and environmentalists.

To accomplish this, they have invented two new land-use designations: restricted use wilderness areas, and wilderness river corridors. 

Both designations allow some limited development, which is “managed to a higher standard of care,” explained Jim Bell, a senior land use planner with Energy, Mines and Resources.

During the public consultation, the government has come up with four proposed maps, using these new designations. Those maps can be directly compared with the planning commission’s map at www.peelconsultation.ca.

Including the final recommended plan as one of the scenarios under discussion in the consultation is a requirement of the Umbrella Final Agreement, said Cathers.

The government is asking Yukoners to carefully review the new concepts and maps that it has put forward for discussion. A careful review is indeed necessary, as the details reveal the major differences between the government’s ideas and those of the planning commission.

On the surface, the new maps appear to resemble the final recommended plan.

It proposed 80 per cent of the Peel watershed region be either protected as a special management area, or given interim protection subject to later review.

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Each of the government’s proposed maps see 74 per cent of the area designated as either a protected area or one of the new land-use designations. 

A dark green colour on the maps represent the most protected areas. The planning commission called these special management areas. The government is calling them protected areas.

Both categories would protect the area from new land uses, but the government’s designation would not require subsequent special management plans to be developed, said Bell.

These designations cover 55 per cent of the area in the commission’s plan, and between 14 and 36 per cent in the government’s four scenarios.

A lighter green, used by the commission to designate a wilderness area, becomes a new category under the government’s scheme: restricted use wilderness area. However, these categories are quite different.

A wilderness area is protected from new claims to subsurface and surface rights and subsequent development, subject to review.

A restricted use wilderness area, meanwhile, allows for both new claims and new development, subject to stricter conditions intended to preserve the ecological and tourism values of the area.

The commission’s plan calls for 25 per cent of the area designated as a wilderness area, while the government’s scenarios ask for between 32 and 51 per cent of the area designated as a restricted use wilderness area.

The second new designation, the wilderness river corridor, is designed to provide special protections to the Peel’s many rivers and surrounding landscape, which have become so famous among environmentalists and adventurers.

While no new mineral claims can be made in these areas, they can be used for access roads, including river crossings, as long as standards are met for protection of the environment and natural beauty.

Wilderness river corridors span three to 10 kilometres in width, and represent six to nine per cent of the Peel watershed in the government’s plans.

Despite the government’s assertion that their scenarios afford special protections to 74 per cent of the area, new development and access roads will be permitted in up to 86 per cent of the region, based on the new plans.

Currently, 8,428 mineral claims cover approximately three per cent of the watershed, according to government documents.

The bulk of these were claimed while the government stalled on implementing a staking ban, even as the area’s land use was under review.

Regardless of the outcome of the planning process, these stakeholders are likely to retain rights to their claims, although they would be required to go through a permitting process to develop their claims.

First Nations were not involved with coming up with these scenarios, but will be consulted on them over the coming months, officials said.

Public consultations will continue for four months. Consultations with First Nation stakeholders will occur concurrently, and will also continue for an additional month after public comments have closed.

The public is invited to learn more and share their feedback at www.peelconsultation.ca until February 23, 2013.

There will also be meetings with stakeholders, as well as public open houses.

Information will also be mailed to each household, with an enclosed feedback form.

Comments provided through the website will be made public once the consultation period is over.

The government will also compile and summarize all of the feedback received through the consultation process.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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