Keep a corner of the Yukon wild

"There's a land where the mountains are nameless, And the rivers all run God knows where...

David Loeks

“There’s a land where the mountains are nameless, And the rivers all run God knows where…”

The Yukon of Robert Service was big, broad, bold, and wild. Now we only have fragments left, and many of today’s urban Yukoners think they are experiencing the real thing when they ride to their campsites.

Thirty years ago, I hunted the country around MacMillan Pass. Then, you got places by foot, by horse, or by canoe. Now the area isn’t worth going to if you like wild country. What the mining exploration industry hasn’t torn up is marred by the tire tracks, mud holes, and squalling of ATVs and Argos.

Thanks to the exploration boom so beloved of Premier Darrell Pasloski and Resources Minister Brad Cathers, there is not much really wild country left in the Yukon south of the Ogilvies. The backcountry is cluttered with camps, claim stakes, blaze orange tape, motorized trails, drill pads, airstrips, and seismic lines. This might seem “wild” to people who’ve never known better, but it’s a pitiful shambles of what the Yukon once was.

And then there is the Peel. Robert Service would recognize this kind of country as the old Yukon. And for the most part, so would the great grand-parents of Jimmy Johnny, renowned guide from Mayo. The Peel, as it is, is so valuable precisely because it is so unusual. There is little of this kind of country left. This is why the First Nations demanded 100 per cent protection in the Peel planning process. This is why the majority of Yukoners (yes, this is demonstrable through statistics, Brad) wanted serious protection in the Peel too.

The Peel planning commission struck a carefully considered balance between the broad public interest as expressed by the majority and the narrow commercial interests of the mining industry. The Yukon government’s response has been to ignore the public interest, ignore their First Nation planning partners, and offer almost all of the planning region to industry. The mining industry is not satisfied even with this – they want access to it all. The industrial-governmental combine sneers at compromise, and they dish up balance with a bulldozer.

The Yukon Party cabinet has been cautioned repeatedly against their reckless disdain of the legal requirements of the planning process. The lawsuit that they are provoking will reinforce the recent challenge to the free-entry mineral staking system posed by the Ross River court ruling. Together, these legal challenges will call into question the way resources are made available to industry in the Yukon.

That sound you hear that of investors’ briefcases slamming shut as they take their leave for saner places. The next sound you hear will be the moaning and gnashing of teeth on Main Street. This is entirely avoidable.

The final recommended plan has much to offer. It is fair to all interests (it permits exploration and development of claims even in its conservation zone), it is widely supported by the public, it is scientifically sound for maintaining ecological integrity, it respects democratic processes, and above all it is legal. The commission recognized that the majority of the public and the First Nations were at odds with industry and their minority supporters. Therefore they wrote a conservative, cautious plan that preserves options for everyone.

By deferring development, the plan buys time for society to form consensus. Yukoners can always access the region’s minerals in the future should they want to. In the meantime, we can be stewards of an irreplaceable heritage.

We don’t need to be greedy. We have no pressing need to squander the Peel’s resources for outside firms. By applying the principles of sustainable development we can have our cake and eat it too. And stay out of ruinous lawsuits. The commission’s plan is the responsible, legal choice and deserves your support.

David Loeks was the chair of the Peel

Watershed Planning Commission.