Loophole fails to protect Peel Watershed

The Peel Watershed draft land-use plan inappropriately favours mining interests, says the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.

The Peel Watershed draft land-use plan inappropriately favours mining interests, says the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission had a duty to consult all parties, but it failed to evaluate all the facts and figures on the Peel’s ore deposits, wilderness treasures and cultural values impartially, said Rod Taylor, the tourism association’s chair.

“It’s an attempt to appease all interests and, in doing so, I don’t think they’ve come up with a plan that appeases any interests,” said Taylor.

The association, which represents more than 400 tourism-related businesses, is the latest to criticize the month-old draft land-use plan.

The commission is supposed to be independent and rise above economic interests, said the association.

“Economic metrics seem to be weighted more heavily than wilderness values or cultural values,” said Taylor.

“This should not be an issue of whether one industry or another can make more money out of this area.

“It’s about looking at all the values and getting a balanced solution that will allow industry to prosper, but that will sustain the jewels of the area, and it’s the latter part that we think is missing.”

The commission has to walk a political tightrope among different interests because its recommendations can be shelved by cabinet once the final plan is drafted.

But even if escaping controversy is the impetus behind the commission’s tilt toward miners, the facts suggest that industry is in the minority, said Taylor.

Earlier this month, the governments of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, the Teetl’it Gwich’in Council and the Na-Cho Nyak Dun issued a statement critical of the draft land-use plan, saying it falls far short of expectations.

“They have unanimously come out with a very strong statement in support of protection for that area, and that appears to have been ignored,” said Taylor.

The First Nations point to mining operations in the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Na-Cho Nyak Dun territories to prove they are not against mining; they simply oppose it in the Peel.

They echo a position that Taylor endorses—that the Peel is a unique wilderness area unlike any other in the territory, and the commission should have treated it that way rather than try and reach a consensus.

Most Yukoners and Outsiders who wrote the commission felt the same way, said Taylor.

“Somewhere in the area of 400 people have said what they’ve said, of which 95 per cent are in favour of protection, and that also seems to be unheeded by that commission,” he said.

The tourism industry isn’t hiding the fact that it depends on the Peel for its livelihood.

The Three Rivers region, where the Wind, Bonnet Plume and Snake Rivers meet, is a popular tourist destination.

“There simply isn’t any real protection for the Three Rivers area and that simply isn’t good enough,” said Taylor.

If the area were protected, the tourism industry would gladly have a study done on its ecological impact, he said.

“We know that we have footprint as well, and we don’t want our businesses to ruin the pristine nature of that area.”

But what’s really got Taylor peeved is the greenwashing in the plan. Around 48 per cent of the Peel, including the Three Rivers area, is designated as a general protection zone that will grandfather current mining claims, but will prohibit new ones.

“There are now 11,275 active quartz claims, and because exploration will be allowed, and because winter roads will be allowed, it’s just going to keep getting busier and busier,” said Taylor.

There’s also a caveat that if one of those claims should strike a lucrative deposit, all-season roads will be permitted as well, said Taylor.

“The reason the commission is ready to say that is because they don’t believe any of these claims are going to be developed in the next couple of decades,” he said.

“Although that may be true, we’re simply not prepared to say that affords enough protection.”

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

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