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North Yukon plan uncertain

The public is still waiting for a glimpse of a million-dollar land-use plan that has been available in various forms for more than six months.

The public is still waiting for a glimpse of a million-dollar land-use plan that has been available in various forms for more than six months.

Currently, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Yukon government are getting a “sneak peak” before the 230-page North Yukon Land Use Plan document is publicly released.

That release is expected in about two weeks, said North Yukon’s senior planner Shawn Francis.

The plan focuses on the potential impact of oil and gas development on wetlands and caribou in the area.

Despite this, the government proceeded with oil and gas dispositions this spring based solely on its own analysis.

There’s some confusion about the rollout of the planning document.

The public won’t have access to the plan until the fall, after the Vuntut Gwitchin and the Yukon government have their opportunity to edit it, said North Yukon Planning Commission chair Shirlee Frost.

“That’s what they’re doing right now over the summer, and then they will come back to us,” said Frost.

“No,” said Francis, who works for the commission. “We are the boss of this document.”

The commission can reconsider the plan’s content following public and government input, but only it has the authority to change the document, he said.

But even after it’s finished, the plan isn’t binding.

And it could fail before it becomes “official” if the two governments decide not to accept it.

The North Yukon Land Use Plan has already been retooled once at the request of the Yukon government.

“They’d (the North Yukon commission) provided the main content to the parties to review, but based on the tight timelines of production, it wasn’t in a standard draft plan format,” said senior planner Brian Johnston, who works with the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.

“It hadn’t changed that much” in terms of content, he said.

This month’s “sneak peak” has delayed the plan some more.

The government had the plan on June 8th, said Johnston.

Frost said it was delivered on June 18th.

Still, it took several calls over the past weeks to find an oil and gas or lands management official who could confirm they had seen the draft.

Two weeks ago, assistant deputy minister Greg Komaromi said that the plan was not in government hands.

Also, Energy, Mines and Resources spokesperson Darren Butt said the department had not received the plan.

Then, on June 25, Butt found a note that said it had been delivered to the department that morning.

Later, he admitted the report had been on land claims director John Spicer’s desk for a few weeks. However, Spicer was away from the office during that time, said Butt.

The government did, in fact, have the plan and was reviewing it, said Spicer.

He also acknowledged that the public might perceive the land-use decision process had been artificially slowed.

If all goes smoothly, the public can expect to have access to an internet download of The North Yukon Land Use Plan by mid-July, but not before the Vuntut Gwitchin and the Yukon government provide a joint response to the planning commission.

“After we’ve done that, if there’s any amendments or changes the commission needs or wishes to make, then they’ll do that,” said Spicer.

The plan will be accepted, said Frost.

“We don’t expect any big changes at all because they’ve been working with us all along, through the whole thing,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Yukon government expressed its objection to at least one major element of the conservation-focused plan.

The land-use plan divides the North into management regions and assigns “thresholds” of disturbance within each region.

“Philosophically, it represents a bit of a cap on activities,” said Francis.

“Governments in a natural resources economy don’t like that,” he said.

The planning commission also recommended the region north of the Porcupine River, which had been included in an interim land withdrawal, be left withdrawn and free from the threat of development.

The completion and acceptance of a land-use plan will put a halt to what Francis calls “a road-by-road and valley-by-valley battle” over priorities in the North Yukon.

The implementation of the land-use plan, which has been in the works since 2003, will also mark a departure from an unfortunate tradition.

“Certainly northern Canada has a history of many kicks at the cat at regional land-use plans, and there’s very few of them that have ever been approved,” said Francis.

Two land-use plans for the North Yukon have failed already: one under DIAND in the mid-‘90s and one overseen by the Vuntut Gwitchin in the early 2000s.

“It’s certainly been a painful process,” said Frost, also a Vuntut Gwitchin member.

“Educating governments to our way of thinking has been challenging at best.”