On Tuesday, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Yukon government agreed on a plan for the Old Crow Flats special management area.
The 54-page plan protects a large parcel of land north of Old Crow that encompasses Vuntut Gwitchin settlements lands, Yukon Crown land and the Vuntut National Park.
This region includes one of the most important wetland and lake complexes in Canada and is home to major populations of waterfowl, the Porcupine caribou herd, muskrat and moose, according to the management plan.
“The plan will maintain the ecological integrity of the area and it will protect fish, wildlife and their critical habitats from activities that could reduce the lands’ capability,” said Premier Dennis Fentie at a news conference Tuesday.
Although the management plan permanently protects the Old Crow Flats wetlands, it still allows Vuntut Gwitchin citizens their traditional and current harvesting rights in the area.
The land east and west of the core wetlands area will be managed by the Yukon government.
“On Yukon Crown land there is permanent protection on the portion of land that covers Old Crow Flats and a 20-year withdrawal from development on the remainder,” said Fentie.
This 20-year moratorium ensures flexibility in case of future industrial activities, he added.
However, this area is so isolated and remote, it is unlikely oil companies would want to spend millions exploring it, said Vuntut Gwitchin chief Joe Linklater at the news conference.
“What’s on the surface is much more valuable and long lasting,” he said.
Part of its traditional homeland, the Vuntut Gwitchin call the wetlands “our bank,” and have been working to save it for the last 30 years.
“Our past leaders and elders have been working on this, and what we have now achieved is a high standard of protection,” said Linklater.
“And I woke up this morning with a heck of a lot less stress than I had before,” he joked.
“Old Crow Flats is an area of cultural importance to the Vuntut Gwitchin, both historically and at present,” said Fentie.
“And the management plan reflects these values.”
Under the new plan, Linklater hopes to see the management area become a focus for tourism, and land-based experiential learning and research, including paleontology and archeology.
The area will also continue to be used for hunting and trapping, he said.
“This management plan has given our people a sense of certainty and comfort that this area will be there for them if they ever need it for food and clothing,” said Linklater.
“We can always go there if need be.”
The area will be joint-managed by the Vuntut Gwitchin and the Yukon government.
“Signing this management plan also highlights our intent to continue working in partnership with First Nations on important conservation matters — helping protect the land, water and wildlife resources that are so critical to the values and culture of Yukoners generally,” said Fentie.