Open the Peel to exploration: chamber of mines

The Yukon government’s modified Peel plans are too restrictive and could hurt the economy down the road, according to the Yukon Chamber of Mines.

The Yukon government’s modified Peel plans are too restrictive and could hurt the economy down the road, according to the Yukon Chamber of Mines.

We don’t know enough about the region’s economic potential or environmental value to make decisions that will restrict future use, said Michael Kokiw, the chamber’s executive director.

“It comes down to nobody knowing what’s there, and that’s a real concern. I mean, are we going to potentially make an area an entire park … that could be our children’s or our children’s children’s economic value in the Yukon?”

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission released its final recommended plan in 2011, asserting that 55 per cent of the area should be permanently set aside from roads, exploration and development, and that a further 25 per cent should be given interim protection.

In 2012 the Yukon government brought forward its own ideas of what the plan should look like. In its plans, roads could potentially be built anywhere in the watershed, and new exploration and development would be allowed in most of the area.

But even under these new plans, restrictions on access and high standards for mitigation would effectively shut down exploration in the watershed, said Kokiw.

“It’s impractical to think that people are going to be able to fly in a helicopter to all the spots to do exploration when there’s no value there,” he said. “They’re not going to spend that kind of money.”

In the government’s concepts, protected areas account for between 14 and 36 per cent of the watershed. Outside of protected areas, surface disturbance from all industrial activities, including roads, would be limited to between 0.2 and one per cent.

“To make broad strokes in an area the size of New Brunswick is a little bit radical,” said Kokiw. “And it also positions the Yukon as one of the most protected places in Canada. And that’s a shame considering our North is known for its resource industry.”

The chamber understands that sensitive areas should be protected, he said.

“We have very sensitive ecological areas that do need to be avoided completely, 100 per cent, and that is true. But we don’t even know where those are. Nobody knows, and we’re making decisions that could economically handicap ourselves in future generations.”

The industry is interested in working with First Nations to identify sensitive areas and make sure they are protected, said Kokiw.

Exploration workers have an appreciation for the land very similar to that of First Nations, he said.

“These are prospectors, local Yukoners who have been working on the land, who have a respect for that land, for sometimes 20, 30, intergenerational years. These are the livelihoods we’re hurting.”

The First Nations involved with the Peel plan have asked for 100 per cent protection of the region, but say they would settle for the commission’s recommended plan. They have threatened to take the fight to court if the government goes forward with its modified proposals.

The chamber of mines is encouraging its members and all Yukoners to engage with the final round of consultation on the Peel land use plan at www.peelconsultation.ca by February 25.

It has an open-door policy and is happy to inform anybody of the consequences for the industry if a protectionist plan is put in place, said Kokiw.

“We wouldn’t mind Yukoners pausing for a moment and remembering that when there was no resource industry, seven or eight years ago, the Yukon was a very different place.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at jronson@yukon-news.com

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