The Peel Watershed Planning Commission has just entered a new phase, continuing its search for a land-use plan that can please every human, animal and capitalist with an eye on its gems.
It probably won’t succeed.
Miners and oilmen will probably be miffed by the results.
Both industries have staked the watershed and identified potential oil and gas fields. But they are in for a setback with the release of the commission’s Land-Use Scenario Options Report.
The report claims that neither of the two industries offered enough information to prove that their development would benefit the Peel.
Ahead of the pack are the sport hunting and outfitting industries, both more likely to be “significant income generators for Yukon people, business and government.”
The tourism industry had the data to back its case.
“The data on commercial tourism is extremely solid data thanks to the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act that provides government with very firm figures on visitation,” said Dave Loeks, a commission member.
The Peel planners couldn’t say the same about mining and oil.
“There are real examples of working mines, per se, and everything is in the exploration phase,” said Loeks. “In principle there is some information on that, but it just hasn’t been as forthcoming.”
Mining and oil are more volatile industries that also leave a more permanent mark, he said.
The scenario options report concludes a phase of internal consultations and information gathering. The commission is now holding open houses in many northern communities with various First Nation groups.
The benefit of the commission’s lengthy land-use planning might not be obvious, but its slow and methodical approach signals a serious attempt at getting the fair and informed outcome for the region and its inhabitants.
The consultations are all grounded in the conditions of the Final Umbrella Agreement, said Loeks.
Speaking from Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories Thursday morning, Loeks and senior planner Reg Whiten said they have packed their schedule with elders’ meetings, the Gwich’in Planning Board and representatives of the trans-boundary water agreement.
“What we’re hearing, primarily in the communities and the villages in the North, is a very strong-stated interest in the environment and keeping an intact landscape,” said Loeks.
“It’s not so much stakeholders (we’re meeting) as communities with a strong participation of elders,” he said.
The planners are presenting to First Nations the two different scenarios for the Peel based on all the information they’ve gathered in the last four years.
“We’re working on a third scenario as we speak,” said Loeks.
The commission has been forced to move forward without more data on mining and oil, but the response from communities seems to agree with the two current working scenarios.
The scenarios both envision a northern section of the Peel with all-year roads.
The “mixed-use” scenario features a large southern swath of land with winter roads as well, while the “protection” scenario features a large area where no roads are allowed and only a small section where winter roads would be allowed.
Both scenarios demand monitoring of human effects and the protection of the Bonnet Plume and Snake watersheds.
After these open houses, the commission will write a draft plan, and will one day have a recommended plan for the Peel Watershed. The commission will continue its community open houses for the next few weeks and will be in Whitehorse on February 10.
It might be a long and arduous process, but using land isn’t as simple as putting a piece of plywood in the ground anymore.
“I want to emphasize that this is a land-use plan, not an economic development plan,” said Loeks. “They’re two different things. We’re interested in economics, but that’s not what drives the plan.”
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