Peel talks pushed to 2012

Negotiations over the fate of the Peel Watershed are set to continue in the new year, Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers announced on Tuesday.

Negotiations over the fate of the Peel Watershed are set to continue in the new year, Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers announced on Tuesday.

Talks between the territory and four First Nations over the vast swath of northeast Yukon became sidetracked by the territorial election, resulting in a November deadline to be missed.

Two weeks ago, chiefs proposed a new schedule that would see a final plan in place by June. To get there, a final round of community consultations would be held in February and early March, followed by several months of analysis and haggling by governments with a stake in the watershed.

“The government is in basic agreement with the timelines,” said Cathers. He’s proposing he and Environment Minister Currie Dixon meet the four chiefs in mid-January to firm up these plans.

Cathers also announced that his government would extend a ban on mineral staking in the Peel from February to September, 2012.

First Nations and conservationists have rallied behind a recommended plan that would protect four-fifths of the watershed from development. The Yukon Party wants to see a greater proportion open to mining. Just how much, it hasn’t publicly stated.

“We believe that debate over the Peel planning process has become unnecessarily polarized and politicized,” Cathers told the house on Monday. “The debate has also at times lost touch with reality. It’s time to shift the debate from whether to protect the environment in the Peel to how to best protect the environment of the Peel while allowing responsible use.

“We believe that most Yukoners actually share common values. Yukoners value wilderness beauty and healthy ecosystems, but also want a strong, diversified economy that provides employment for their friends, families and communities.”

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com