Peel watershed open for business

The Yukon government has released its final plan for the Peel watershed under threat of legal action from First Nations. As of today, 71 per cent of the watershed is open to new staking.

The Yukon government has released its final plan for the Peel watershed under threat of legal action from First Nations.

As of today, 71 per cent of the watershed is open to new staking. The area has been under a staking ban for almost four years.

It’s a far cry from the plan recommended by the planning commission, which would have allowed new staking in only 20 per cent of the region.

But Environment Minister Currie Dixon says the new plan is more fair to people who depend on mining for their livelihood.

“It’s a plan that we feel achieves the balance that we were seeking between the needs of our economy, both today and into the future, with the needs we have to protect our environment and protect this unique and important area of the Yukon.”

The four affected First Nations announced last week that they would implement the final recommended plan in their settlement areas within the watershed, which cover about three per cent of the total area.

The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and Gwich’in Tribal Council had called on the Yukon government to follow suit.

“This is a sad day for all Yukon First Nations and all Yukoners,” said Tr’ondek Hwech’in Chief Eddie Taylor in a news release Wednesday. “We had hoped that at the end of the day the government of Yukon would do the right thing and accept the final recommended plan.”

The First Nations say the government’s action is in violation of its agreements.

They have not yet said if they will take the government to court, but continue to threaten legal action.

“We are not going to give up on the Peel,” said Norman Snowshoe, vice president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council. “The final chapter to this story is definitely yet to be written.”

Opposition parties have expressed disappointment that the government has turned away from the wishes of not only the First Nations but also the general Yukon public.

“I’m not sure that the Yukon government has fully thought out the consequences of this action,” said Kate White, the NDP’s environment critic.

“Choosing the path of confrontation and litigation is creating an economic uncertainty for the territory.

“Part of the surprise is the amount of disrespect that they’re showing to First Nation governments and to all Yukoners who participated in the process,” said White.

During the last round of public consultation people from inside and outside of the Yukon came out in strong support of the final recommended plan.

The government deleted those numbers from the report released to the public, although the News later exposed them to the public through an access-to-information request.

Interim Liberal Leader Sandy Silver said the government’s actions set a dangerous precedent for future land use planning in the territory.

“The message is, ‘Stay home. We don’t care what you have to say,’” said Silver.

“I’m very concerned for the Dawson regional land use plan. Who is going to come forward with their best efforts without the opinion in the back of their mind: ‘What’s the Yukon Party going to do with this once we present it? If it’s not exactly what they want, what’s the likelihood that any of the fruits of our labour are actually going to be heeded?’”

The protected areas in the Yukon government’s plan are largely in the corridors around the Peel, Hart, Wind, Bonnet Plume and Snake Rivers.

Along the rivers the protected area is generally between two and ten kilometres wide. The government is calling these regions Wild River Parks.

There will be special rules in these areas, such as not allowing exploration work on existing claims during the peak weeks of the wilderness tourism season.

Other protected areas include blocks of land adjacent to Tombstone Territorial Park as well as the northwest corner of the watershed.

Forty-four per cent of the Peel region will be what the government has called a Restricted Use Wilderness Area.

New staking, roads and mines are allowed in these areas.

But the government says that special rules will mean that the region will retain its wilderness character.

Companies operating in these areas will be required to report all helicopter or airplane flights as well as all low-level exploration activities.

Flying over sensitive sheep habitat could be restricted during the calving season.

Restrictions will apply to new roads and trails in the area. ATVs will not be allowed in sensitive alpine and wetland environments.

Total surface disturbance from industrial activities will be limited to 0.2 per cent of the region.

Existing claims in the region are still valid and can be developed, including in protected areas.

New roads may be built anywhere in the region, although they must be temporary.

That means that after the work requiring the road has ceased the road must be reclaimed. However, there is no time limit to how long the road can be in operation.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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