A report on wetland stewardship policy indicates some Yukoners are divided on whether the Yukon government’s draft policy should prioritize more protection for wetlands or more incentives for responsible development.
The What We Heard report, released on March 1, summarizes findings from the public review process involving a roundtable, survey and comments related to Yukon government wetlands stewardship policy.
The report’s executive summary outlines survey respondents were split on whether the draft policy should provide adequate protection of wetland benefits, although many were unsure or neutral.
“Feedback on the draft policy reflected polarized perspectives between those who expressed a desire for a policy that provides greater protection to wetlands and those who thought the policy should provide greater support for responsible development,” it reads.
The Yukon government website explains there is currently no framework to guide the management of wetland activities in the Yukon, which has created uncertainty.
On the website, wetlands are defined as areas that have water at or near the ground surface during part of the year or year-round, such as bogs, fens, marshes, swamps and shallow open water. Wetlands can be essential for maintaining water flows, protecting from floods, purifying water, recharging and discharging groundwater, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife.
The report states the draft policy has been five years in the making, and it was made available for public review in 2021.
The report describes that consultants were hired to hold a virtual roundtable discussion on Nov. 16 to Nov. 17, 2021, with 72 participants representing Yukon First Nations and Indigenous governments; municipal, territorial and federal governments; industry groups; environmental organizations; and boards and councils.
The Yukon Bureau of Statistics conducted a public survey, which asked questions used to assess the extent to which respondents agreed or disagreed with different aspects of the policy.
There were 115 respondents that completed the survey, which was held online from Oct. 3 to Dec. 3, 2021. Five respondents reported having few interactions with wetlands, while most indicated they pursue recreational or cultural activities in wetland areas and many worked in wetland areas or in wetland management. Nineteen repsondents reported “other” types of interactions with wetlands.
Eighty-eight direct submissions from governments, boards, organizations and members of the public were also considered.
Kiri Staples Consulting and Resilient North Consulting provided facilation for the meeting as well as the analysis and writing of the report.
What they heard
In the executive summary, there were “significant concerns” raised about the draft policy’s lack of attention to Indigenous jurisdictions, authorities, rights and titles, with feedback suggesting the draft policy should better reflect “Indigenous ways of knowing and being, as well as commitments to and relationships with Yukon First Nations and Indigenous governments.”
Additional feedback noted more attention should be paid to climate change and the concept of “no net loss” in the report.
Other comments in the report identified areas of uncertainty that need clarification when it comes to key concepts and decision-making processes.
Forty-four per cent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the draft policy reflected how they would like to see the Yukon government approach wetland stewardship. Twenty-six per cent of respondents were neutral and 30 per cent either disagreed or strongly disagreed.
In the report, a key theme expressed during the public review was that the draft policy does not adequately protect wetlands, and it was generally noted that protecting only specific wetlands does not go far enough.
Survey respondents were nearly evenly split on the question of whether the draft policy provides adequate protection of wetland benefits. Thirty-two per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed and 32 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Another main theme addressed protecting and incentivizing responsible development.
“From this perspective, there are clear gaps within various sections of the draft policy that, if not addressed, could have significant economic impacts for key industries and the territory,” the report reads.
A crucial area of focus in the report involved ensuring the draft policy avoids stopping development altogether, such as through a moratorium, and instead incentivizes responsible development.
Sixty per cent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that the draft policy will place an unnecessary or undue economic burden on development activities, while 18 per cent were neutral and 22 per cent agreed or strongly agreed.
In the report, the draft policy should do more to reflect the “climate change emergency” and align with climate change commitments, such as those made in the Our Clean Future approach, which is a document that outlines actions the government says it will take to address the impacts of climate change while building a green economy.
The report illustrates the need for clarity when it comes to making decisions related to wetland stewardship.
In response to a question that asks if the draft policy clearly articulates how the Yukon government will make wetland stewardship decisions, 40 per cent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed. Twenty-nine per cent were neutral, and the other 31 per cent agreed or strongly agreed.
In the report, more than 160 comments expressed concerns, questions or other feedback related to managing human impact on Yukon wetlands.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com