Territory doing well on climate change – for its size, says Environment’s new DM

Kelvin Leary is relishing the challenges he faces as the Environment department’s new deputy minister.

Kelvin Leary is relishing the challenges he faces as the Environment department’s new deputy minister.

“One of the great things about the Yukon is that everybody has an opinion about the natural environment and what should be done about it,” said Leary, who was appointed to the position in early December.

“There are both ends of the spectrum when it comes to development, and how we manage our species,” he said.

“The challenge is keeping that together and achieving the right balance.”

Leary came to the Yukon in 1984 to work as a resource officer with the department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, stationed in Ross River, Watson Lake, Carmacks and Dawson City.

He moved to Whitehorse and became a key negotiator during the devolution of federal portfolios to the Yukon government and also helped shape the newly launched Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

He then became assistant deputy minister on intergovernmental relations, before returning to the Environment department as the assistant deputy minister in 2005.

During the recent territorial and federal elections, environmental issues moved from the fringe to the mainstream, and Leary is well aware of that.

There is a “groundswell of enthusiasm” within the Yukon government to begin studying and addressing climate change, shown by a dedicated co-ordinator within the department, and an action plan that is being developed, he said.

But the territory’s small population means it must focus on research and seek to learn as much as it can from other jurisdictions combating climate change, said Leary.

“The reality is, a small place can seldom afford to do all the things themselves.”

In Ontario’s environment bureaucracy there are more than 120 policy analysts; the Yukon has four, he said.

“Do I think we’re behind? No. We’re leading in many areas. But it’s hard to make a huge difference nationally when you’re such a small jurisdiction,” said Leary.

Leary replaces Ed Huebert, who resigned in September for a job at a diamond company in the Northwest Territories.

Second outfitter cabin in the crosshairs

The fate of an outfitter cabin built by the former president of the Yukon Outfitting Association appears to be headed for court.

This fall, Tim Mervyn, owner of Mervyn’s Yukon Outfitting, built a cabin near Ittlemit Lake and only a few metres away from a First Nation trapper’s base camp.

Fred Brown Sr. owns a trapping concession for Ittlemit Lake area, and came to the Yukon legislature to complain about Mervyn’s cabin in early December.

Much like the situation with Bonnet Plume Outfitters that has made headlines, Mervyn was given until December 15 to provide the government documented proof he had authority to build the cabin.

And just like Bonnet Plume, the documents that Mervyn has sent aren’t good enough, said lands branch director Lyle Henderson in an interview Thursday.

“It’s our opinion that, similar to the Bonnet Plume situation, correspondence was received but there was no information confirming documentation supporting tenure,” he said.

An affidavit will soon be filed with Yukon Supreme Court seeking a court order to remove the cabin, said Henderson.

And a review package of the government’s evidence will be sent to Mervyn, said lands branch spokesperson Ron Billingham.

Once he receives it, Mervyn will have seven days to specify whether he intends to challenge the order or not, he said.

If Mervyn responds, the judge will set a court date to decide the future of the cabin.

If there isn’t a response, the judge can sign the order and advise Mervyn he has 30 days to respond before the cabin is removed, said Billingham.

In a previous interview with the News, Mervyn said rules governing outfitter cabins were never enforced in the past.

“It’s not until this fall that it seems to have become an issue, and I’m not really sure quite why,” he said.

“The thing is, there has been no system to apply for those cabins. Lands branch has refused to accept applications. I’ve got applications, and this is one of them, that go back to 1986,” he said.

No policy allows for new cabins to be built on any of the Yukon’s 19 outfitting concessions, confirmed Henderson.

That means any new outfitter cabin built in the wilderness after 2003 — when authority over the lands branch was devolved to the Yukon government — is likely illegal and could face removal, he said. (TQ)