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The North Yukon is not a model for the Peel

By David Loeks Brad Cathers has a problem. The minister of Energy Mines and Resources thinks the approach used in the North Yukon Regional Plan should be used in a revised Peel plan.

Brad Cathers has a problem.

The minister of Energy Mines and Resources thinks the approach used in the North Yukon Regional Plan should be used in a revised Peel plan.

Either Cathers doesn’t understand the North Yukon Plan’s methodology - which is serious - or he actually does understand it, which makes it worse.

By advocating the North Yukon model for the Peel, Cathers - and Premier Darrell Pasloski - show contempt for the stated interests of the Yukon people, including the First Nations.

Cathers’ favoured approach was developed to manage the booming oil and gas district of northern Alberta. As a planning model, its purpose was to see that woodland caribou could somehow survive in the teeth of oil, gas, forestry and infrastructure development.

The North Yukon plan had similar aims - to facilitate oil and gas development in the Eagle Plains area, while not utterly excluding the Porcupine caribou herd. It had little need to consider other values, since large conservation areas had already been established, and the planning area is mostly earmarked for oil and gas.

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission faced a very different challenge. The Peel planning area was open.

It had neither conservation set-asides, nor much development. It was known to have a range of natural resources, including wildlife, fish, water, and minerals in an expansive, roadless landscape. There were also the usual assortment of interests and stakeholders.

As the planning process unfolded, it was evident that the Peel’s wilderness landscape was a resource in its own right. People insisted that the Peel’s roadlessness was essential to their interests.

First Nations were absolutely clear that their cultural legacy lay in the Peel’s roadless, wilderness integrity. The outfitters, the wilderness tourism industry, and wilderness recreationists said the same. Nothing really new in this.

What was new, was that the majority of Yukoners believed this too. The commission knows this better than anyone. After all, we held the public meetings, and we met with the stakeholders, lobbyists, consultants, and experts.

We read all the letters, emails, and submissions to the commission and to the newspapers. Therefore we were not surprised when the Datapath survey confirmed what we already knew: that the majority of Yukoners wanted to keep the Peel roadless and wilderness. The bumper sticker “They want to protect the Peel from Yukoners” is ignorant of the facts.

To the nub: the First Nations and the majority of Yukoners don’t want roads in the Peel, while a minority (and the mining lobby) do. This is why the North Yukon plan is an invalid model for the Peel: it makes industrial development a given.

It offers merely to manage its “intensity.” Applied to the Peel, the North Yukon model will involve roads and bridges in the valleys of the Wind, the Bonnet Plume, and likely the Snake rivers. How can the minister not know this? His staff in EMR surely do.

The Peel planning commission chose a zoning model. It segregates industrial zones that include roads from conservation zones that don’t.

In the industrial zones, where it makes sense, the plan applied the North Yukon model. The Plan allows mining claims to be developed in conservation zones by air access. No economic sector is shut out in the Peel plan.

It is about preserving options for the future, not closing them down. It promotes the public interest - not those of a business sector.

Conservation biology provided serious reasons for large protected areas - the public interest reinforced these.

Either cabinet haven’t studied the matter carefully, or they understand that the North Yukon planning model is development by stealth. Cathers and Pasloski are either naive or cynical about democracy.

Likely the latter. It is cynical to claim a “mandate” on the basis of 40 per cent of the vote when only 60 per cent voted. It is colossally cynical to place the interests of outside mining speculators over the interests of the clear majority of Yukoners and First Nations.

We are booming. Society can always develop the minerals of the Peel later, but in the meantime the value of wilderness is growing steadily.

Why the reckless support of Outside speculators? Why flout the will of Yukoners? Why force First Nations into a lawsuit that could tie up land for years to come? The “miners’ compensation issue” is a red herring - but the likelihood of a lawsuit is serious. Whatever their motives, the interests of cabinet are not those of the Yukon people. Cabinet can still avoid a collision.

David Loeks was chair of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.