By David Loeks
The Peel watershed plan is good public policy. No one has studied the facts and the trade-offs more than the Peel Watershed Planning Commission. Here is our experience.
First, planning in the Yukon is required by the Umbrella Final Agreement. We have to plan and we have to use the legally binding process set out by the UFA. We can’t just make one up.
Here is the rub. First Nations, guides, ecotourism businesses, biologists and thousands of people across the Yukon and Canada value the Peel because it is roadless wilderness. To them, building roads into the Peel ruins it. On the other side, the mineral industry says that mining claims without road access have no value. So there we have the deal breaker: roads or no roads.
The claim that there is a “compromise for Yukoners” that permits roads and mining in the Peel without full-on restoration or large-scale conservation zoning is a fraud. That is not a compromise by any definition whatsoever. When Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers says that “provisions for reasonable access” (meaning roads) will be provided to mining claims throughout the watershed, he is really saying to the First Nations and to thousands of others, “You get nothing” and to mining speculators, “You get it all.”
As written, the Peel watershed plan is good public policy because it is the compromise. It is the balanced approach. Here is why:
1) It is fair and respects all interests. Mining is not banned – not even in the conservation zone. Industry can access and develop its mining claims by air just as they currently do. There is no remotely economical mine prospect known in the Peel. There is time enough to prove up claims before emerging heavy lift hybrid air vehicles will make remote mining economical. The aviation industry knows this is coming and progressives in the mineral industry know this too. (See www.airshipstothearctic.com.)
2) It is the result of honest inquiry. The science spoke. The interests spoke. The people spoke. The issues were analyzed. The plan is the outcome. It is not the result of pre-determined politics, like the Yukon government’s “Eight Principles.”
3) It respects relationships and core interests. Most importantly, the relationship of the First Nations with the Yukon government through the UFA planning process is respected. The interests of the First Nations in their traditional homeland are respected. The interests of renewable resource businesses and non-renewable resource businesses are respected. The stated views and interests of the Yukon people are respected. No sector or interest got exactly what it wanted; no sector or interest was shut out.
4) It is economically sound. Our current economy is one of full employment and prosperity. There is no demonstrable need to open the Peel to industrial development at this time. This would only harm existing outfitting and tourism businesses, endanger wildlife resources, discredit land use planning and embitter relations with the First Nations. The plan is like an RRSP: all the values remain and get more valuable. The future value of the resources in the Peel can only go up. Their higher future value can profitably cover the increased costs of responsible access.
5) It is scientifically sound. The science of conservation biology emphasizes the importance to wildlife of maintaining large intact habitats, unfragmented by roads, trails, and pipelines. Just read the papers: wildlife in much of the Yukon is under pressure wherever roads and access exist and it is getting worse in the present staking boom. Until we learn to balance development and wildlife better, it is prudent to leave the Peel intact.
And finally it is our legacy.
If we “develop” the Peel now with roads, our grandchildren will never have any choices in the matter – and it is certain that there will be few if any roadless areas left for them. The plan offers a way to develop the mineral potential of the Peel – by air access – without destroying the value that makes this such a keenly contested place – its roadlessness.
At the end of our days when we stand before our Creator or perhaps our unborn descendants, how will we answer this question: “Did you leave the world a better place?”
David Loeks is chairman of the
Peel Watershed Planning Commission.