wading into the wind river

Every now and then issues surface in the public debate with ironic timing. Consider the call to the public to donate socks for the homeless just…

Every now and then issues surface in the public debate with ironic timing.

Consider the call to the public to donate socks for the homeless just before Christmas.

Meanwhile Yukon politicians gave themselves a hearty pay raise. And $36.5 million in public money (that could have bought plenty of socks and a homeless as well) was invested in a stock-market gamble.

The recent debate that caught my ear out here in the woods was about the winter road into Cash Minerals’ uranium exploration site on the Wind River.

With the current boom in mineral prices (to our disappointment the stock-market turmoil in recent days turned out not be the beginning of the bust cycle yet), living out in the bush gives us a similar perspective as maybe the bears, caribou or moose would have.

As well, we feel a completely unscientific sinking-gut feeling about the frequency of plane and helicopter traffic, which might translate into an exploration camp in the neighbourhood.

The trapper living closest to us experienced the aggravating reverberations of a diamond drill going 24 hours a day in his valley last summer; now if that set his teeth on edge, I imagine the animals would react similarly.

So for me, a person who lives out in the woods for the sheer joy of it, there was an amazing poignancy in hearing about the approved winter road into the Wind River area.

At the same time, it was made clear that recently staked mineral claims within Whitehorse city limits, on cross-country ski trails, stand no chance to be developed.

Apparently, the city now wants to implement a no-staking policy within its borders.

While this beautifully illustrates the power that people in sufficient numbers exert to prevent the nasty sound of a drill from intruding into the outskirts of a city (without even so much as launching a campaign), it also speaks of a total lack of care and value for an area as wild and intact as the Wind River.

Out of sight, out of mind!

Thanks to a land policy across Canada that invites the profit-driven occupation of wild areas while making year-round living there just for the enjoyment of it impossible, places like the Wind River find themselves without any local advocates.

The argument about jobs and the economy is fondly brought forward by the people elected into public office, as if there was no other way to employ people.

It seems that the main goal of impact-assessment of industrial projects is to facilitate development by a variety of mitigation measures, and that the inherent value that silence on a wild river, unimpeded game paths and undisturbed soil and water have are not taken into consideration.

Yet the wild areas are intricate, and made up of rambunctious caribou calves, profuse wildflowers and a scent in the air that can’t be put into numbers.

I think that it is necessary for humans to retain wilderness areas for reasons in addition to the often-cited.

We have evolved and lived for almost the entire span of human history in close contact with wild ecosystems; it is what shaped us into the species we are, and it is only very recently that we have morphed into the cancer-ridden, obese techno-junkies who keep searching for happiness and a deeper meaning in their stress-filled lives.

I believe that we need nature at a deep level, that our relationship with it is part of what makes us human. Who doesn’t like sitting around a campfire, listening to birds singing or watching a sunset?

At the same time, maybe we, or many of us, are hard-wired to always crave the latest gadget and fashion on the market — sort of a remnant greed from our cave-dwelling days when a nifty set of flint stones or bow and arrow would mean a much better chance at survival.

However, our modern mindless consumerism is eating up the remaining wild spaces at a voracious pace and areas like the Wind River become just another theatre in which the stock market game of exploration company share trading is played — at the expense of our heritage — for glass beads and trinkets modern style.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.