Wilderness should be sacrosanct, says Suzuki

REVISED David Suzuki supports protecting the Peel Watershed, even though he admits he knows very little about the region. "I can't speak as anyone who knows anything other than what I've read about the Peel," Suzuki said on Friday


David Suzuki supports protecting the Peel Watershed, even though he admits he knows very little about the region.

“I can’t speak as anyone who knows anything other than what I’ve read about the Peel,” Suzuki said on Friday, noting his eagerness to set out on a two-week paddle of the Hart River with his family. “My excitement about experiencing the Peel is that, increasingly around the world, large, intact wilderness is disappearing.

“In the United States, several years ago, I read that south of the 49th parallel the farthest you can get away from a road is 18 miles. The idea of wilderness, a really large, intact area without roads, is a pretty rare thing in North America today.”

But Suzuki’s admission he knows little of the Scotland-size area of the territory did not undermine his case for its full protection because of two things.

First, Suzuki asserts no such wilderness in the world should be touched anymore.

And second, even the people who are in charge of managing the area know little about it, he said.

“I guarantee you, you could send an entomologist out into the Peel and every day find a new species. We just don’t know anything. So how can anyone talk about managing nature? We don’t have a clue.

“An area like the Peel is a hedge against our ignorance. It’s the one place where we can maybe find out how nature does it. Without that, we’ve got no base at all.”

And allowing even a little bit of development in the area is too much of a compromise, he said.

“There will be an impact that will alter that, even if only 20 per cent is invaded,” he said.

The white, curly hair on top of his head bounced as he vigorously shook his head when asked about allowing roads into the area.

“Roads bring a whole ideology with them,” he said. “Roads are accompanied by all kinds of further intrusions and developments. Roads are a key to the destruction.”

Humanity’s perceptions are screwed up, he said.

Without the vital services nature provides, mankind cannot exist, he said.

“So long as the Yukon government or the BC government or the Canadian government thinks the economy is the highest priority and everything else must be subordinate to that, we’re hooped. It’s just wrong. It’s destructive. We are animals. And as animals, if we don’t have clean air, clean water, clean soil, we’re hooped. Our highest priority is to protect the very life-support systems of the planet. Then we say, ‘Hmm, how do we create an economy, based on protecting those things?’ And that’s the shift that’s needed.”

This insight came clear in Suzuki’s own mind during the early days of The Nature of Things, when he met with the Haida Gwaii First Nation.

The aboriginal group had reached a point of militarization in their fight against logging in their traditional islands off the coast of British Columbia.

Suzuki was told not to patronize their beliefs by saying their description of “Mother Earth” was a nice and poetic metaphor.

It was literal.

They told him without the nature, as their ancestors knew it, they would be just like anyone else.

It was the same relationship described to him years later by indigenous groups in the Amazon and Serengeti.

And on Friday, Suzuki heard the same thing from northern First Nations.

“It’s a sign of hope that somebody with that much experience and that knowledge is coming out to help us preserve something that’s been part of us ever since the beginning of time,” said Wade Vaneltsi, a 19-year-old of the Tetlit Gwitch’in First Nation, one of the four aboriginal groups with land inside the Peel region.

“It clearly shows we’re on the right track, in terms of saving the environment, by keeping the Peel Watershed healthy,” said Chief Eddie Taylor of the Trondek Hwech’in First Nation. “But we knew all along we were on the right track.”

While fielding questions from the audience, Suzuki mentioned he was thinking of doing a television show about the Peel.

Both the Yukon Conservation Society and the territory’s branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society are footing the bill for the float planes in and out of the Peel for the Suzuki family. Film crews will accompany them on the trip.

Both the Yukon government and the affected First Nations agreed to work towards a final plan for the northeastern region of the territory by November.

See related story on page 16.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com