Hikers rest at Mount MacDonald, near the Snake River in the Peel Watershed. The Yukon government says the final step for coming up with a completed land use plan for the watershed is expected to take about a year. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

Yukon government preps for round of consultations on Peel watershed

Supreme Court of Canada forbid major changes to the planning commission’s final recommended plan

The Yukon government says the last step before coming up with a final land use plan for the Peel River watershed is expected to take about a year.

That would mark the end of a process that dates back to 2004 and was contentious enough to end up in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver and the ministers of environment and energy, mines and resources met with chiefs from the the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Vuntut Gwitchin, and Nacho Nyak Dun First Nations as well as vice president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council this week.

On Jan. 30, Jesse Devost, spokesperson for the Department of Energy Mines and Resources, said all sides confirmed their support of the Peel planning commission’s final recommended plan.

At the meeting, the leaders decided to create a committee that will be responsible for coming up with a plan for one last round of consultations.

“Once the consultation is complete those parties will get together and work together on approving a final plan,” Devost said.

The process is estimated to take about a year, he said.

Late last year the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the former Yukon government overstepped when it released a plan for the Peel watershed in 2014 that was radically different from the recommended plan produced after the Peel Watershed Planning Commission’s years of work.

The Yukon Party government’s plan would have meant 71 per cent of the Peel watershed was open for mineral exploration with 29 per cent protected. That’s compared to 80 per cent protected and 20 per cent open for mineral exploration under the commission’s final recommended plan.

The First Nations and environmental groups took the government to court.

After years of legal battles, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled all sides had to go back to consult on the commission’s final recommended plan again. The Yukon government has the authority to make minor modifications to the plan but can’t change the plan “so significantly as to effectively reject it.”

The Liberals have promised to accept the final report of the original Peel planning commission. Silver has previously said ideas for any minor tweaks would not come from the territorial government.

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph said the court made it clear that substantive changes would not be allowed.

“We would be waiting for the plan to go through the consultation process and see what sort of recommendations are made by citizens and the public to take that into consideration,” she said.

There’s no details yet on when the consultations will start, Devost said.

“We’re really pleased that we’re finally at this stage where we’re starting to move forward and that we’re really happy that Yukon government is working with the First Nations on this and we look forward to this process being completed,” Joseph said.

A celebration of the Supreme Court of Canada victory is happening Feb. 2 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre from 4:30 pm to 11 pm. The evening will include speeches, a fire lighting, a water ceremony and story sharing circle as well as dinner, live music and dancing.

With files from Jackie Hong

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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