Notes from the North

A little good news from the Yukon.


Past articles on rabble.ca have highlighted the ongoing debate over land-use planning in the north-east Yukon.


This approximately 68,000 square kilometer watershed is known as the Peel Watershed and certainly deserves careful land-use planning due to the environmental, wilderness and traditional use values.


After long and careful deliberation and consultation with Yukoners the Peel Watershed Planning Commission has just issued its recommended plan.


They have recommended a plan that responds to Yukoners' desire to protect a significant amount of this unique place.


At the same time the plan allows for some development.


This is a plan that responds to the need to strike a balance between development and conservation. It does so effectively and with foresight, and an obvious understanding of the values and resources of the area.


The plan recommends Special Management Area status for about 80 per cent of the entire area.


This is a land use zone that in turn can then be converted into protected areas, wildlife management areas, wilderness preserves etc.


These Special Management Areas are the basic tool for protection in the Yukon under First Nation land claims agreements.


The remaining 20 per cent of the Peel Watershed would be designated Integrated Management Areas.


This is where industrial development would be allowed.


Now there are existing mining claims throughout the entire watershed, both in the Special Management and Integrated Management Areas.


The plan recommends allowing most of the existing mining claims to continue to exist, but would not allow road access to them.


Road access would require an amendment to the Land-Use plan which would require considerable First Nations and public consultation.


Especially sensitive areas such as the Snake River, the upper Blackstone River, the Richardson Mountains, and the Turner Lake wetlands are recommended for full wilderness protection.


Total full "Protection" status within the SMA designation is about 31 per cent of the whole area.

One of the most important recommendations is for all further mineral staking in the Special Management Areas to stop.


In the Yukon, with its antiquated free-entry system of mineral staking, this is a big progressive step forward.


In these areas it is recommended that no new roads, even winter roads, be allowed.


The plan also recommends that the Wind River Trail no longer be considered an existing legal road.


A proposed upgrade of the Wind River Trail for use as a winter road for uranium mining exploration caused huge controversy about a year ago.


It is worth noting that the plan calls for a moratorium on any and all uranium mining.

Existing mining claims and oil and gas lease areas are recognized and stay as is, but access will only be allowed by air, or through a specific plan amendment.

The plan is very explicit in its direct links to First Nation Land Claims Agreements, and therein lays its real strength.


Those who have used the land for millennia finally get a say in what happens on the land.

Of course, the Peel Watershed Land Use Plan now has to be accepted by the affected First Nation Governments and the Yukon Territorial Government.


Three affected First nations have called for full protection of the peel watershed, but it is the Yukon government that has the final decision power over the future of the vast majority of the watershed.


We will have to wait to see whether all the areas of importance to First Nations have been captured.


The Yukon Territorial Government has said that they support the work of this commission.


The first step in showing this support needs to the yukon Government declaring a legal moratorium on mineral staking in the Peel Watershed until the plan is finalized.


Let us hope the Yukon Government will respect the commission's recommendations, and engage in good faith in the process of negotiating a final plan with the affected First Nations.


Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist. His work centers around Yukon recycling, energy and mining issues and he is also responsible for a weekly column in one of the local newspapers.

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.