Last Thursday’s signing of the Peel land use plan was historic, say the two environmental groups that were heavily involved in lobbying for maximum wilderness protection through the region.
The Yukon Conservation Society (YCS) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Yukon issued a press release congratulating the Yukon government and the four First Nations for signing off on the final land use plan.
“This historic day is the culmination of a 30-year campaign highlighting the cultural and ecological value of the Peel Watershed by CPAWS Yukon and YCS,” said the release.
“For nearly three decades, CPAWS Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society have worked hard to help people around the world fall in love with the Peel,” said Chris Rider, the executive director of CPAWS Yukon.
“Our goal has always been to support the First Nations in their efforts to protect this iconic landscape. Today we achieved that goal.”
The land use plan provides wilderness protection over 55,858 square kilometres or 83 per cent of the 67,431-square-kilometre planning region.
The remaining 11,573 square kilometres, located primarily along the Dempster Highway, allow for development.
“Whole ecosystem conservation opportunities are few and far between,” Mike Walton, the YCS’s executive director, said in the release.
“The campaign to protect the Peel represents an incredible chance to safeguard our land. Over 55,000 km2 of new protected area announced today is a boon for conservation efforts and is an example of conservation done right.”
The signing ceremony was held in Mayo last Thursday. Each of the four First Nation leaders and Premier Sandy Silver took turns speaking of what they described as a significant accomplishment for the environment and future generations.
The planning process for the Peel watershed region began in 2004. It wrapped up earlier this year following a December 2017 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The high court upheld the findings that the former Yukon Party government had failed to act honourably during the negotiations of the land use plan. It instructed the government to accept the plan recommended by the planning commission in 2011, and to conduct a final round of
consultation before finalizing it.
As the Star reported Friday, executive director Samson Hartland of the Yukon Chamber of Mines has suggested it’s quite likely exploration and mining companies will be seeking financial compensation because the plan essentially expropriates their existing mineral claims in the
The industry is looking for the government to speak to the matter of compensation, he said.
The premier, however, said in a press conference following the signing ceremony the Yukon government is not contemplating compensation.
The Peel land use process ignited a long and passionate debate over the future of the Peel.
The joint press release issued by the environmental groups indicates more than 3,000 responses were received during the final round of public consultation late last year.
Ninety-six per cent of those who filed submissions called for maximum wilderness protection, says the release.
“The significance of the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan will continue beyond just the planning area,” says the release.
“The focus on conserving spaces with ecological and cultural values and having joint decision-making between First Nations and (the) Yukon government sets an important benchmark for future land use plans in the Yukon.”