The territory lost one of its most celebrated conservationists this week.
A friend of Juri Peepre confirmed he died last Sunday. Peepre was in his mid-60s.
He had been suffering from lung cancer for at least four years, and had moved to Windermere, B.C.
Peepre was the founder and first executive director of the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), after he and his wife moved to the Yukon in the late 1980s.
Chris Rider, the current executive director of CPAWS, said Tuesday that to fill Peepre’s shoes is “a huge understatement.”
While he hadn’t met Peepre in person often, Rider said his legacy will be remembered as one of collaboration, particularly with First Nation groups.
“He was instrumental in pulling people together in building relationships” around issues of mutual importance, Rider told the Star.
One of those projects was the Peel watershed campaign, which started off as the Three Rivers campaign. Seeing the need to protect the entire area, Peepre led the organization to begin advocating for greater protection.
“He realized that it was important to have a number of different voices speaking out to ensure the protection of wilderness,” Rider said.
He added hat he admired Peepre for listening to concerns “at a time when conservation was still very colonialist.”
He served as the director of the chapter until 2004, but kept in touch with many of the issues in the Yukon.
“Without his efforts, we wouldn’t be where we are, there would be no way,” Rider said.
As for his part, Rider said he hopes “to be able to say that Peel watershed is protected in the not so distant future,” in honour of Peepre’s legacy.
Peepre was also inducted into the Order of Canada in 2014 for his work, something Rider recalled as brave.
During the 1990s, Peepre and the chapter backed First Nations and called for the Peel watershed to be fully protected.
After seven years of consultation, the Peel Watershed Planning Commission finally recommended in 2009 that staking be disallowed in just over 80 per cent of the area.
Rider recalled the stake-out at Snake Lake as “a bit cheeky” when reflecting on stories he’d heard.
“It wasn’t really something that was done at that time, apparently people were saying you can’t do that,” he said.
It was that bravery, paired with his passion for the cause, that would win Peepre the highest civilian honour.
“That’s a huge deal for conservationist, I don’t think there’s too many conservationists who have been awarded such a huge order,” Rider said of the Order of Canada.
Jill Pangman, a close friend of Peepre’s, said she hopes the conservationist serves as an inspiration for younger generations to come.
“The legacy from the Yukon perspective is starting negotiations and CPAWS, and having that vision of seeing what an incredible area that Peel watershed was,” she said.
Having the “vision and tenacity to start” such an important task was what she especially admired about him.
“That was the kernel of it: it became close to the heart of so many people,” she added.
“It’s incredible to think over the course of his life, the Peel watershed was something very few people thought needed protection,” Rider continued.
Now, he noted, as of last year, it was one of the top issues in the territorial election.
In 2014, Pangman said, Peepre began experiencing symptoms in his lungs during the summer.
She added that he had a family history of cancer, and after being diagnosed later in the fall, he eventually began chemotherapy.
But it soon spread to his spine and lower back, reducing him to a wheelchair in his last months.
Peepre also had a number of publications.
In addition to offering fully guided trips of the Snake, he authored Wild Rivers of the Yukon: Peel Watershed: A Traveller’s Guide and The Yukon’s Great Boreal Wilderness.
Pangman said friends are hoping to hold a celebration of life for Peepre in the coming months, though details have yet to be confirmed.
Born in Ontario, he also worked in other areas, including B.C. and Alberta.
He leaves behind his wife, Sarah Locke, and son Alex.