After ten months of public comment on the Peel Watershed Land Use Plan, the final recommendations prepared by the Planning Commission will now be appraised by the Yukon and First Nations governments, with a decision expected in the new year. In a far-sighted plan, the Commission called for 80% of the watershed to be protected, including well known major tributaries such as the Wind, Snake, Bonnet Plume and Hart rivers. Even so, the Nacho Nyak Dun and Tr’on dek Hwech’in First Nations say their goal is to protect 100% of the Peel watershed, a message that was re-enforced in well attended community meetings in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
The majority of northerners and many other Canadians, have spoken clearly and forcefully about their desire to protect the Peel watershed – this was the dominant message conveyed during 8 public events held earlier this fall, and in submissions to the Yukon government. At the Mayo meeting, Elder Jimmy Johnny said,
“It doesn’t matter how much money the mining and exploration companies bring into the Yukon, what matters is the water, the fish, the people.” (quoted by Mary Walden in http://peelwatershed.blogspot.com/ )
In response, the Yukon government has begun its campaign of fear to discredit the publicly supported conservation plan, and tout the old “multiple use” solution of industrial development “balanced” by an absolute minimum of protection. One hapless Minister went so far as to suggest singling out the tourism industry for a tax to pay for protecting wilderness – he later withdrew his remarks after a strong reaction from the community. Robert Alexie Sr., at a meeting in Ft. McPherson, offered a much more robust interpretation on the economics of conservation when he said, “If we leave that alone, if its protected, our people will be wealthy for the rest of their lives.”
The public consultation period may be over, but the political conversation has warmed up – and the public, conservation organization, First Nations community, and tourism industry voices still need to be heard until the Yukon government finally gets the point: Yukon people and Canadians from across the land want to protect the Peel watershed! It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity for this government to create a permanent and priceless legacy for people, and for the wild life of the Yukon’s celebrated boreal mountains and waters.
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