Yukon's Peel River Watershed Campaign
The Yukon's Peel Watershed is home to the greatest constellation of wild mountain rivers in North America. Almost seven times larger than Yellowstone or Jasper national parks, the area supports both abundant northern wildlife populations and ancient First Nation cultures. It is the northern anchor of the Y2Y vision of a network of protected areas connected by wildlife movement corridors. If legislated according to recent recommendations, the Peel would be the largest protected area in the Y2Y region.
Photo: Juri Peepre
Threatened by Mining
For years, the remote and rugged nature of the Peel landscape protected it from industrial development. But, the skyrocketing price of minerals triggered a hike in mineral claims.
For the past four years a mineral staking moratorium halted development while the Yukon government proceeded with public consultations to determine how much of the area to develop.
An independent, government-appointed commission took six years to carefully consult and consider the consequences to increased development in this region.
On July 25th, 2011 the Peel Watershed Planning Commission produced a final plan that recommended the permanent protection of 55 per cent and interim protection for an additional 25 per cent of the 67,500 square kilometers Peel River Watershed.
The plan was supported by the four First Nations living in the area (Na-cho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Vuntut Gwitchin and Gwich’in Tribal Council), as well as environmental and conservation groups.
Additionally, 94% of those who participated in the Yukon government’s public consultations supported the Planning Commission's recommendations on the future of the Peel watershed. And of these, 82% came from the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Open for Development
Despite this overwhelming support, the Yukon government lifted the four-year moratorium on mining on January 22, 2014 and adopted its own unilaterally developed plan for the region, which opens up most of the watershed to roads and industrial development. Yukon Government’s plan leaves 71 per cent of the watershed open for mineral staking and industrial development and in the remaining 29% of `protected areas’, all-season roads are allowed to be develop by existing mining claimants.
What Does this Mean for Wildlife?
The Yukon Government’s decision was a huge setback for First Nations and for wide-ranging wildlife like grizzly bears, wolverines and caribou, which need large intact landscapes to survive. As the Earth faces a new phase of climate change, the Peel Watershed could still become what scientists call a "refugia"–a large, connected and naturally functioning ecosystem providing survivable conditions for species likely to become imperilled elsewhere. And as anyone who lives south of the 60th parallel knows, opportunities to set aside such “refugia” are exceedingly rare and need to be seized.
Yukon Supreme Court Case
On January 27, 2014, our Yukon partners, along with two northern First Nations, launched a legal suit against the Yukon Government, demanding it adopt the recommendations of the constitutionally mandated process.
In a historic decision on December 1, 2014, the court ruled that the Yukon government's latest land-use plan for the Peel did not respect agreements with First Nations, and that they must consult again before development planning proceeds.
Uncertainly still exists in the region, since the government may still appeal the ruling. Y2Y is continuing to support efforts in the Peel through public outreach and a 2014 partner grant.
Stay tuned for more updates.
Protect the Peel
David Suzuki shares his insights on why the Yukon's Peel watershed requires protection.
An alliance of Canadian conservation groups, including Yukon-based organizations, First Nations and tourism operators, is making tangible progress toward protecting the Peel River Watershed. Through the joint Protect the Peel campaign, action alerts, petitions and letters to the government, the alliance seeks show the Yukon Government that the entire continent is paying attention, and supports the final recommendations made by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.
October 27, 2014 - Judge reserves decision in Yukon Peel watershed battle
A coalition of First Nations and environmental groups is pitted against the Yukon government over how development will be controlled in the region. Click here to read the story.
July 11, 2014 - Peel watershed trial wraps up
The historic trial over the fate of the Peel watershed ended just before noon on Thursday. While the outcome of the case will determine how much wilderness will be open to industrial development, the central question of the trial was not about conservation. Learn more...
June 25, 2014 - We'll see you in court
Thomas Berger is headed north again, this time to argue for greater protection for the Peel River watershed. Click here for the full article.
May 6, 2014 - Yukon party won't cancel mineral claims in the Peel
The Yukon government says it won't be cancelling mineral claims in protected areas of the Peel Watershed. Scott Kent, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, says cancelling claims would create a series of lawsuits and demands. More...
April 2, 2014 - Caribou Legs launches Inuvik to Whitehorse run
An extreme marathoner from Inuvik, N.W.T. officially launched an epic run today to raise awareness about potential development in the Peel watershed. Click here to read the CBC story.
February 17, 2014 - Tarsis Resources still working in protected Peel watershed
The Yukon Government says it has no intention of adjusting the Peel Land Use Plan. Read more...
February 7, 2014 - Protecting more than a postage-stamp sized ecosystem
Yukon First Nations and Yukon-based environmental organizations are taking legal action to secure protections for the Peel River Watershed, an area seven times the size of Yellowstone National Park, against the expansion of new mineral staking and oil and gas development. Click here to read the full story.
February 4, 2014 - First Nations are in the fight of their lives with the Yukon Government
A little less than two weeks ago, the Yukon government announced that it would open most of the Peel River Watershed -- a wilderness the size of New Brunswick -- to mining and other development. Learn more.
February 3, 2014 - Development in Yukon's Peel River watershed provokes controversy
Activists gathered last Wednesday in several communities in the Canadian territories of Yukon and Northwest Territories to stage coordinated protests opposing plans to develop the Peel watershed. Click here to learn more.
January 29, 2014 - Peel plan protesters rally across Yukon and N.W.T.
Protesters gathered across the Yukon and N.W.T. today to show their opposition to the Yukon government's land-use plan for the Peel watershed. Read more...
January 27, 2014 - Growing criticism of the Yukon government's Peel watershed decision
On Tuesday the Yukon government largely rejected the recommendation from the Peel Watershed Planning Commission asking that 80% of the land be made up of conservation areas. The Yukon government opted for 29% protection. Click here to read the full article.
January 24, 2014 - First Nations announce Peel lawsuit.
First Nations will sue the Yukon government over its handling of the Peel plan. Thomas Berger, a famed expert in Canadian aboriginal law, will lead the suit, the First Nations announced Friday. Read more...
January 24, 2014 - Yukon government opens vast wilderness to mining
Canada's Yukon Territory announced on Tuesday that it has opened one of the largest unbroken wilderness areas in North America to mining and mineral exploration. Click here to read this National Geographic story.
January 21, 2014 - Yukon releases its Peel River watershed land-use plan
Plan calls for 29 per cent of land to be protected, lower than commission called for. Learn more.
January 20, 2014 - Yukon Government readies Peel Watershed decision
The Yukon government is set to announce a decision that could be remembered as its legacy, and set the course for the territory's future development.
Read the full CBC article...
August 7, 2013 - Robert Kennedy Jr. wades into the Peel debate
When Robert Kennedy Jr. came to Whitehorse to paddle the Alsek River and talk about resource extraction, a few hundred people showed up at the Yukon Arts Centre to hear what he had to say. Learn more...
November 9, 2012 - Tourism and Environment sidelined on Peel
The Yukon Liberal Party has uncovered more evidence that the departments of Tourism and the Environment were ignored by their political masters during the Peel planning process. Click here to read the full Yukon News article.
November 2, 2012 - Tr'ondek chief dismisses new Peel plans
The First Nations involved with the Peel planning process want the government to retract their new plans, said Chief Eddie Taylor of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in. Read more.
October 29, 2012 - Yukon could be dragged to court over Peel
The First Nations involved with the Peel planning process are ready for a legal battle if the Yukon government does not live up to its treaty obligations. Click here to read the article.
October 24, 2012 - Yukon unveils revised Peel watershed plan
The Yukon government unveiled its version of a land-use plan for the Peel watershed on Tuesday, and it’s designed to accommodate more development. Read the CBC article here.
September 5, 2012 - Youth group keeps miners out of Yukon Watershed
Members of the Peel Youth Alliance (PYA, a group of young Yukoners) are celebrating “a crucial victory” by announcing the Yukon Government has agreed to extend a controversial mining staking ban in the Peel Watershed. Learn more here.
May 13, 2012 - The Yukon's gold rush shows no signs of slowing, but environmentalists fear for watershed's safety
More than 20% of the Yukon’s land mass is set aside for potential resource exploitation. This season that is expected to increase to 30%. More...
May 10, 2012 - Peel protesters rally outside Yukon legislature
More than 100 Yukoners concerned about the Peel Watershed rallied outside the legislature Thursday on the last day of the spring sitting. Read more.
The Yukon legislature shut down briefly Wednesday when two dozen young people protested the government’s plan for the Peel River watershed. Read the full CBC article here.
March 7, 2012 - Peel region at risk as Yukon Government disregards planning commission's recommendations
To the dismay of many Yukoners, the Peel Watershed, one of the world's largest and most pristine ecosystems, may soon be opened to increased development. Read more.
February 21, 2012 - Yukon outfitters angry over Peel plan
Some Yukon outfitters are speaking out against the Yukon government's new plan for the Peel region. They're angry over the ruling Yukon Party's decision to leave most of the region open for mining and other development. Read the CBC News article here.
February 16, 2012 - Groups disappointed in Yukon government's Peel plan
Two separate groups say they are disappointed in the Yukon Government's announcement that it will not ban development in the Peel region. Learn more.
February 15, 2012 - Yukon won't ban mining in Peel watershed
In an abrupt about face, the Yukon Government announced that mineral exploration and development, with associated road networks, will be allowed to proceed in the Peel and that only a minority of the watershed will be protected. Click here to read the news story and here to read the response from the Yukon Conservation Society and CPAWS-Yukon.
January 10, 2012 - Highlights: Final recommended Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan
October 5, 2011 - Pasloski misleading public on Peel, say First Nations
The Yukon Party is misleading voters when it says it can't share its position on the Peel watershed plan until consultations are completed, four First Nation leaders say in an open letter to Yukoners. More...
September 26, 2011 - Land use planning, Peel top NDP priorities: Hanson
Land use planning and protection of the Peel watershed would be given top priority if the NDP forms the next Yukon government, party leader Liz Hanson told a news conference Monday. Read the CBC article here.
September 26, 2011 - Posloski to skip environmental forum
The leader of Yukon Party, Darrell Pasloski, has decided to take part in an all-party environment forum tonight in Whitehorse afterall. Read the CBC article here.
September 22, 2011 - Liberals reiterate Peel watershed plan support
August 20, 2011 - As industry encroaches, Yukoners make last stand to preserve unspoiled wilderness
Yukon government records show there were 8,431 mining claims staked in the Peel watershed at the start of this year. Star columnist, Paul Watson, tours the Peel Watershed to see what is at stake if the moratorium on mining was removed. Read Paul's article here.
August 19, 2011 - A majestic Yukon where humans are still outsiders
Star columnist, Paul Watson, looks at the pending fate of the Peel Watershed, the implications of it being an election issue and the perspective of those who wish to save it. Read more.
August 1, 2011 - David Suzuki demands full Peel watershed protection
One of Canada's most prominent environmentalists, David Suzuki, is wading into the debate over the protection of Yukon's Peel River watershed. Read the CBC article here.
July 27, 2011 - Peel planners stick to their guns
The Peel Watershed Planning Commission's work is done. Its final recommendations, released July 25th, 2011, stick with earlier plans to protect four-fifths of the vast, Scotland-sized swath of northeast Yukon. Read the Yukon News article in full.
July 22, 2011 - How long will Canada's final frontier stay wild?
In this Globe and Mail article, Bruce Kirkby articulates the threat to Canada's northern frontier and one of Y2Y's priority areas—the Yukon's Peel Watershed. For decades conservation groups have been warning the region needs protection. Soon the Yukon government will face a difficult decision. Learn more about the recommendations the government will either choose to accept or ignore.