Call of the Wild North
by Juri Peepre, in collaboration with the Yukon Conservation Society
Located at the northern end of the Rocky and Mackenzie Mountains chain, the Peel watershed forms the heart of a great boreal and sub-arctic ecosystem. Defined by a constellation of wild mountain rivers – the Ogilvie, Blackstone, Hart, Wind, Snake, and Bonnet Plume – this vast primeval wilderness serves as a global benchmark of intact predator-prey and aquatic ecosystems.
Wildlife that are at risk elsewhere roam free here, including grizzly bears, wolverines, wolves, Dall sheep, and woodland caribou. The watershed also provides essential winter range to the barrenground Porcupine Caribou Herd, which spends the summer raising calves in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Extensive wetlands in the Peel basin serve as migratory waterfowl nesting and staging areas, and provide habitat for birds of prey and a host of shorebirds and neo-tropical songbirds. Parts of the watershed remained ice-free during the last Ice Age, contributing to the unusual plant and animal communities found here today. Given the rate of climate change, the area may once again become a vital “refugium,” providing habitat for species likely to become imperiled elsewhere.
Appointed by both territorial and First Nations governments, the independent Peel Watershed Planning Commission prepared, with broad public input, a land use plan calling for 80 percent protection in the region. First Nations seek 100 percent protection of the watershed, emphatically stating that they are determined to shield the area from industrial activities. Polls show the majority of Yukon residents also strongly favour conservation. Yet even with this compelling case and support for protection, the current Yukon government wants to build roads and open this remote wilderness to speculative – and risky – oil, gas, and mineral exploration and development.
Designated as a high priority for conservation action, the Peel watershed is the northern anchor of the Y2Y Initiative, connecting boreal forests, arctic tundra, and alpine habitats. The Yukon Conservation Society and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon Chapter are leading a vigorous campaign to persuade elected officials to adopt the recommendations of the First Nations and Planning Commission. Protecting the entire 68,000 km2 Peel watershed in the Yukon would double the amount of protected lands in the Y2Y region since this initiative was launched in 1997, and place the Peel watershed alongside iconic parks such as Banff, Jasper and Yellowstone National Parks. A final decision on the recommended land use plan is expected by October, 2011. To learn more visit Protect the Peel.
Please help us demonstrate widespread support for this important Y2Y conservation goal. Be part of the solution: sign the Peel Watershed Statement of Support here.
Photo: Juri Peepre