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Landmark Supreme Court decision means protection for Peel Watershed

Y2Y congratulates Yukon First Nations and environmental groups on their landmark victory at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Decision advances guidance for implementation of modern treaties across Canada

MEDIA RELEASE | Dec. 1, 2017

Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) congratulates Yukon First Nations and environmental groups on today’s landmark victory at the Supreme Court of Canada.

This decision clears the path for the protection of one of North America’s largest intact ecosystems, the Peel Watershed in northeastern Yukon. It also informs land use planning across the Yukon, and clarifies how modern treaties will be interpreted across Canada.

The highest court in Canada has ruled that the Yukon government must complete final consultations on a land use plan that recommends protecting 80 per cent of the Peel watershed, which is the northern anchor of the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor. This follows moves by the previous leadership of the Yukon government that would have protected just 29 per cent of the Peel, opening the rest to industrial development, and betraying its constitutional obligations.

“This is a huge victory for Yukon First Nations and a cause for environmental celebration on a global scale,” says Candace Batycki, Y2Y program director. “As the northern anchor for the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation corridor, the Peel provides increasingly crucial habitats to iconic and rare species, as climate change and habitat loss threaten North American wildlife. Y2Y has been proud to support our Yukon partners in many ways, for many years, including on this case, and we offer our deepest congratulations to them all.

“The current Yukon government has committed to implementing the Final Recommendation Land Use Plan for the Peel, and once the final consultations are completed, as ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada today, we expect them to do just that,” says Batycki. “This decision provides clear guidance as to how the Yukon government and First Nations are to work together in the spirit of reconciliation.”

The Peel Watershed is one of largest undeveloped natural areas in North America. The 68,000 square kilometres of rugged wilderness is larger than New Brunswick. The watershed lies within the traditional territories of three Yukon First Nations — Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation, the First Nation of Na Cho Nyäk Dän, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation — as well as the Tetlit Gwich’in in the neighbouring Northwest Territories, all of whom have relied on the Peel for physical and cultural nourishment for millennia.

Today’s ruling is the culmination of a three-year legal battle between a coalition of the affected Yukon First Nations, who partnered with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon Chapter and the Yukon Conservation Society to take Yukon government to court over their lack of integrity during the land use planning process.

“It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this ruling, from either an ecological or reconciliation perspective,” says Batycki.

“First Nations and their lands and waters are inextricable from each other. For reconciliation, for caribou, for grizzlies, for migratory birds, for the climate, for the future of land-use decision-making, and for the Yellowstone to Yukon vision, this decision is just fantastic.”

For further comment please contact:

Candace Batycki, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative B.C. and Yukon program manager, , 250-352-3830