Deciding the Fate of Yukon’s Peel Watershed
Y2Y supports First Nations and conservation partners in the Yukon as they take the Peel Watershed Case to Canada’s Supreme Court.
The Yukon’s Peel Watershed is a sprawling, intact wilderness that forms the northern anchor of the Yellowstone to Yukon region.
At 26,000 square miles (68,000 square kilometers), the Peel is seven times larger than either Yellowstone or Jasper National Parks. Its mountainous ecosystems are home to abundant grizzly bears, wolves and caribou, as well as migratory birds and rare plant populations, and its pristine river valleys drain roughly 14 percent of the entire Yukon Territory, ultimately emptying north into the Arctic Ocean via the Mackenzie River Delta.
As the Earth’s climate heats up, this awe-inspiring landscape will be one of the last large, interconnected and naturally functioning ecosystems available for wildlife species to find a refuge in rapidly changing conditions. But that’s only if we protect it.
For years, despite overwhelming opposition from the public, the Yukon Government has been trying to open up 70 percent of the Peel Watershed to industrial development—an effort that has landed the territorial government in long-term court battles with First Nations and local conservation groups.
Last June, it was confirmed that this legal battle would ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, in a case pitting the Yukon Government against the First Nations of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and Vuntut Gwitchin, along with Y2Y partners—CPAWS Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society.
“This pristine wilderness, caribou habitat and ecosystems are an essential element of our very existence,” says Chief Bruce Charlie from the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. “The integrity of our agreements will be clarified once and for all, and will stand the test of time.”
The landmark case will surely have repercussions extending far beyond the Peel region. “It's extremely important for the people and wildlife of the Yukon, but it will also affect land-use planning throughout Canada as well,” says Candace Batycki, Y2Y’s B.C. and Yukon Program Director. “We look forward to a decision that upholds the integrity of the Final Agreements reached between First Nations, Canada and the Yukon Government in 1993, and evolves how we think about both land-use planning and reconciliation.”
Renowned lawyer for the case, Thomas Berger, is confident the Supreme Court will reach a positive decision for the Peel Watershed, especially given earlier decisions. “The Court of Appeal held that the Government of Yukon failed to honour the letter and spirit of its treaty during the initial consultation with First Nations and Yukoners,” he says. “We will now be moving the appeal forward as quickly as we can under the rules of the Supreme Court.”