Hiking in the Yukon. Image: Pat Morrow
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"I left inspired to protect the special places in my own backyard."
Sara Renner, Y2Y supporter

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Promise for the Peel

Recently a historic change occurred in Canada’s Yukon Territory, one that promises to protect one of North America’s most ecologically important and pristine landscapes, the Peel Watershed.

Recently a historic change occurred in Canada’s Yukon Territory, one that promises to protect one of North America’s most ecologically important and pristine landscapes, the Peel Watershed.

Seven times larger than Yellowstone or Jasper National Park at 16.8 million acres (6.8 million hectares) the Peel Watershed is the northern anchor of the Yellowstone to Yukon wildlife corridor. The Peel has sustained four First Nations since time immemorial: the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and the Tetlit Gwich'in Council.

The Peel is also a refuge for animals that need large landscapes to thrive. Grizzly bears, wolverines and caribou all call this place home. Wetlands provide a safe place for migratory birds to stop and for rare plants to grow.

This expansive wilderness represents about 14 per cent of the Yukon’s area and is abundant in clean water and untouched lands. It’s also rich in minerals, making it a target for mining companies and industry.

Following six years of consultation, a plan released in 2011 by a government-appointed independent planning commission recommended protecting 80 per cent of the Peel, a plan that was widely supported by First Nations, conservationists and the public.

However, during the final stages of approval the ruling Yukon Party introduced their own plan, opening 70 per cent of the Peel River Watershed to development. This plan was rejected by all other concerned parties, and the fate of the Peel spent years tied up in the courts.

Then the election cycle started again.

Early on Y2Y and partners such as Yukon Conservation Society and CPAWS-Yukon knew the election was an opportunity to educate residents and candidates on the ecological and electoral importance of the Peel. Partner organizations lacked the capacity to run a canvass themselves but with Y2Y’s financial and strategic support, hired a contract co-ordinator to organize events and door-knocking teams to reach hundreds of voters during the run-up to the election.

On November 7, 2016 Yukoners voted out the incumbent Yukon Party, bringing in one of the two parties that had pledged to honor the original plans for the Peel Watershed: the Yukon Liberals led by Sandy Silver.

One vitally important court date remains. On March 22 the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon and Yukon Conservation Society will have their day before the Supreme Court of Canada, in order to establish how to move forward on the Peel. The Court will also rule on who has final say on land-use plans in the Yukon.

“This very important area is deeply valued by our people”, said Gwich'in Tribal Council President and Grand Chief of the Gwich’in Nation, Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan. “The Peel Watershed and all its wildlife and resources have been the lifeblood of our people since time immemorial. We look forward to sharing our perspectives in this litigation so the court can make the best decision possible.”

Y2Y will be in attendance and will keep you posted on this historic event. Follow developments on Twitter at @candacebatycki or via the hashtag #ProtectThePeel.

We are grateful for your help in reaching this turning point, moving us all closer to protecting the Peel for generations to come.

This story originally appeared in our February 2017 Connections newsletter. Subscribe to get more news like this delivered right to your inbox.