Protect the Peel Watershed
Almost seven times larger than Yellowstone or Jasper national parks, the Peel Watershed 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.
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.
David Suzuki offers his thoughts on protecting the Peel Watershed:
An independent, government-appointed commission took six years to carefully consult and consider the consequences to increased development in this region.
On July 25, 2011, the Peel Watershed Planning Commission produced a final plan that recommended the permanent protection of 55 percent and interim protection for an additional 25 percent 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.