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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Protecting the Peel: Legal Battle Continues

Conservation of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed, an unspoiled contiguous wilderness seven times the size of Yellowstone National Park, isn’t going to happen without a fight.

On January 22, 2014, the Yukon government lifted its four-year moratorium on mining in the Peel and adopted a disappointing regional land-use plan that opened up 71 percent of the watershed to mineral staking and industrial development.

The decision was in sharp contrast to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission’s recommendations, which called for protection of 55 percent of the Peel, with interim protection for an additional 25 percent.

Y2Y’s partners –the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), and Yukon Conservation Society – along with the affected First Nations responded with two lawsuits against the government to contest the decision.

“This is a lawsuit that nobody wanted to bring,” said Thomas R. Berger, the lawyer representing the Na-cho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Yukon Conservation Society and CPAWS-Yukon. “But the Yukon Government has forced these plaintiffs to go to court not only in defense of First Nations and environmental values in Yukon, but also to uphold principles entrenched in the Constitution.”

The Gwich’in Tribal Council also announced they will soon be launching their own lawsuit.

What Makes the Peel So Special?

Photo: Juri Peepre
The Peel Watershed is the northern anchor of the Y2Y vision of a network of protected areas connected by wildlife movement corridors. This diverse area nurtures rare plants and provides a sanctuary for increasingly endangered large-ranging mammals, including wolves, grizzly bears, lynx, and wolverine.

Many First Nations depend heavily on this landscape for their survival through subsistence hunting and fishing. More importantly, they have a deep spiritual connection to the Peel.

Government Ignored the Planning Commission’s Recommendations

These court cases could have been avoided had the Yukon government adopted the recommendations set out by the independent, government-appointed Peel Watershed Planning Commission.

The six member commission, which included representatives from the Yukon government and First Nations, took six years to carefully consult and consider the consequences to increased development in this region.

Photo: Juri Peepre

Not only was 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, but it was also supported by 94 percent of those who participated in the public consultations.

Berger points out that the government’s new plan is an obstruction of the First Nations’ rights based on the Umbrella Final Agreement signed by the Government of Canada Government of Yukon and Yukon First Nations in 1993. This agreement provided an outline of land uses and secured Yukon First Nation interest rights for traditional territories.

In addition to supporting our partners’ legal battle, Y2Y is in the midst of reframing the need to conserve the Peel and several other important areas in the north within the context of an offset to the oilsands. Stay tuned!