TORONTO (December 5, 2014) – In response to a landmark decision made by the Yukon Supreme Court regarding the Peel Watershed planning process, WCS Canada‘s Dr. Donald Reid stated:
“Wildlife Conservation Society Canada is very encouraged by the Yukon Supreme Court’s ruling of December 2nd, which found that the way the Yukon government unilaterally intervened in the Peel land-use planning process was ‘not consistent with the honour and integrity of the Crown.’ The Court upheld the pivotal role of the Planning Commission, as mandated by the land claims settlements, in coming to a Final Recommended Plan. Consequently the Commission’s Final Recommended Plan, which outlined 80 percent of the watershed for protection, will be reinstated.
The Peel Watershed is of particular importance because its 67,000 square kilometres encompass one of the last truly wilderness regions in Canada’s boreal mountains. It is also the spiritual heartland for the four First Nations whose traditional territories overlap the area. As plaintiffs, with Yukon non-government organizations, in this Court case, these First Nations pursued their rights to influence the region’s future through the land-use planning process. Their rights to joint decision-making with the Yukon government have been upheld by the ruling.
WCS Canada was instrumental in developing a Conservation Priorities Assessment for the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, taking into consideration all of the watershed’s resource values and, in particular, the interests and values of the four First Nations. The Planning Commission considered the unexcelled wilderness and cultural values to have priority over other values in this large wild region. On that basis the Commission recommended high levels of protection, a conclusion that the Yukon government had tried to reverse with its own Final Plan in 2012.
Analysis of conservation options in the region indicated that the government’s plan would not have offered protection to wildlife habitats and wilderness values at the necessary spatial scales. Conservation of ecosystems at this northern latitude requires big spaces and intact watersheds. Sustainable populations of caribou and grizzly bears cover huge areas in their seasonal travels. Whitefish and grayling move hundreds of kilometers between spawning and wintering habitats. True conservation requires large protected areas encompassing whole watersheds.
The Yukon Government’s unilaterally imposed Plan would have placed 29 percent of the land in protected areas, much of it in ribbons along waterways. It would have placed 44 percent in Restricted Use Wilderness Areas. While that moniker suggests protection, ‘wilderness’ is not an accurate description as roads would have been allowed and both existing and new mineral claims would have been operational up to a surface disturbance of 0.2 percent of the region at any one time. Now that Plan has to be removed, and is replaced by the Commission’s Recommended Plan. This will go through another round of consultations, but without the option of removing the recommendation of 80 percent protection.”
Scott Smith, 718-220-3698; firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen Sautner, 718-220-3682; email@example.com