Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Great Peel Guessing Game

What lies in the store for the Peel watershed? Only the Yukon government knows for sure and it's still not telling.

When quizzed about the mineral staking ban, which is set to expire on New Year's Eve, the government failed to provide any clear answers.

Here is that Dec. 19 exchange, the last day of the fall sitting of the legislature.

NDP MLA Kate White: The land use planning process for the Peel watershed engaged an unprecedented number of Yukoners. The result of this collective effort is the final recommended plan for the Peel watershed, a balanced plan that sees 55% of the pristine watershed protected.
In developing the final recommended plan, the Peel Watershed Planning Commission heard from First Nation people and their governments, from the mining and tourism industries, from hunters and trappers, from youth and seniors, and from many, many other Yukoners. The commission was successful in its efforts to ensure that the Peel planning process was thorough, open, respectful and inclusive. It is something that all Yukoners can be proud of. 
Will the government recognize the enthusiasm, the commitment and the good faith of all those who participated in the Peel land use planning process and accept the final recommended Peel plan as it was written?

Environment Minister Currie Dixon: Our position on this particular issue hasn’t changed. We have previously indicated that the approach we think is in the best interest of all Yukoners is to modify the final recommended plan submitted by the commission. We’ve suggested that modifications that allow for the use of the highest level of protection in some areas, including the creation of parks or protected areas, is important and also new tools to manage the footprint of any potential activity, including natural resource exploration, are appropriate for other areas. That is the preferred approach that we are taking.
We have been working very hard to meet our consultation obligations as outlined in the Umbrella Final Agreement with the affected First Nations, and we want to exhaust every possible opportunity to come up with a land use plan for the entire watershed region that is supported by all parties of the process.
Our intention is to have a land use plan in place before the staking withdrawal expires later this month. If we are not able to accomplish that, one of the tools that we have is to extend that withdrawal. That is, of course, something we will consider at the appropriate time.
As we have indicated previously, we want to arrive at a land use plan that is balanced, that balances the need for special protection of key areas in the Peel watershed region, but also allows for reasonable, responsible and sustainable development of our natural resources. It allows those folks in various industries that could be doing work up there to conduct their business and do it in a responsible manner that respects the environment. 

Kate White: Yukoners young and old continue to raise their voices in defence of the Peel watershed and the final recommended plan. More than nine years into the planning processes, widespread concern for the Peel watershed has not faltered. We are privileged to be the stewards of this magnificent watershed, but I fear that this privilege has been taken from the Yukon public by a government that just won’t listen. At this 11th hour, the fate of the Peel watershed is known only to this government.
Out of respect for the four affected First Nations and all Yukoners, will the minister assure this House that the Yukon Party government will not release their final plan for the Peel watershed during the holiday season?

EMR Minister Scott Kent: As mentioned by my colleague, the minister of environment, in his initial response. We are looking to bring a modified plan that not only respects the environmental and ecological integrity of the Peel watershed as well as the traditional uses, but also respects those individuals who earn their living working in the resource industry.
I know there are number of Yukoners who gathered here today to voice their concerns about the Peel watershed and are in support of the final recommended plan. I can assure this House that I talk to individuals on a daily basis in this community and throughout the Yukon who earn a living from the resource-extraction industry, and they would like to see opportunities for them to continue to earn a living here in the Yukon and continue to raise their families here. These aren’t nameless, faceless corporations. They are our friends. They are our families. They are the individuals we know from the hockey rinks, the coffee shops and the grocery stores. These are real Yukoners who are looking to ensure that they have opportunities to continue to provide food for their families and continue to live in the Yukon and raise their families here.

Kate White: The final recommended plan allows for development in 45% of the Peel watershed. The moratorium on new mineral, oil and gas claims in the Peel watershed will expire in 12 days, on December 31. Until today, I’ve been repeatedly told that it would be premature to announce any decision to extend the moratorium under the Quartz Mining Act and the Placer Mining Act.
The four affected First Nations, the citizens here the gallery and everyone who participated in the Peel planning process for the last nine years want to know, will the government commit today to an extension of the interim staking withdrawal in the Peel watershed until the final recommended Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan is put in place?

Scott Kent: What we want to do is exhaust every opportunity to come up with the land use plan for the entire Peel watershed area that is supported by all of the parties to the process.
Our intention is to have a land use plan in place before the staking withdrawal expires. If we are not able to accomplish that, one of the tools we have is to extend that withdrawal, and that is something that we would consider at the appropriate time. I know the Member for Riverdale South did a tribute today to people who work over the holidays, and thankfully the minister of environment and I are two of those individuals who will be working through the Christmas holidays.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Yukon gov't Xmas grinch circling the Peel?

Spoiler alert: The Yukon government may be waiting until the eggnog is flowing freely - anytime after Dec. 19 - before dropping its final Peel watershed land use plan bombshell.

The opposition says it sure looks like that`s the strategy. And the government didn't jump at the chance to deny the charge when it was quizzed in the legislature Dec. 3.

For your reading pleasure, here`s what was said, word-for-word.

NDP Kate White: For seven years, First Nation governments, industry and the public engaged in good faith with the Yukon government to develop a land use plan for the Peel watershed. However, the Yukon Party government then ignored the final recommended Peel plan. The public knows that 55% protection, as indicated in the final recommended plan, is balanced. Despite this, the government has been trying to impose on Yukoners and the four affected First Nations a completely new land use plan. We know that this government received final input from those First Nation governments just last week. Will the minister tell this House if his government has the agreement of the four Yukon First Nations to move ahead on a final land use plan for the Peel watershed?

Environment Minister Currie Dixon: As I’ve indicated previously, we have received input from the four affected First Nations with regard to the government-to-government consultation that we undertook with them. We are currently reviewing the input we’ve received from First Nations. Once we’ve concluded the review and consideration of the input we received from First Nations, we’ll determine how to move forward. We will remain engaged with First Nations as we continue forward, and especially, once it comes to implementation, we would hope that implementation would be something we could do in collaboration with First Nations.
As I’ve indicated in this House before and in the public before, we felt that the final recommended plan as presented by the commission was not balanced and, indeed, could be improved upon by applying certain modifications. We then consulted the public on those modifications and received a significant amount of input.
Of course, our intention is to move forward with a land use plan that provides protection for key areas in the Peel watershed region, but also allows for a balanced use and balanced provisions for access that allow our economy to continue on currently and into the future.

Kate White: The minister’s answers provide little comfort to those who want economic and legal certainty in this territory. The minister’s answers also leave much open to speculation. The staking moratorium in the Peel expires on December 31 of this year. The legislature’s last sitting day is on December 19. Most First Nation government offices will be closed over the Christmas week and, in some cases, into the new year. The public’s attention during the last half of December will be turned to celebration, to family and to friends. This government has a record of burying controversial items by announcing them on a Friday of a long weekend or during a holiday period. Is it this government’s intention to announce its own unilateral land use plan for the Peel watershed during the holiday period?

Energy, Mines & Resources Minister Scott Kent: There is no date that is set for a final decision on a plan for the Peel but, as mentioned by the minister of environment, we’re hopeful that all the parties have prioritized this for a timely conclusion of this important planning process.
I certainly recognize that there a number of Yukoners who have invested significantly of their time and their effort, no matter what side of the Peel debate they’re on — whether they want to see land used for traditional purposes or wilderness tourism, or whether they’re engaged in responsible resource activity and they want to make sure that there is a land base available to them going forward to find the next discovery like the Rackla or the White Gold.
This certainly isn’t an issue where you can run to one side or, like the New Democrats do, pick winners or losers. We’re trying to find a balanced plan for the Peel watershed, one with which we can ensure there remains healthy economic activity balanced against the environmental protection and the traditional uses that Yukoners value as well. That’s what we’re working toward.
We’re not going to put an artificial timeline on that. We’re going to ensure that we exhaust every opportunity to come up with a plan that works, not only for the Yukon government, but our First Nation partners as well.

Kate White: The lack of assurance by this government to not announce its own land use plan for the Peel watershed during the Christmas and New Year’s break is very troubling.
By refusing to rule out this possibility, it suggests that the Yukon Party government is contemplating just that. Such an action by this government would be an affront to democracy, would bring dishonour to the Crown and would be contemptuous to Yukoners and to all those who participated in the planning process. Most importantly, it would be a great disrespect to First Nation governments.
Will this government commit to not announcing its own land use plan for the Peel watershed during the holiday period and to extending the interim subsurface withdrawals in the Peel region until after December 31?

Minister Kent: What I’ll commit to is announcing the final Peel watershed plan when it is ready. That’s something that the minister of environment has talked about. Again, we’re reviewing input from First Nations that we’ve received over the past while. That final round of consultations with our First Nation partners has been ongoing for some time now. There is a lot of information and we want to ensure that we exhaust every opportunity to find a plan that not only works for us as the Yukon government, but also works for our First Nation partners.
Again, with respect to the announcement of a final plan or the extension of the staking withdrawal in the Peel watershed, we certainly want to exhaust all the opportunities that we can to reach consensus with our First Nation partners and develop a plan that will work for all Yukoners no matter where they are on this issue.
Again, as I’ve mentioned, the NDP seeks to always run to one side of any argument. We need to, as government, be responsible and find a balance that works for Yukoners, whether they’re First Nations in that area or whether they work in Marwell here in Whitehorse supporting the mining industry. We want to make sure that there are opportunities for everyone when it comes to the Peel watershed and the entire Yukon.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Kent coy as clock ticks on Peel staking ban

The moratorium on new mineral, oil and gas claims in the Peel watershed expires on Dec. 31.

Even though that's less than a month away, the Yukon government refuses to say whether it plans to extend it or not.

When first put in place in 2010, the government promised it would remain until a land use plan for the watershed was completed. That plan is nowhere in sight.

Here's what the Yukon Party government had to say in response to questions from NDP environment critic Kate White in the Yukon legislature Dec. 2:

NDP Kate White: Last week, the minister of EMR (Energy, Mines & Resources) said that the government was engaging in the final round of consultations with the four affected First Nation governments before finalizing a land use plan for the Peel watershed. The minister of environment said that he was looking forward to concluding them as soon as possible so that the government can move on and ultimately implement a land use plan for the Peel watershed region.
We’ve been told that there has been at least one meeting of the principals that involved the minister of environment, the minister of energy, mines and resources and the premier, and that the hope was to continue working with their senior liaison committee on a government-to-government basis to conclude consultations as soon as possible. Has the Yukon government scheduled another meeting with First Nation governments or have consultations concluded?

Environment Minister Currie Dixon: We are in receipt of input from First Nations through the government-to-government consultations that the member opposite has referenced. We continue to review and give due and thorough consideration to the input we’ve received from the four affected First Nations in north Yukon that are part of the planning process. We intend to remain engaged with Yukon First Nations as we move forward and give consideration to the input they’ve provided us.
The member opposite is quite correct that we would like to see this process wrap up as soon as possible and bring forward a land use plan that we feel balances the needs of the environment in the north Yukon, as well as the needs of our economy today and into the future.

Kate White: In four weeks the staking moratorium for the Peel watershed will come to an end. We’re entering the holiday season. Government offices will be closed and this just adds to the time crunch. For three weeks in a row, the minister has said it was premature to speak about extending the Peel moratorium under the Quartz Mining Act and the Placer Mining Act. The minister said he was looking forward to concluding consultations with the four affected First Nations on the Peel plan as soon as possible.
Will this government present their final plan for the Peel by the end of this month and, if not, will the minister commit to extending the temporary withdrawal of mineral staking in the Peel watershed past December 31?

Energy, Mines & Resources Minister Scott Kent: As my colleague, the minister of environment, said, we are engaged in consultations with First Nations and we’re reviewing input from First Nations. We’re looking to come up with a fair and balanced land use plan for the Peel watershed that not only respects environmental impacts and traditional uses for that area, but also the economic opportunities that are also part of what we’re trying to accomplish.
My answer with respect to the staking ban remains the same. We’re not prepared at this time to speculate on what is going to happen. The staking ban is in effect until the end of this month. We’re working diligently and hard with our First Nation partners to come up with that mutually acceptable and balanced plan that respects all sectors of the economy and offers opportunities for multiple land users who want to use the Peel watershed.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Put Peel on navigable waters protection list

The Peel River deserves to be protected under the new navigable waters law that kicks in next year, the federal NDP say.

The Yukon-N.W.T river is one of hundreds of Canadian rivers, streams and lakes that are going to lose federal oversight once the Navigable Waters Protection Act turns into the Navigation Protection Act in April.

The act was gutted by the Harper government, along with other environmental legislation, in the 2012 omnibus budget bill.

The current act regulates any “works constructed or placed in, on, over, under, through or across” any navigable water in Canada.

Right now a proposed bridge, pipeline or hydro dam on the Peel would fall under this act, requiring federal approval to interfere with a waterway. 

Come April, that will no longer be the case.

In fact only 62 rivers and 97 lakes in the whole country will still be governed by the navigable waters law.

This week the federal NDP continued its push to rectify that.

N.W.T. MP Dennis Bevington tabled a bill in the House of Commons, calling on the Harper government to include the Peel River on its list of important navigable waterways.

“After consulting this summer with people in the Mackenzie Delta and those in the Yukon, there was a great deal of support for this river’s protection,” Bevington told the House of Commons in Ottawa Oct. 23.

“This is one step in making an attempt to return this river to a status of some measure of protection, which means that in the case of a development on the river, the federal government would have a responsibility to ensure that the development was following good practices,” he said.

“This is a river that has great tourism and wilderness value and it is a river that has enormous significance to the Gwich’in people of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.”

Bevington tabled a similar bill last spring asking that Canadian Heritage Rivers in the north – including the Peel’s Bonnet Plume – also get a place on its preferential list.

As it stands, only two rivers in the two territories made the cut - the Yukon and Mackenzie. There are also two N.W.T. lakes, Great Bear and Great Slave.

Yukoners are being urged to write Yukon Conservative MP Ryan Leef (ryan.leef@parl.gc.ca) and ask him to support Bevington’s bill.

Letter writers are encouraged to copy the Yukon Conservation Society (ycs@ycs.yk.ca) and Bevington (dennis.bevington@parl.gc.ca) so there’s a clear record of how many letters of support Leef receives.

You can track the status of Bill 543 at the Open Parliament website.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Yukon gov't fails Peel planning

An academic analysis of the way the Yukon government has handled the final stages of the Peel watershed land use planning process says it provides a fine example of what NOT to do.

Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Environment and Sustainability zeroed in on the territory’s decision to reject the Peel commission’s final recommended plan and forge ahead with a new one unilaterally.

Bad move, say the authors of Fixing Land Use Planning in the Yukon Before It Really Breaks: A Case Study of the Peel Watershed.

Land use planning is, afterall, supposed to be a co-operative process.

“We predict that unless the identified flaws in the decision process are addressed, the Peel River watershed debate will only continue to be drawn out, with different participants, perspectives and values repeatedly coming into conflict,” says the Northern Review journal article by Kiri Staples, Manuel Chavez-Ortiz, Doug Clark and M.J. Barrett.

“There are certainly a lot of perspectives at play here, with some people wanting 100 per cent conservation and others wanting some development,” said Staples in a U of S news release.

“But it is ultimately up to the four First Nation governments and the Yukon government to come up with a way to navigate those differences through the decision process. Our analysis shows the Yukon government ultimately failed to do this.”

Conflicting perspectives and values among groups is to be expected in a diverse and democratic society, said Clark.

“However in the context of the Peel watershed the decision-making process led by the Yukon government left participants feeling they’ve been denied respect and a true voice at the table,” he said.

More should have been done much earlier to help stakeholders understand each other’s values and how those would be affected by different outcomes, the researchers concluded.

A clear set of ground rules from the get-go should also be a must when there are so many diverse and legitimate interests to be reconciled.

Click here to read the full article in the Northern Review.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Secret Peel plan results: 9,196-489

The Yukon government's own numbers - suppressed until now - show there's little public support for its decision to dump the final recommended Peel watershed land use plan.

It was recently forced to release response numbers from last winter's public consultation to the Yukon News under an access to information request.

The new figures show 9,196 responses favoured accepting the Peel planning commission's land use plan while only 489 said it should be rejected.

As for the government's new plan, which it presented during the consultation under the guise of four “proposed concepts,” only 97 responses supported it.

The government's numbers were supposed to be part of its What We Heard report. An easy-to-read table of themes and figures was included in the first two drafts. By the time it was released to the public in early April “Appendix 1” had been removed, but a reference to the numbers had inadvertently remained. 
The new numbers still don't include any verbal submissions made during public meetings held in Whitehorse, Mayo, Dawson City, Fort McPherson, Old Crow, Tsiigehtchic, Aklavik and Inuvik.  

More than 800 people attended one of the events. Not one person who spoke publically favoured ditching the plan prepared by the commission after six years and $1.5 million worth of work.
When the government was asked about what it heard from the public, it tried to pretend the response was anything but clear-cut.

Although these new results come as no surprise - independent analysis of the public feedback produced similar findings - they do raise more questions about the government's handling of the Peel file. 
Discussions about the future of the wilderness watershed moved behind closed doors last spring.

The government says it's meeting with the four affected First Nations - Na-cho Nyak Dun, Tr'ondek Hwech'in, Vuntut Gwitchin and the Gwich'in Tribal Council.
It has presented its position and is waiting for a response.
First Nations say the government has violated the Umbrella Final Agreement by waltzing in with a new plan at this late stage.That treaty sets out the process for regional land use planning in the territory.
They've threatened to take the Yukon government to court if it rejects the commission's plan.

Several weeks ago there was a change of command at the department in charge of the Peel plan. Brad Cathers was replaced as minister of energy, mines and resources by former Yukon Chamber of Mines executive director Scott Kent.

Click here to see the first draft of the government's table of numbers and click here to view the final draft.

To read the final What We Heard report, click here.

Monday, August 5, 2013

No more Peel for Cathers' playlist

After nearly two years of stick-handling the thorny Peel watershed issue, Yukon cabinet minister Brad Cathers has been pulled from the Energy, Mines and Resources post.
Brad Cathers
He's been sent to Community Services while Scott Kent moves from education to take Cathers' place.
The change was part of a larger cabinet shuffle announced Monday.
Cathers has taken a lot of heat trying to defend his government's decision to dump the land use plan produced by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.
His department's replacement plan was roundly criticized by First Nations, conservation and tourism groups, and most of the public who participated in the consultations.
Although final talks between the government and First Nations have now gone behind closed doors, it looks likely the whole controversy is headed straight to court.
This change at the top gives the Yukon government a chance to alter its position without losing too much face.
Kent has never been a fan of protecting the Peel –- even when his then Liberal Party supported it - but he is well-versed on the issue.
He was the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines when the Peel planning controversy moved to centre stage. He's also been the minister of that department before, from 2000 to 2002 when the Liberals were in power.
The other two ministers on Premier Darrell Pasloski's Peel team remain the same. Currie Dixon stays on as both minister of the environment and economic development.  Mike Nixon keeps tourism and justice.
Although many expected Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias would get a cabinet post as a reward for joining the Yukon Party in early July, that didn't happen.
When he crossed the floor, he told the media the Peel file caused him some concern and that he'd be keeping an eye on it.
For the time being, he'll be doing that from the backbench.
Elias is vice-chair of the legislature's newly-formed fracking committee. That could be prove to be more challenging than he first expected since his First Nation just passed a motion to keep its traditional territory frack-free. It encompasses most of the northern Yukon along with parts of the Peel watershed.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Peel protection 'last-of-our-lifetime' chance

The Yukon government could do its bit to help protect at least 50% of Canada’s boreal forest by accepting the Peel commission’s final recommended land use plan, says a group of international scientists.
That plan recommends protecting 80% or 13 millions acres of the watershed.
It “should be adopted by the Yukon government,” says the International Boreal Conservation Science Panel in its new report, Conserving the World’s Last Great Forest is Possible: Here’s How.
Large scale conservation of areas like the Peel is one of  the “last-of-our-lifetime” opportunities for boreal protection from the Yukon to Newfoundland, says the report.
In every region, the “last great forest” is under siege from mining, oil/gas and forestry, it says.
But it’s not too late to strike a true balance between conservation and development if decision-makers take the panel’s recommendations on how to move forward.
Among the panel's key scientific guidelines:
  •  At least 50% of the boreal region should be permanently protected from further development to maintain current ecological processes and wildlife species.
  • Industrial activities on boreal lands, outside of those where development is prohibited, should be carried out with the lowest possible impact on biodiversity and the ecosystems.
  • Land-use planning should precede decisions regarding industrial development in the boreal and must be led by local communities. Particular attention must be paid to the views and concerns of aboriginal communities in the region.
  • The impact of development and other industrial boreal land use should be rigorously monitored and regularly and meaningfully reviewed by independent experts. 
The Yukon government told local media it’s not commenting on the panel's boreal report.
It's in final talks about the Peel plan with the four affected First Nations – Na-cho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Gwich’in Tribal Council and Vuntut Gwitchin.
Up to this point, it has vehemently opposed the commission’s plan, saying the wilderness watershed should be open to industrial development.
It's drafted its own plan that protects virtually none of the watershed.
Click here to read the full Great Last Forest report.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Frack no

The Council of Yukon First Nations has taken a strong stand against fracking.

The council, which represents most of the Yukon's 14 First Nations, as well as the N.W.T.'s four Gwich'in communities, passed a no-fracking resolution at its recent annual general assembly in Whitehorse.

It calls on the Yukon government to prohibit fracking in the territory and it declares all its traditional territories frack-free.

That includes the Peel watershed - homeland of Mayo's Na-cho Nyak Dun, Dawson's Tron'dek Hwech'in and Fort McPherson's Tetlit Gwich'in. The Vuntut Gwitchin, based in Old Crow, don't belong to the council.

So far the Yukon's fledgling oil and gas industry hasn't used hydraulic fracturing.

But it wants to.

Northern Cross, which is 60 per cent owned by China's CNOOC, spent this past winter exploring for oil and gas in the Eagle Plain basin. Its vast north Yukon holdings include parts of the Peel.

Last year it told assessors it wanted to use fracking, but later withdrew the controversial request.

Global petro-giant Chevron also has oil and gas interests in the northern Yukon, in addition to its Crest iron claims in the Peel.

It's paired up with Apache Resources to frack for natural gas in the B.C. portion of the transboundary Liard basin.The companies are eager to move into the Yukon part of the basin as soon as possible. But the territory's Kaska people have already made it clear they don't want fracking in the southeast region.

The industry has also set its sights on the Whitehorse basin. It stretches from Carcross to Carmacks and includes about 80 per cent of the Yukon's entire population. The current moratorium on its oil/gas development is only in place until the next territorial election.

In an attempt to quell growing opposition to fracking, the Yukon government recently created a committee of MLAs to study its "risks and benefits." 

Three of its six MLAs belong to the ruling Yukon Party: Environment and Economic Development Minister Currie Dixon, committee chair Patti McLeod (Watson Lake) and backbencher Stacey Hassard (Pelly-Nisutlin).

The others are NDP MLA Jim Tredger (Mayo-Tatchun), Liberal MLA Sandy Silver (Klondike) and Independent Darius Elias, who represents the riding of Vuntut Gwitchin.

So far the committee has only met once and that was behind closed doors. Most of its meetings will likely  be held in secret except for public meetings it has committed to hold in Old Crow and Watson Lake.

It's supposed to report its findings to the legislature by next spring.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Peel makes top 10 boreal hotspot list

Fans of the Peel watershed won't be surprised to learn it's been singled out as one of the coolest hotspots for biodiversity in Canada's boreal forest.
The Peel is one of 10 wilderness areas recognized for their natural assets in a national report by Ducks Unlimited and the Boreal Songbird Initiative that was released on International Biodiversity Day.
The 10 Cool Canadian Biodiversity Hotspots: How a New Understanding of Biodiversity Underscores the Global Significance of Canada’s Boreal Forest report highlights the Peel's role as a biological refuge.
"Most of northern North America was once covered by an unimaginably vast ice sheet for thousands of years. But a few special islands of land in the North remained free of this life-stopping deep freeze. The 67,000-km² Peel River watershed was one of these wildlife refuges that allowed many species to survive the ice ages," the report says.
"Today, this ancient 'Noah’s Ark' is still virtually undisturbed by modern large-scale industrial activities and retains many of these relict rare and range-restricted species of mosses, vascular plants, and animals. Range-restricted mammals like the mountainous Dall’s Sheep, the singular singing vole, and the collared pika occur within the watershed while many other mammals show genetic footprints that indicate a distinct separate evolutionary history from their look-a-like cousins in the rest of Canada. Separate evolutionary lineages of otherwise widespread fish species can be found in many fish populations in the Peel River watershed.
"From rugged mountain peaks, high plateaus and deep canyons to sprawling river valleys and wetland networks, the Peel River watershed is among Canada’s most scenic and geographically diverse natural wonders. Six parallel tributaries emerge from the northern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and converge in the underlying valley to form the Peel River, which eventually drains into the Mackenzie River Delta and the Arctic Ocean.
"Fish such as broad whitefish, least cisco, arctic cisco and inconnu swim upstream from the Arctic Ocean to the Peel watershed to spawn. The region serves as the wintering grounds for the iconic Porcupine caribou herd - a transboundary herd of barrenground caribou that summers in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - and is the home of the Yukon’s only population of boreal woodland caribou. Healthy populations of grizzly bears, wolverines and wolves occur here as well. The Peel watershed provides important nesting habitat for raptors, including peregrine falcons (45 pairs as of the 1990s), gyrfalcons, bald eagles and golden eagles."
On the Peel's conservation status, the report has this to say:
"The region has become the focus of intense interest by the mining industry, as evidenced by the more than 8,000 active mining claims in the watershed. A portion of the region has also been identified as an area of interest for oil and gas development.
"The Yukon government set up a Peel Watershed Planning Commission, which worked over many years and with many public meetings to develop a series of recommendations for this remarkable region. In November 2011, the commission released its final recommendations, which called for protection of more than 52,600 km² of the watershed from mining and other industrial development.
"Unfortunately, the Yukon government has signaled its intention to protect only a small fraction of the region and keep large areas open for mining despite the commission’s recommendations."
Click here to read 10 Cool Canadian Biodiversity Hotspots report.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

YMAB sings same old Peel song

The latest annual report of the Yukon Minerals Advisory Board shows it hasn't changed its tune on protecting the Peel watershed.
The nine-member board, appointed by the Yukon government, remains staunchly opposed to the Peel commission’s final recommended land use plan. But it has toned down its rhetoric a titch and also scaled back the amount of ink devoted to the topic in its recently-released 2012 report.
 “As Yukon government’s four-month Peel watershed regional land use plan public consultation period concluded in late February, YMAB commends the government for placing emphasis on the comments that were submitted by Yukon residents and companies working in the territory,” says the six-page report, which also deals with other industry issues.
“YMAB supports Yukon government in its efforts to modify the Final Recommended Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan and appreciates the government’s recognition of industry’s socio-economic contributions to the region and to the territory, which were inadequately reflected in the Peel Watershed Planning Commission’s process and recommended plan.
“YMAB encourages the Yukon government to remain firm in its position regarding the Recommended Peel Watershed Land Use Plan so that a final plan can be achieved that accommodates a variety of sectors and land users in the region – including mineral exploration and development.”
The board doesn't provide any other detail or rationale for opening the Peel to industrial development rather than preserving its wilderness character.
It does say that with work on a Dawson regional land use plan now underway and five other regions waiting in the wings, the government should develop a policy that would clearly identify its objectives for socio-economic development and “set thresholds for the conservation and protection of Yukon’s land.”
The government also needs to “re-examine the mandate, direction and parameters of land use planning commissions to help ensure a balanced approach to the remaining land use planning processes,” it says.
Despite the many challenges facing the mining industry in the territory, the board continues to rank the Peel high among half a dozen of its most pressing concerns.
The Peel falls below a host of regulatory beefs, but it's placed ahead of energy and infrastructure shortfalls, labour and housing dilemmas, First Nation relations and the need for new tax breaks.
What the YMAB report fails to mention is that the vast majority of respondents to the government's call for comment on the Peel supported protection and urged acceptance of the commission's plan. (Read What they really heard: 85%+ favour plan)  
The nine-member advisory board is chaired by Sue Craig, of Tintina Consultants. It also includes Claire Derome (Yukon Chamber of Mines), Clynt Nauman (Alexco Resource Corp.), Harlan Meade (Selwyn Resources), Shawn Ryan (Ryanwood Exploration Inc.), William Sheriff (Americas Bullion Royalty Corp.), Mark Ayranto (Victoria Gold), Mike McDougall (Klondike Placer Miners Association) and Jerry Asp (Yukon Mine Training Association).
The board, created in 2003, has always been suspicious of land use planning but it stepped up its opposition considerably in 2008 once a land use plan for the Peel began to take shape.
Click here to read the 2012 YMAB report.
Click here to read the 2011 YMAB report.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dodge, deny, deflect, dismiss: YG on Peel

Yukon politicians had a few final words on the Peel land use plan controversy as they wrapped up the spring sitting this week. NDP leader Liz Hanson grilled the government on its rejection of the Peel commission's plan. Here's the verbatim transcript of what was said:

NDP Leader Liz Hanson:  Members of the public are familiar with the Lonely Planet’s message to tourists about the Yukon: See the majestic wilderness of the Yukon now before it’s altered by industrial activity and climate change. This week the premier announced a September mission to Europe to drum up more interest in the Yukon as a tourism destination. MLAs were then treated to his ministers waxing eloquent about showcasing Yukon’s untouched wilderness to potential European travellers and investors. To the European traveller, untouched wilderness - the number-one value in our tourism marketing efforts - is epitomized by the Peel region.
Now that the premier and his cabinet seem to have rediscovered the value of tourism to the economy, especially in light of faltering commodity prices, how is the Yukon Party government going to explain its rejection of the Final Recommended Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan to the European market?
Premier Darrell Pasloski: As we have said throughout this term in office and in fact throughout the election, as well, we believe that the Yukon territory can do both. We can have a strong and growing tourism industry, and we can also have a strong and growing exploration and mining industry. We believe that this Yukon territory has the vast beauty and mineral potential when done through proper channels, through environmental assessment, through permitting programs and through regulations and inspections - we can in fact enjoy the spectacular beauty. That is why all of us live in this territory. We do enjoy the vast beauty in which we live. We are privileged to live here and we also feel very strongly that there is an opportunity both to build a strong economic base and create good, well-paying jobs for Yukoners.
Liz Hanson: During this sitting the Energy, Mines and Resources minister’s spin to justify the Yukon Party’s dismissal of the Peel plan was, “We were elected to represent Yukoners. We were elected by Yukoners. We were not elected to represent the people of Düsseldorf, Pasadena or Toronto.” His words were contradicted by an analysis of the public comments, which found that the vast majority of Yukoners want to see the Peel protected.
Yesterday we heard many words from Yukon Party ministers about the importance of German-speaking Europe for tourism. We know the importance of cultivating relationships for the success of encouraging visitors to come to the Yukon, and we know from tourism surveys that the number-one value for visitors is Yukon’s magnificent wilderness landscapes. So how does the premier intend to do damage control of his minister’s dismissal of the views of the good people of Düsseldorf, the very people we encourage to come and see Yukon’s untouched wilderness?
Environment Minister Currie Dixon: With the land use planning in the Peel region, one of the goals we have is to protect the Peel River watershed, and that is exactly what we plan to do. What we disagree with the NDP on, though, is how best to do that.
We have suggested and fully agree that there are areas in the Peel watershed region that deserve the highest level of protection available, and we are absolutely prepared to undertake to implement that kind of protection. What we disagree with the NDP about, though, is that we have to have an all-or-nothing approach to these things. We believe that it is possible to manage the footprint of activity in certain areas and ultimately protect some of the key areas, as well.
What we will do is continue with the land use planning process as set out under the Umbrella Final Agreement and come up with a land use plan that we believe works for all Yukoners.
Liz Hanson: Actions speak louder than words.
All parties in this legislative assembly recognize the 40th anniversary of the Umbrella Final Agreement and the breakthrough of colonization to relationships built on equality. All parties were told by First Nation leaders that the relationship is built on deeds, not words, and that they still look forward to the relationship being based on the handshake of equals.
First Nation governments told the Yukon Party government that although they wanted 100 % protection for the Peel, they believed the compromises contained in the final recommended plan are fair and balanced. The government’s response has been to ignore Chapter 11 obligations, dismiss the multi-year consultation process, and dismiss the views of First Nation governments and the voices of thousands of Yukoners who support the final recommended plan.
How can the premier justify the Yukon Party’s rejection of the Peel plan while saying he respects First Nation governments and the intent of the final agreements?
Currie Dixon: In this instance, the member opposite is absolutely wrong. We have absolutely followed the Umbrella Final Agreement.  We remain absolutely committed to the Umbrella Final Agreement and the implementation of all of our obligations under the various land claims in this territory. We do it every day when we plan special management areas, habitat protection areas and other aspects of the Umbrella Final Agreement and the specific First Nation land claim agreements.
For her to suggest that we are somehow breaching our obligation is simply inaccurate, and I absolutely disagree with her. 
What we will do is to continue to follow the Umbrella Final Agreement. We will continue to consult with our First Nations planning partners as we are required to do by that agreement, and when we conclude that process we’ll ultimately end up with a land use plan that we feel represents the best way forward for the Yukon and for all Yukoners. That’s of course our priority. We’ve said that before and we’ll say it again. So for the member opposite to assert that we somehow aren’t living up to our obligations, she’s absolutely wrong. We’re following the Umbrella Final Agreement to a T and intend to continue to do so throughout the land use planning process.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

2 earthquakes hit Peel watershed

Not one, but two earthquakes rattled the Yukon's Peel watershed in less than two hours early on May 15.

Natural Resources Canada reports that the first - a magnitude 4.3-earthquake - struck the lower Bonnetplume River valley just after midnight. About an hour later a second earthquake - this one measuring 3.8 - shook the ground 100 kilometres further north.

The Peel is the Yukon's most earthquake-prone region, followed by the mountainous southwest corner of the territory.

In all, nine quakes have hit the Peel in the last month, but these latest two were the first of 2013 that were large enough to be considered "signficiant events."

Click here to see a map of the Yukon's earthquakes for past year and click here for a map of the last 30 days.

Read related stories
Shaker rattles Peel River watershed - Dec.5, 2012 (Peel Dispatches)
Shakin' all over: Earthquakes in the Yukon - Jan.11, 2013 (Yukon News)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Portrait of Pinguicula (circa 2012)

It doesn't take long to paddle around the Peel's Pinguicula Lake. You can see from one end of the narrow waterbody to the other, no glasses necessary.  
Tucked a few miles back from the Bonnetplume River, which it drains into, its clear waters are ringed by a cadre of grand, unnamed, protective peaks. The bug-eating wild flower the lake is named after is sprinkled generously along the shorelines.
Remote though it may be, remnants of industry's push into the region, every other decade or so as metal prices cycle, still litter the land and sully the water.











Friday, May 3, 2013

Peel staking ban extended to Dec. 31

Just a day before the moratorium on claim-staking in the Peel watershed was set to expire May 4, the Yukon government shot out a two-sentence missive formally declaring a last minute extension.
It's for seven months and 27 days or until Dec. 31.
Nobody can stake new claims in the watershed while the ban is in place. Nor will the government issue any new oil, gas or coal rights.
“The government of Yukon yesterday issued an extension to the interim withdrawal from mineral staking for all lands in the Peel watershed region,” said the May 3 media advisory.
“The interim staking withdrawal will apply to subsurface mineral staking administered under the Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act until December 31, 2013.”
The watershed has been protected from new claims and dispositions since Feb. 4, 2010.
The idea was to give the Yukon and First Nation governments time to complete a final land use plan for the region.
The first withdrawal order was for a year. It was renewed in 2011 for another 12 months.
In February 2012, the government agreed to extend the ban again but just for seven months. Four days before the Sept. 4 expiry, it said it would give it another eight months to May 4.
This time the government's extension falls somewhere inbetween at seven months and 27 days.
It'll expire about a month before the "relief order" that applies to the more than 8,400 claims in the Peel. Under that order, the claimholders are relieved of the annual assessment fee of $100 per claim or the equivalent amount of work.
It was imposed in February 2010 along with the staking ban. It's always been renewed a year at a time. It was recently extended until Feb. 4, 2014.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Miners fuel Yukon Party machine

The mining industry continues to be one of the biggest financial backers of the territory’s governing party, the 2012 Yukon political contributions report shows.
Nearly half of the $30,605 donated to the Yukon Party last year came from Vancouver-based Stratagold. It's involved with Victoria Gold's heap leach gold project east of Mayo.
It gave the Yukon Party $15,000. The rest came from 94 other donors, mostly individuals.
But the 2012 donations pale in comparison to the industry’s support for the Yukon Party in 2011, the year it had to face the electorate.
Mining and exploration companies, all headquartered in B.C. and Ontario, threw in thousands of dollars to help Premier Darrell Pasloski hang on to power. Nearly half of the party’s $153,000 in donations came from that industry.
Keno Hill area miner Alexco Resources and the Predator Mining Group, which was going to fire up the Brewery Creek heap leach gold project but has since closed its Yukon offices, were the two largest contributors. They gave $7,500 and $10,000 respectively.
Tintina Mines, Smash Minerals, Silver Quest Resources, Ketza River Holdings and Northern Freegold each gave the Yukon Party $5,000 to help with election expenses. PowerOne Capital Markets pitched in $2,500 and Inform Resources gave $2,000. Stina Resources and Pacific Ridge Exploration threw in $1,000 each.
Another $10,000 was donated by businesses serving the mining industry, such as aviation and drilling companies.
In 2010, three companies gave to the Yukon Party: Wolverine Mine owner Yukon Zinc donated $3,000, Alexco Resources $2,000 and explorer Eagle Plains Resources $1,000.
Only donors who give more than $250 are named in the annual reports prepared by Elections Yukon.
In 2012, 183 donors gave the NDP $33,831, slightly more than the Yukon Party. The Liberals collected $11,885 from 78 contributors and the Green Party received $1,305 from six people.
Click here to read the 2010, 2011 and 2012 political donation reports.
Click here to read a 2009 analysis of the political influences on the Peel planning process.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Peel staking ban to be extended

The Yukon government “does expect” to extend the mineral staking ban in the Peel watershed, Premier Darrell Pasloski told the legislature Tuesday.
The moratorium on new mineral claims and oil/gas/coal dispositions was scheduled to expire May 4.
When first asked about it by NDP leader Liz Hanson, the premier dodged the question.

“Part of the deliberations that we have is also reviewing the decision on the withdrawal of staking on the affected areas within the Peel watershed area and that is part of the diligence that we’re doing. We look forward to announcing a decision on that soon,” Pasloski said.
Quizzed a second time, he was a bit more forthcoming, but only after a wordy preamble about consulting with First Nations and meeting Umbrella Final Agreement obligations.
“In the interim, this government certainly does expect to continue the withdrawal of the lands within the Peel watershed region,” he said. 
Cabinet spokesman Matthew Grant confirmed by email the staking ban will be extended, but wouldn't say for how long. More details will be announced “in the next few days,” he said.
The staking ban was first imposed in February 2010 for a year. It’s been extended several times since then, the last time for just eight months.
Earlier this year, the government renewed its parallel "relief order” for holders of the more than 8,400 quartz claims in the watershed. It's now good until February 2014. Under the order, all claims are automatically renewed each year for free.
When the Peel commission started work on the land use plan in late 2004, there were about 1,500 mineral claims in the region. A staking rush soon followed, resulting in more than 11,000 claims in good standing by 2009.  
More than 2,500 claims had expired and exploration work had ground to a halt by the time the government stepped in to waive the annual fee of $100 in cash or equivalent work.