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.