What Does The Peel Watershed Ruling Mean for the Yukon – and Canada?

Peel Wateshed Peter Mather

The long-awaited Supreme Court verdict on the Peel Watershed case is finally here.

In a unanimous ruling, the highest court in the country decided that three Yukon First Nations and two environmental organizations were correct in their push for a lengthy land-use planning process to be maintained and only rewound to the point where the government can conduct final consultations.

It’s been a lengthy and complex case. So what does today's decision really mean?

Q&A: Why the Fate of Canada’s Peel Watershed Rests in the Supreme Court’s Hands

Hart River, Peel Watershed Yukon

The fate of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed — one of the most pristine wilderness areas in Canada and home to four First Nations — will be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on Dec. 1.

What lies in store for the Peel will be determined by future land-use planning in the territory and whether and how those plans grant industry access to the undeveloped region.

PHOTOS: Documenting the North's Mighty and Threatened Peel Watershed

Peel Watershed Peter Mather

The Peel Watershed covers 68,000 square kilometres of pristine mountains, wetlands, rivers, tundra and forest. It is world renowned for its rugged natural beauty and ecological richness, and, more recently, as a wilderness under threat. 

Thousands of mining claims dot the territory, with companies seeking to extract copper, platinum, uranium, lead-zinc, and iron. The mines themselves would disrupt the landscape and watershed, and the roads required to support those mines have attracted their own criticism for the landscape fragmentation they would bring. 

Canada Has Three Years to Increase Protected Areas by 60% And, Um, It’s Not Going to Be Easy

Hart River Valley Peel Watershed. Photo by Juri Peepre

In less than three years, Canada has to increase the amount of land and inland waters it protects by 60 per cent to meet a commitment under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

The commitment requires signatories to legally designate 17 per cent as “protected areas.” Those can include national, provincial and territorial parks, as well as Indigenous protected areas, tribal parks and privately protected spaces. But to qualify, the areas must be closed to industrial activity.

It’s not going to be easy.

Canada Risks International Embarrassment Over Mismanagement of World Heritage Site: UNESCO

Wood Buffalo National Park salt flats

Canada’s largest World Heritage Site is under threat from unfettered oilsands development and hydro dams on the Peace River — where the B.C. government is now planning to build the massive Site C dam — says a hard-hitting report by a United Nations agency.

While contaminants from the oilsands are affecting water and air quality, water flows through Wood Buffalo National Park are being strangled by dams, according to the highly critical report by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature

The report warns that, if there is not a “major and timely” response to its recommendations the organization will recommend that Wood Buffalo National Park be included in the list of World Heritage in Danger, a list usually reserved for sites in war-torn countries or those facing other disasters.

The park, made up of 4.5 million hectares of boreal plains in northern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories, has been affected by decades of massive industrial development along the Peace and Athabasca Rivers, along with poor management and lack of overall consideration of the effect of projects, it says.

The scale, pace and complexity of industrial development along the critical corridors of the Peace and Athabasca Rivers is exceptional and does not appear to be subject to adequate analysis to underpin informed decision-making and the development of matching policy, governance and management responses,” says the executive summary, which adds that the park is also subject to the additional stress of climate change.

Battle to Protect Northern Yukon, Home of Pristine Peel Watershed, From Industry Heads to Supreme Court

Wind River in the Peel Watershed. Photo by Peter Maher

Almost 40 years ago, former federal judge Thomas Berger issued a final report in the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, at the time Canada’s longest, largest and most comprehensive industrial project review.

The massive two-volume report was the product of exhaustive consultations between 1974 and 1977 with Dene, Métis and Inuit peoples, and recommended that the proposed construction of a gas pipeline be delayed for a full decade in the Northwest Territories and permanently barred from the Northern Yukon as it would “entail irreparable environmental losses of national and international importance.”

It turned out to be an incredibly pivotal moment in the history of Indigenous rights and ecological protections in Canada, arguably helping to preserve the largely pristine Northern Yukon, Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea for the decades since.

And on March 22, 2017 — a single day before his 84th birthday — Berger will fight another battle on behalf of the region, this time representing three Yukon First Nations (Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Na-cho Nyak Dun and Vuntut-Gwitchin) and two environmental organizations (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Yukon Conservation Society) in the Supreme Court of Canada over land-use planning in the Peel Watershed.

B.C. Coastal First Nations Conservation Economy Booming: New Report  

The tiny community of Klemtu has been transformed over the last decade as funding from Great Bear Rainforest agreements allowed members of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation to revamp their tourism strategy and come up with new business opportunities while protecting their traditional territory.

The Spirit Bear Lodge was expanded from six to 24 beds, the single wildlife viewing vessel was replaced with a new fleet of boats and business tripled.

Tweet: Tourists from all over now travel to Klemtu to watch grizzlies, wolves, whales & the rare white spirit bear #bcpoliTourists from all over the world now travel to Klemtu to watch grizzly bears, wolves, whales and — for the lucky ones — the rare white spirit (Kermode) bear.

It has been huge for the community,” said Chief Councillor Douglas Neasloss.

About 50 people from the village of 320 are now employed in some way in tourism operations and have been trained for jobs ranging from chefs to tour operators.

Alberta's Unprotected Foothills Forest No Longer a Refuge for Threatened Species

By Chris Wood. This article originally appeared on The Tyee

The sound of water is loud in a land muffled by snow. No human sound penetrates this broad valley between tapering extensions of the Rocky Mountains, 100 kilometres southwest of Grand Prairie, Alberta. A stray beam from the low winter sun washes the landscape in pink. A young doe caribou makes her way to the water. She's thin, ribs visible beneath her winter coat. At the water's edge she lowers her head to drink.

Suddenly grey shapes burst from the shadows. The swiftest comes racing over her own hoof-trail, leaps and sinks sharp teeth deep into her haunch, lacerating ligament. Within minutes, the doe's struggle is over. The wolves settle in to eat.

For Alberta's foothills caribou, death row is a fraying triangle of pine, spruce and aspenforest and meadows, stretched along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains and running roughly from Banff, west of Calgary, some 630 kilometres north and west over the provincial border into British Columbia. A broad thumb of forest thrusts east toward Slave Lake.

A second area with a similar ecological community, not quite as large, straddles the provincial borders north of Fort St. John, B.C. Anchored on Alberta's Chinchaga Wildland Park it holds the headwaters of the Hay River. The two areas are isolated from each other by the trans-border Peace River and its development corridor of gas fields, forest mills and a soon-to-be-built third hydroelectric dam and reservoir on the river.

We Are the World; We Must Act On That Understanding

This is a guest post by David Suzuki. 

The coming year looks bright with the promise of change after a difficult decade for environmentalists and our issues. But even with a new government that quickly moved to gender equity in cabinet, expanded the Ministry of the Environment to include climate change, and offered a bravura performance at the climate talks in Paris, can Canada’s environmentalists close up shop and stop worrying?

Of course not.

The nature of politics includes constant trade-offs, compromises and disagreements. Even with a government sympathetic to environmental issues, we won’t act deeply and quickly enough or prevent new problems because we haven’t addressed the root of our environmental devastation.

The ultimate cause isn’t economic, technological, scientific or even social. It’s psychological.

We see and interact with the world through perceptual lenses, shaped from the moment of conception. Our notions of gender, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status and the environment we grow up in all limit and create our priorities.

Poignant Jumbo Wild Documentary Examines True Value of Wilderness

Jumbo Glacier

A film documenting a battle that has stretched over almost a quarter century, pitting communities and environmental groups in B.C’s Kootenays against supporters of a proposed wilderness ski resort, is showing to sold-out audiences across North America.

The stunning scenery of the Purcell Mountains, iconic historical clips and the even-handed exploration of a clash between two visions of wilderness make Jumbo Wild an extraordinary documentary that transcends local issues and delves into the ideological battle between those who want to keep the wild in wilderness and those who believe development gives people access to nature.

We saw sold-out shows at almost all the stops along the way and that’s because the bigger questions being addressed about how we define wilderness and what makes a place sacred are important to people around the world,” said Tess Byers, spokeswoman for Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company that funded and promoted the Sweetgrass Productions film, directed by Nick Waggoner of Salt Lake City.


Subscribe to Conservation