The Peel Watershed, rich in natural resources and wonders, sprawls over 68,000 square kilometres throughout the Yukon wilderness. On December 1st of last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of First Nations and environmental groups to commit to the Watershed land use’s Final Recommended Plan, a plan the Yukon government had threatened to “derail” after years of research and public consultation by an independent commission. Yukon Premier Sandy Silver called the ruling “a victory” and stated, “We believe that when people look back at this moment in time, they’re going to see this as the beginning of a new era, one that’s based upon reconciliation” (CBC.ca). Now there are two months of public consultation remaining; the Yukon government plans to release the Final Peel Watershed Land Use Plan in January 2019.
Presently, the Final Recommended Plan protects 80 percent of the Watershed, 55 percent permanently protected and 25 percent interim protected (to be reviewed in 10 years). Twenty percent of the Peel will be open to industry, ranging in development. Meanwhile, the Protect the Peel campaign, initiated by Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Yukon Conservation Society, is asking the public to appeal to the government to ensure that the full 80 percent is permanently protected and to include specifications on how the plan will be implemented.
In an interview with CBC, Thomas Berger, the lawyer who represented the First Nations and environmental groups in the Supreme Court case, observed, “First Nations and government of Yukon are the joint stewards [of the Watershed], but it’s a treasure . . . for [all] Canadians. It’s something that we owe future generations to preserve – that we’re not just here to ransack the earth, and say goodbye.”
Part of a portrait project called Protect the Peel, Donald G. Reid, a Conservation Zoologist in Whitehorse, says that “The particular value of the Peel is that if we look across the mountainous environments of western North America all the way up from Mexico, we have relatively few protected areas large enough to actually sustain populations of large game animals and predators. To have that ability still exist in Canada is something we need to grasp and realize before the opportunity is lost.”