The trial over land-use planning for the Peel River watershed in northern Yukon begins July 7. The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS), and the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS Yukon) believe the government’s decision to adopt its own plan for the watershed violated the process mandated in Yukon’s aboriginal land-claim settlements (For more information, click here).
“Yukon Government’s unilateral decision to accept their own plan for the Peel undermines our Final Agreements,” said Nacho Nyak Dun Chief Ed Champion in a release. “Government’s decision is also creating uncertainty for resource companies who want to do business in the Yukon, and it makes meaningful business relations between First Nations and resource companies difficult.”
Legal action launched by the litigants in January would force the Yukon Government to implement a land-use plan offering protection from mining and other industrial development to 54,000 square kilometres of wilderness. The plan is the result of seven years of research and consultation by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, and it recommends permanent protection for 55 per cent of the watershed, plus interim protection for an additional 25 per cent.
The government’s plan would open more than 70 per cent of the watershed to roads and development.
“The fresh water that the seven rivers of the Peel Watershed provide is by far the most valuable resource within the Peel,” said Tr’ondek Hwech’in Chief Eddie Taylor. “Although we wanted 100 per cent protected, we are willing to compromise and accept the Peel Commission’s Final Recommended Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan.”
The Yukon Government’s plan would see 29 per cent of the watershed protected. The government’s legal defense will focus on its right to reject any recommendations offered by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, and on the fact that 97 per cent of the watershed is non-settled land, where the provincial government has sole authority to approve planning.
The court case will run from July 7 to July 11.