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While conservation victories are rare these days, we have cause to celebrate.
On December 2, the Yukon Supreme Court ruled in support of three First Nations and two conservation organizations that brought suit against the Yukon Government for not adhering to the collaborative Land Use Planning process for Yukon’s Peel River Watershed. This means 80% protection for 68,000 square kilometres (an area slightly smaller than all of New Brunswick) and that the land use planning process set out in the Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA) – a land claims agreement signed by Canada, the Yukon Government, and Yukon First Nations in 1993 – has prevailed.
WCS Canada’s Don Reid played an important part in all this. He was involved in the development of the Land Use Plan for the Peel Watershed by co-ordinating a Conservation Priorities Assessment Report for the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, a key supporting document for the Commission in development of their Final Recommended Land Use Plan (Final Plan). Don also provided technical advice to the Commission and its planning staff.
After many years of gathering information and consultation with First Nations, the Yukon Government, and all Yukoners, and after several draft Plans were reviewed by all parties as part of the planning process, the independent Peel Land Use Planning Commission put forth a Final Plan in 2011 that called for 80% protection. In 2012, the Yukon Government sidestepped the planning process and rejected the Commission’s Final Plan. In early 2014, they produced and consulted on their own Plan, which downgraded protection to 29%.
As a result of a law suit by local organisations and First Nations, Justice Ron Veale quashed the Yukon Government’s 2014 Plan. The Government was told they could not reject the Commission’s 2011 Final Plan (80% protection) and that they had erred in their interpretation of the land use planning process so they no longer had the option to reject the July 2011 Final Plan. The Government was told to return to the point in the process where they failed to act in conformity with land use planning as set out by the Umbrella Final Agreement. And that they can only consult on modifications they proposed for the 2011 Plan, but NOT including those that were too vague and general to be addressed by the Commission in 2011, specifically those calling for more ‘balance’ in protection versus development and for more options for access in the largely roadless region.
This was a decision about decision-making, and upholding the integrity and honour of the collaborative process for land use planning in the Yukon. It is a win for conservation of this vast wilderness, but more importantly it affirms the rights of Yukon First Nations, and all Yukoners, as decision-makers alongside the Yukon Government in setting a course for the future of both development and conservation in Yukon’s wild places.
See an article by CBC News on this new report.
Dr. Cori Lausen and a bat team have headed to the the Flathead River valley in southeastern British Columbia for a four-day BioBlitz in attempt to find out more information.