Big Win for Canada’s Peel Watershed

Peel River Watershed, Yukon photo: Peter Mather

Our friends at Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-Yukon scored a major court victory that will likely lead to the protection of 13 million acres of wild lands in the Peel River watershed. On December 2, the Yukon Supreme Court ruled that the Yukon government overstepped its authority when it threw out a land-use plan for the Peel that would protect 80 percent of the watershed. The Yukon government announced last January that it would ignore the plan — seven years in the making — in favor of its own plan to open most of the watershed to mining and other development. CPAWS-Yukon then joined the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation in a lawsuit to challenge the government’s action. The court ruling is a resounding victory for those who want the watershed protected.
The Conservation Alliance first supported the Peel protection effort back in 2010, funding CPAWS-Yukon for their participation in the land-use planning process. When the Yukon government tossed out the plan, we then supported the lawsuit that should now reinstate the protective plan. With the court ruling, the government must now go back and implement the original plan, though they may make some limited changes. The judge ruled that the government may not change the amount of land that will be protected. As a result, we are likely to celebrate 13 million acres of new protections sometime in 2015.
The twists and turns in this campaign demonstrate the power of committed, local people advocating for the protection of wild places. CPAWS-Yukon and the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation never wavered in their dedication to protecting the Peel. When the government rejected the land-use plan, the conservationists turned to the courts. And won.
We are proud of the role we have played in this effort, and hope to report a final victory in a few months.
National Geographic wrote an excellent summary of the effort when the ruling was announced. Check it out.