Commission releases new version of Dawson land use plan

·3 min read
The view of the North Klondike Valley in Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon. The Dawson Regional Planning Commission released its recommended land use plan on Wednesday. (Yukon Government - image credit)
The view of the North Klondike Valley in Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon. The Dawson Regional Planning Commission released its recommended land use plan on Wednesday. (Yukon Government - image credit)

The latest iteration of the Dawson land use plan has been released.

It's an area the size of Switzerland with landscapes ranging from dredge ponds to pristine wilderness.

The Yukon's Dawson planning region will be jointly managed by the Yukon and Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation governments under a draft plan, released Wednesday after four years of work.

It would put more than a third of the region, almost 13,600 square kilometres, off limits to new mineral staking, though existing projects could continue. The plan says those areas would get the highest level of protection.

Most of the rest of the region is divided into "integrated stewardship zones," which would offer different levels of conservation.

The entire planning region covers 39,854 square kilometres or about 10 per cent of Yukon, and is meant to balance the various interests in the land. Values vary from wetlands, cultural sites and caribou stomping grounds, along with what lies beneath — precious minerals packed tightly in ore.

The plan, the full document of which runs nearly 400 pages, is not a legal document, and it doesn't replace territorial law or First Nations land claims. The territory has also released more simplified versions online.

Needs of caribou a highlight, says conservationist

A Yukon environmentalist says the latest version of the Dawson Regional Land Use Plan heads in the right direction.

Sebastian Jones, with the Yukon Conservation Society, says he's cautiously optimistic, saying he thinks the commission has listened to feedback from Yukoners.

Jones said proof of that is withdrawing a corridor Fortymile caribou use from quartz mining.

"It's obvious that the planning commission has thought deeply about the needs of caribou," he said.

However, he added if it were up to him, the plan would have been more ambitious when it comes to protecting caribou habitat.

"But I have to be realistic," he said. "I'm definitely going to suggest that the final recommended plan is tweaked a bit, and is a bit more ambitious."

In the interim, he said he's "as content" as he "expected to be."

He said in some ways, land use planning can "fail" when it comes to protecting certain areas because he said instead of deciding what the "appropriate use" for a certain area should be, the planning commission assesses how the current land use can be accommodated, and sometimes mining activity is prioritized.

"Typically, places that are set aside for conservation are areas with very little development on them, not necessarily because they're super high value ecologically," he said.

He said if land was protected because of its ecological value, then the Clear Creek area would have been set aside for conservation, "because it's very important for the Clear Creek caribou herd."

"But instead," he said, "the priority was given to ... mining because that's what's taking place in that area."

Jones added that he thinks it was "innovative and courageous" of the planning commission to identify wetlands within the planning region that should be designated as "specially important."

But on the other hand, he said the lower Indian River wetlands complex was left out, "despite the fact that ecologically, it is very important."

More consultation

Jerome McIntyre, with the Yukon government, said the government is launching into further consultation, which is set to last for about two months.

"I've been a planner a long time, and I've never seen a plan that everyone agrees with," McIntyre said.

But he said, this step announced this week is a "huge milestone."

"Planning isn't an easy exercise, obviously, you've got to consider a wide range of views coming from different interest groups," McIntyre said.

"Balancing those interests is not an easy job. And, you know, it's a citizen led commission that does this. And it's a huge commitment on their time to work through these things."

Yukoners can submit feedback on the recommended plan until November 20.