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October 8, 2013
SASKATOON – Governments struggling with land-use plans that balance the values of First Nations, industrial developers, and wilderness lovers, could learn from the cautionary example of the Yukon’s Peel River watershed, according to a study by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS).
“We predict that unless the identified flaws in the decision process are addressed, the Peel River Watershed debate will only continue to be drawn out, with different participants, perspectives, and values repeatedly coming into conflict,” wrote the authors in the journal The Northern Review.
The analysis grew out of the work of SENS students Kiri Staples and Manuel Chávez-Ortiz, with professors Doug Clark and M.J. Barrett.
The Peel River watershed covers about one sixth of the land area in the Yukon Territory, an area larger than Nova Scotia. While it has no permanent settlements, several groups have interests in it. The Peel falls within the territory of four First Nations who use it extensively for subsistence hunting, fishing and other traditional activities. Big game guides and outfitters also operate in the area, and industry is considering petroleum and mining development. The Peel is also prized by wilderness lovers and its conservation has attracted the attention of high-profile environmentalists.
“There are certainly a lot of perspectives at play here, with some people wanting 100 per cent conservation and others wanting some development,” Staples said. “But it is ultimately up to the four First Nations governments and the Yukon Government to come up with a way to navigate those differences through the decision process. Our analysis shows the Yukon government ultimately failed to do this.”
Under the auspices of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, public consultation was conducted and input gathered from all parties. The result was a final land use plan accepted by all four First Nations governments calling for conservation of 80 per cent of the of the Peel Watershed in the Yukon, with the balance open to controlled development.
The researchers report this plan was rejected by the Yukon government, which unilaterally began modifying the plan. As a result, the First Nations governments expressed concern that their voices were no longer being heard in what was supposed to be a co-operative process.
“Conflicting perspectives and values among groups is to be expected in a diverse and democratic society,” Clark said. “However, in the context of the Peel Watershed, the decision-making process led by the Yukon government left participants feeling they’ve been denied respect and a true voice at the table.”
The researchers conclude that land-use planning processes would be strengthened if they included steps to help stakeholders better understand each other’s values early on, and how these values would be affected by different outcomes of the decisions to be made. Also, a clear and stable set of ground rules, that is, how the plans will be negotiated, is essential, since land-use planning today has to be able to reconcile a wide range of diverse but legitimate interests at the table.
For more information, contact:
School of Environment and Sustainability
University of Saskatchewan