Grantee Spotlight: Fighting to Protect the Peel

Located at the northern end of the Rocky and Mackenzie mountain chains, the Peel River Watershed encompasses over 26,000 square miles, or 16 million acres, of truly wild country that dwarfs iconic parks like Yellowstone in size and unspoiled splendor.  This region includes the Peel, Ogilvie, Blackstone, Hart, Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume rivers – and it is home to grizzly bears, wolverines, wolves, Dall sheep and caribou, and more.  As climate change impacts habitat around the world, the ecological integrity of the Peel Watershed makes it globally significant, with the potential to become a “refugia” that provides conditions for species to survive even as they become imperiled elsewhere.  And the Peel is also rich with human history and cultural importance.  Archaeological evidence shows the Peel watershed has been occupied for millennia.  The Peel Watershed is the cultural homeland of four First Nations: First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and the Tetlit Gwich’in Council.

In 2004, as part of implementing the Umbrella Final Agreement of the Yukon Indian Land Claims Agreement, a collaborative land use planning process was officially started between the affected First Nations and the Yukon Government. In 2011, the Peel Watershed Planning Commission produced a Final Recommended Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan that called for 55% of the region be fully protected as Special Management Areas, and another 25% to be designated as wilderness areas with interim protection.  However, the Yukon Government subsequently decided it didn’t want to adopt the final recommendations of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, which has resulted in the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, and Campion grantees Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Yukon Chapter (CPAWS-Yukon) and the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS) jointly suing the Yukon Government.  In December 2014, the Yukon Supreme Court found in favor of the First Nations, CPAWS-Yukon and YCS.  The Yukon Government has appealed this ruling, with the next phase of case proceeding in 2015.

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