Peel River Watershed – Canada
Conservation Groups & First Nations aim for more than HALF!
Canada’s Peel River Watershed, encompassing 14% of the Yukon Territory, is one of the largest and most beautiful intact natural ecosystems left in North America. However, industrial development (particularly in the form of roads and exploration for minerals, oil, and gas) threatens to fragment this stunning landscape and harm its delicate ecological balance. Protect the Peel is working to ensure the long-term protection of this magnificent landscape.
Located at the northern end of the Rocky and Mackenzie Mountains chain, this spectacular region is defined by a constellation of wild rivers: the Peel, Ogilvie, Blackstone, Hart, Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume. One of Canada’s most striking mountain river watersheds, the Peel is the heart of a great boreal and sub-arctic ecosystem with a long cultural history, free-ranging wildlife and a rugged northern beauty. It is a global benchmark of predator-prey ecosystems within a vast primeval wilderness. Sprawling over 43,000 square miles, the Peel Watershed dwarfs many famous landscapes– such as Banff and Yellowstone national parks – in size, unspoiled splendour, and ecological integrity.
The World Wildlife Fund ranked the Peel among the top 200 conservation priorities in the world, and it is part of the Canadian Boreal Initiative campaign to protect at least 50% of the North American boreal forest. The watershed is the northern anchor of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, a broad-based international project to protect ecosystem connections for wildlife. Wildlife includes a host of high-profile species, such as grizzly bears, wolverines, wolves, Dall’s sheep and caribou that are at risk elsewhere. Extensive wetlands are essential as migratory waterfowl nesting and staging areas, and are a necessary habitat for birds of prey and a host of nesting shorebirds and neotropical songbirds. If the Peel watershed is protected in its entirety, it will double the amount of land protected in the Yellowstone to Yukon region, since the initiative was launched in 1997.
The Peel Watershed has great cultural significance for First Nations, providing physical and spiritual subsistence for thousands of years. It’s no exaggeration to say their cultures depend on the great herds of caribou, just as the Lakota cultures in the American West are tied to the buffalo. Except here the caribou still roam free, as the First Nations strive to strike a balance between modern and traditional ways.
Yukon First Nations are asserting their rights, spelled out in land-claims agreements settled in the early 1990s. These agreements led to creation of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission. Appointed by both territorial and First Nations governments, the Commission prepared – with extensive public input – a recommended land-use plan for the watershed.
The Commission recommends a protective, Special Management Area designation for 80% of the watershed. This reflects the strong local and national support for conserving the Peel. First Nations want 100% protection from development within the watershed, and 80% of the people who responded to consultations on the Recommended Plan want at least 80% protected. But that does not mean the Peel is safe. The Yukon Government’s position is at odds with that of the First Nations and Yukoners. The territorial government, continually pressured by industry, wishes to open this vast remote wilderness for roads and oil, gas and mineral exploration and development. This position may seriously hinder the Plan’s adoption and allow development that would devastate this iconic wilderness.
The Yukon Conservation Society and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-Yukon are at the centre of a widespread movement to protect the Peel watershed by adopting the recommendations of the First Nations and the Planning Commission. The watershed is critical to the survival of wide-ranging wildlife. It’s an ancient cultural landscape for First Nations, and the region supports a burgeoning tourism industry. The pristine wild rivers, valleys, and mountains of the Peel will become even more important as a sanctuary for wild species as the climate warms. By conserving it, we will protect one of the finest remaining mountain boreal ecosystems in the world, and make a substantial contribution to the global Nature Needs Half vision.