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Great News for Canada’s Peel River Watershed

Photo:  Peter Mather

Early this month, conservationists and Canada’s First Nations won an important legal victory that clears to path to protect more than 13 million acres of wilderness in the Peel River Watershed in the Yukon Territories. This significant victory is an important step toward establishing one of the largest protected areas in the world.

Between 2010 and 2014, The Conservation Alliance made four grants totaling $140,000 to Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) to support their efforts to protect the Peel Watershed. The first three grants helped CPAWS participate in a land use planning process instigated by the Yukon territorial government that was designed to determine how the lands and rivers within the watershed would be managed. Working closely with three First Nations – the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the Na Cho Nyäk Dän, and the Vuntut Gwitchin – CPAWS helped develop a plan that called for protecting 80 percent of the 16-million-acre landscape.

In 2014, the Yukon government rejected the final plan, and sought to implement their own vision for the Peel, which called for opening 70 percent of the watershed to industrial mining development. In response, CPAWS and the First Nations took the Yukon government to court, challenging their rejection of the land use plan. We funded what became a three-year legal fight that went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. The court ruled on December 1 that the Yukon government must honor the plan that protects most of the Peel, delivering a historic conservation victory.

With the Supreme Court decision in hand, CPAWS and its allies now will engage in a final “consultation” that will essentially certify the land use plan, and then participate in the plan’s implementation.

“Today, we celebrate a court decision that will lead to permanent protection for a landscape that is twice the size of Massachusetts,” said John Sterling, Executive Director of The Conservation Alliance. “Thanks to the First Nations with support from CPAWS and other conservation partners, the Peel Watershed is saved.”

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