Threats to the Peel and First Nations

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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. The thriving and growing guiding and wilderness tourism industries in the Peel are based on undisturbed nature far from roads, industry or towns, healthy wildlife, and clean water that can be drunk straight out of the rivers. However industrial development in the form of roads and exploration for minerals, oil, and gas, threatens to fragment this stunning landscape and harm its delicate ecological balance.


The map shows how mining claims have crept right up to the boundary of the watershed.

A local outfitter has described how as he brings his horses into the Peel, he is constantly bothered by helicopters, ATVs and drill rigs until he crosses into the Peel watershed where a silence rushes back. This silence is not assured; if the Peel watershed is not protected, it is likely mining exploration will rapidly spill over into it.

There are 8,431 active mineral claims in the Peel Watershed, of which a staggering 6,773 were staked after the Peel land use planning process began. The commodities that mining companies are seeking in the Peel include copper, lead-zinc, nickel, platinum, iron ore and uranium.

According to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission it is unlikely that many of the claims in the Peel identify significant deposits of minerals. But should one prove feasible for development, the infrastructure associated with it would make it much cheaper to develop more marginal deposits. There is one major deposit in the Peel that could spark a cascade of development: the Crest iron ore leases near the Snake River, held by Chevron. However the cost of building access and power infrastructure to develop this remote deposit would be enormous.

First Nations and ENGO's are calling upon Chevron and other companies with holdings in the Peel to show good corporate citizenship by giving up their leases and claims to make way for protection. Read More

A recent Canadian study concluded that the consumption of caribou living near the Wollaston Lake uranium mine increased the chance of developing cancers to a rate of 6 cancers per 1,000 people. This far exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency range of acceptable cancer risks of 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 1,000,000.

The Bonnet Plume Basin in the central portion of the Peel watershed contains the largest coal deposit in Yukon, estimated at 660 million tons. It has been proposed as a source of power for developing the nearby Crest iron deposit, despite the huge contribution that coal burning makes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Although there is currently a moratorium on mineral staking in the Peel watershed, staking and more advanced exploration continues to escalate nearby.

See how much of the Yukon has been staked between 2009 and now thanks to the free entry system which assumes mining is the first and best possible use of the land, irrespective of any other economic interests and values.

Oil and Gas

The Dalglish Creek Land Management Unit along the western edge of the Peel watershed is part of the Eagle Plains basin, and has the most promising oil and gas potential in the Peel watershed. The Recommended Peel Watershed Land Use Plan has designated this region for Integrated Management, which means it could be developed subject to environmental reviews. Yukon Energy Corporation is considering piping natural gas from Eagle Plains down the Dempster Highway to Stewart Crossing to fuel a power station.

The Dalglish Creek area has many First Nations culturally important places, archeological sites and travel routes. It is used by the Porcupine Caribou Herd for fall migration, rutting and winter range. Development of oil and gas in this area would create increased traffic on the Dempster Highway, disturbances from construction, and landscape fragmentation and disturbance from drilling.

Roads, Development and Caribou

A diagram showing how roads and local development can impact the availability of habitat.

Perhaps the most distinct characteristic of the Peel Watershed is the absence of roads, with the exception of the Dempster Highway along its western edge. The first step for any major development in the Peel would be building roads and perhaps even a railway. Should a large, well-financed developer get permission to build a road into the Peel, access to other, less economically viable developments would be created. Thus the first road would lead to a network of access, and a proliferation of resource extraction projects.

Roads degrade wilderness; vehicle traffic and increased hunting resulting from new access into pristine areas can have devastating impacts on wildlife. Large scale industrial development is almost impossible without year round access; when the present road network in the Yukon was developed in the 1950's and 1960's, the project was sold as "Roads to Resources".

Once roads are built, they rarely if ever are removed. Even if they are built by and for one industrial developer, they will almost certainly be used by others and eventually maintained with public funds by the government. For example the Yukon's Canol and Clinton roads have long since outlived their original purposes; there is little case for their continued existence yet the Yukon Government maintains them to this day. Read More

Yukon Conservation Society
302 Hawkins Street Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 1X6
(867) 668-5678 •
CPAWS Yukon Chapter
P.O. Box 31095, 211 Main St., Whitehorse, Yukon, Y1A 5P7
(867) 393-8080 •