Making land-use plans climate ready


Planning for a climate changed future

WCS Canada provides input on government and community planning processes based on our scientific research on how best to keep wildlife and ecosystems healthy for the long term. Yukon is one of the last places on the planet that can still boast largely intact wild areas and as such we have an opportunity to steward this areas and take new conservation approaches that are going to be difficult or impossible in more developed and heavily populated regions. Our input on planning is aimed at informing all Yukoners how we can keep this very special place healthy and intact.

The Dawson Region land use plan

The Recommended Plan for the Dawson Planning Region represents a significant improvement over the draft plan. WCS Canada scientists are particularly pleased to see recommendations for the legal designation of all Special Management Areas (SMAs) for protection; recognition of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); recognition of the importance of addressing the impacts of climate change in the region; and the nomination of Wetlands of Special Importance for protection.  Better protection for the Fortymile caribou herd, thanks to the removal of elevation thresholds for habitat protection, is also a positive development.

But there are still some important opportunities for additional improvements to ensure the plan’s overall conservation success, including:

  • Finding ways to address the gap between the recommendation of including 60% of the region in SMAs as recommended by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (TH) government and the 39.4% put forward in the plan.
  • Addressing the risk of still allowing some resource development in SMAs, including continued development of existing mining claims.
  • Improving representation of the Klondike Plateau ecoregion in recommended protected areas.
  • Better describing how spatial and timing buffers will be implemented along with the monitoring of effectiveness.
  • The need to adopt a cumulative effects threshold approach for waterways to protect salmon habitat.
  • The need to designate Off-Road Vehicle Management Areas, particularly within SMAs, and the implications of not immediately addressing the issue of public access to resource roads, which can lead to major cumulative impacts.
  • The need to lay out an implementation strategy that all agencies can refer to and follow.

 How well the plan is implemented will, of course, have a major impact on its effectiveness.  To address the gap between what the plan proposes be included in SMAs and what has been recommended by the TH government, for example, attention is going to need to be paid to both the extent and the management of Integrated Stewardship Areas (ISAs).  In particular, the TH government is going to need to be closely involved in managing these areas (which will allow resource development) in full partnership with the Yukon Government to ensure TH values are protected.

In our comments on the recommended plan, we have highlighted how the recommended SMAs are largely well designed (outside of the Klondike Plateau) but vulnerable to fragmentation and disturbance by roads and mineral development. We suggest some modifications to boundaries and including some overlooked areas to make the system even better positioned for conversation success.

A large concern in the recommended plan is the failure to apply better conservation measures for protecting salmon habitat, particularly from the effects of placer mining. The territory has a good foundation to build cumulative effects monitoring for waterways thanks to the Fish Habitat Management System (FHMS). However, the FHMS on its own is not sufficient.  We recommend that the FHMS be built into a water quality indicator and thresholds approach for managing cumulative effects in streams with good salmon habitat quality.

We believe that addressing the issues we have raised in our comments can help ensure the conservation success of a plan for one of the world’s most ecologically intact and important areas.  For more details, please see our full comments on the Recommended Plan.

    Beaver River Land Use Plan

    The Government of Yukon and First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun (FNNND) are preparing a land use plan for the Beaver River watershed. WCS Canada is assisting FNNND in its involvement with the planning process and preparations for the environmental monitoring.  Our scientists helped FNNND to identify Chinook Salmon populations and their habitat in the watershed, and are investigating water quality and increased permafrost melt as a risk for salmon. We have also summarized our work in a storymap: A Quest for Chinook Salmon in Central Yukon.

    Summary of Comments

    Dawson Regional Land Use Plan

    A key observation is that the plan currently fails to recognize that economic and personal health are both based on the health of our environment. More specifically, the plan offers insufficient protection for important areas both in the type and scale of conserved areas, especially in the face of a changing climate. The draft plan also needs to recognize that some land uses are not sustainable. The impacts of things like placer mining and tailing ponds cannot be undone even in 7 generations. And the plan also needs to more fully embrace Indigenous knowledge about both current ecological systems and how they are changing.   More Details

    Draft Wetlands Policy

    The direction taken in this draft policy could lead to delays and deferrals in identifying and conserving important wetlands and leaves too many wetland areas at risk. It also fails to embrace the need to protect the enormous amounts of carbon stored in wetlands as a way of curbing global heating. There is too much “status quo” thinking in the policy, which will lead to the gradual eating away of wetlands by mining, agriculture, roads and other development. Overall, we conclude that the Draft Wetland Policy fails to achieve any lasting wetland protection, fails to provide significant new direction to wetland stewardship, and leaves a lot of uncertainty for Yukoners who care about wetlands.  More Details