Yukon Chamber of Mines promoting wall building material to US president-elect

In the last week the outcomes of two elections have defied the optimists on the left.

The first, of course, was the Yukon territorial election. While some were fervently hoping for a Yukon New Democratic Party minority government, others had convinced themselves that a NDP majority government was possible. They were even willing to concede that a Yukon Liberal Party minority government in partnership with the NDP could happen.

Alas, it was not to be. The Liberals swept to power with eleven of the nineteen seats available. The conservative Yukon Party, the outgoing governing party, got six seats and the NDP only got two. 

Now, a Yukon Liberal government is not the end of the world. They will be a damn sight better than the previous government. 

The incoming Liberals have committed to working with the Government of Canada in regards to a carbon tax. Their platform talks about protecting the Peel Watershed. There is even mention of resolving the vexing waste management and recycling issues facing Yukon communities. 

However, there are also some concerns that the outcomes could perhaps be not as positive. The Liberals are on record as stating that they would like to examine the current mining environmental assessment process to find ways to harmonize it with the way water licenses are issued.

For those not familiar with the Yukon mining industry, basically mines go through an environmental assessment and, once that is done, they then have to get a water licence. It is a system that works rigorously and well in defending the land and water. 

In some circles, the idea of harmonizing can imply gutting environmental assessments. Looks like the beady eye of the Yukon environmental community will have to focus in on this to ensure land and water protections remain in place.

Now, in regards to that other election held in the Republic to the south and west of us, the impacts on the Yukon could be devastating. 

The new regime has a policy of greatly increasing fossil fuel extraction on United States soil. Some of the proposed areas are extremely important from an environmental perspective. 

One of these areas is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the north slope of Alaska, snuggled up against the Canadian border. A portion of this refuge is known as the 10-02 area and it is where the vast Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate to each spring so that they can drop their calves.

Later in the year they migrate over the border into the Yukon Territory, where they spend the winter. 

While the herd is harvested by many Yukons, it is central to the life and culture of the Vuntut Gwitchin, a First Nation that lives in the winter grounds of the herd.

The Vuntut Gwitchin are desperately trying to secure the permanent protection of the calving grounds. They have dispatched a delegation in the last few days to Washington D.C. in an attempt to get some form of stronger protection for this special, and to some sacred, area.

Should the calving  grounds be developed for fossil fuel extraction, the Porcupine Caribou Herd will be destroyed. Perhaps not immediately, and perhaps not all at once, but it will over time decrease and diminish. As goes the herd, so goes the culture and subsistence lifestyle of the Vuntut Gwitchin. 

Finally, it would seem that not all Yukoners are aghast at the election results from the United States. The local Yukon Chamber of Mines released an infographic on Twitter and Facebook addressed to  the president-elect. It informs him that the Yukon produces the best wall building materials. 

Given the general horror the election has produced, and in a Yukon context given the severe implications it will have on the Porcupine Caribou Herd, one would have hoped some sensitivity would have been shown. 

But apparently not. It is worth noting that the exact same materials that are being touted by the Chamber to the United States for building walls can also be used, in both a metaphorical and a literal sense, for building bridges. 

Here is hoping that the new Yukon Liberal government attempts to direct the Territory’s resources for positive outcomes instead of having them used in evil designs. And here is hoping the Vuntut Gwitchin, with one assumes the support of the new Yukon Government and the Government of Canada, are successful in protecting the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. 

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Lewis Rifkind

Lewis Rifkind

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist. His work centers around Yukon recycling, energy and mining issues. When he is not winter camping or summer hiking, he collects stamps...