Category: Wade Istchenko Letters

Yukon wildlife and our way of life

Wade Istchenko, MLA for Kluane

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, August 5, 2016
by Wade Istchenko, Minister of Environment

Hunting and fishing are key aspects of the Yukon way of life, and it is important to our government to ensure we can continue these activities in a sustainable manner. As this year’s hunting season begins, I’d like to highlight our government’s support for traditional ways of life while also maintaining our fish and wildlife populations across Yukon.

Since elected, our government has promoted and enhanced access to hunting, fishing and trapping activities. In addition, we have increased data collection efforts and promoted the sustainable harvest of Yukon wildlife by fostering cooperation between researchers, outfitters, trappers and wildlife conservation groups.

We continue to provide Yukoners with up-to-date information regarding hunting and fishing ethics, regulations, and outdoor preparedness. Our Hunter Education and Ethics Development (HEED) training is taken by over 300 people each year and we’ve made this beneficial course more widely accessible by providing it online. This was part of our government’s Environment eServices initiative, which has also allowed Yukoners to purchase angling licences and camping permits online. We hope to expand these services soon to offer hunting seals, licences and online harvest reporting as well.

Wade Istchenko at Miles CanyonThrough our work to manage wildlife resources sustainably and responsibly, we address conservation concerns, work to mitigate human-animal conflict, and monitor species populations throughout the territory with regional partners.

For big game species, we work with First Nations, communities, renewable resource councils and the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board to ensure wildlife populations remain stable. Most recently, we have partnered with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and the Alsek Renewable Resource Council to help recover the Alsek moose population.

Our government has also completed a number of management plans since 2011 to help recover identified species at risk and provide resources to support stable populations. Examples include the Aishihik Wood Bison Herd, the Chisana Caribou Herd and the Yukon Wolf Management Plans.

In this past year, we wrapped up our second year of implementing the Aishihik Wood Bison Herd Management Plan with a herd health assessment, and we continued data collection on herd size, location and offspring of all big game species to assess population health to enhance opportunities for ongoing sustainable harvest.

Our government is also committed to the conservation and assessment of our fish populations. For instance, we continue to monitor population trends of our territory’s lake trout, whitefish and burbot, and we are currently promoting conservation on Frenchman, Twin, Fox and Kusawa Lakes due to signs of depleted lake trout stocks. We continue to explore ways to enhance and recover all Yukon fish populations to ensure stocks can be replenished and remain healthy while still allowing Yukoners the opportunity to fish freely and conservatively.

Overall, in the past year our government has invested over $1 million in more than 30 fish and wildlife-related projects that help us monitor the health and status of these important populations, and fulfill our commitments in community fish and wildlife plans. Our government’s great work on management and data collection has not only informed our decisions for setting sustainable harvest levels, it has also provided baseline information to help assess environmental impacts.

More money for campgrounds means more fun for Yukoners

Wade Istchenko, MLA for Kluane

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, May 20, 2016
by Wade Istchenko, Minister of Environment

Like many Yukoners, one of the reasons I love living in this territory is our incredible wilderness. Camping, fishing and other outdoor activities are some of the things that make our quality of life in Yukon so amazing.

That’s why the Yukon Party’s 2011 platform document, Moving Forward Together, included a commitment to upgrade Yukon campgrounds to improve accessibility, identify sites for new campgrounds and expand the capacity of existing sites.

In the five years since we were elected, we have been doing just that.

Over the past two years alone, we have invested more than $1.5 million to expand camping opportunities and improve our campground facilities. These improvements include significant work to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities.

Before we began this work, the Department of Environment’s planning and operations staff visited our campgrounds with a disability expert to identify ways we could improve accessibility.

My departmental staff were also provided with an orientation to the concept of “universal design” – the idea that a space, building or product can be designed in a way that makes it accessible to anyone, regardless of their age or abilities. I am pleased to say that the Department of Environment is now using these principles to guide the design, construction and ongoing maintenance of all Yukon campgrounds.

As a first step, the department is working to develop at least one accessible campsite in each of the territory’s major campgrounds.

Conrad Campground

Representatives of Yukon government and Carcross Tagish First Nation (CTFN) were amongst those at yesterday’s official opening ceremony for the new Conrad Campground, south of Carcross on Tagish Lake. Seen here (L to R) are Minister Elaine Taylor; Minister Wade Istchenko; CTFN elders Annie Austin, Ida Calmegane and Art Johns; Yukon Parks disability consultant Rick Goodfellow; CTFN Khà Shâde Héni Dan Cresswell and Minister Currie Dixon.

Other improvements so far include the installation of barrier-free outhouses at 32 of our 52 campgrounds and recreational sites, and the development of fully accessible campsites at the Wolf Creek, Marsh Lake and Twin Lakes campgrounds.

I am proud of the work the Government of Yukon is doing to improve camping opportunities for people with disabilities. The work will continue to be a priority for us in the years ahead.

I am also proud to say that today is a big day for outdoor enthusiasts, as the first new campground built in Yukon in 28 years opens its gates to Yukoners and visitors – the Conrad Campground, located about 13 kilometres south of Carcross on the shores of Tagish Lake.

Together with Ministers Elaine Taylor and Currie Dixon and Carcross Tagish First Nation (CTFN) Khà Shâde Héni Dan Cresswell, I was pleased to take part in an official unveiling ceremony yesterday for this beautiful new campground.

The 35-site campground doesn’t just boast great facilities and incredible views. It also includes two specially designated campsites that feature accessible parking, picnic tables and fire pits.

Its outhouses and kitchen shelter are also barrier-free, and there is an accessible spotting scope for wildlife viewing. The planned playground will also include an accessible play structure.

The Conrad Campground was built by the Government of Yukon and the Carcross Tagish Development Corporation.

As Carcross/Tagish First Nation Khà Shâde Héni Danny Cresswell recently noted, the shared approach our two governments took in developing this project is a real example of how governments can work together effectively to bring benefits to all Yukoners.

In addition, last fall, our government built 22 new campsites at existing campgrounds. Together with the 35 new sites at Conrad, this represents a 19 per cent increase in the number of campsites within 200 kilometres of Whitehorse.

This summer and fall we will continue our work, adding new infill campsites and making upgrades to outhouses, fire pits, docks, signage and kiosks at campgrounds across the territory. This includes $100,000 for infill at the very popular campground at Tombstone Territorial Park.

And as many of you know, we also committed funding this year to offer extended-season service at 10 campgrounds, which opened on May 13 and will close on September 30, weather permitting. The remaining territorial campgrounds are opening today.

I’d also like to remind Yukoners that eServices are available for fishers and campers – resident annual campground permits and angling licenses can be purchased online at the Environment Yukon website.

Enjoy the long weekend, and have an excellent and safe summer. Happy camping.

Reporting Back to Yukoners and the World on our Climate Change Action Plan

Wade Istchenko, MLA for Kluane

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, December 4, 2015
by Wade Istchenko, Minister of Environment

On Wednesday of this week, I tabled the 2015 Climate Change Action Plan Progress Report in the Yukon Legislative Assembly. The report tells the story of a government that recognizes the magnitude of changes to our northern climate and that is responding in a coordinated, informed and timely manner.

In 2009, the Government of Yukon issued its Climate Change Action Plan, which identified priority actions that would help us better understand the challenges we face and adapt to changes already underway. In that plan, we made a commitment to report on our progress. Only by having current and accurate data on our efforts can we remain responsive and demonstrate leadership to the rest of Canada and to the international community.

The 2015 progress report details the steps we have taken so far to achieve the goals in the 2009 plan. It documents our government’s strategic climate change approach and outlines the lessons we’ve learned so far and what we can do moving forward.

I’m proud to say that six years into implementing the original 2009 Climate Change Action Plan, the majority of the government’s 33 original commitments have been completed or are underway, demonstrating our leadership and commitment to this issue.

Yukon’s Climate Change Secretariat and other government departments have led the way in coordinating research, monitoring and outreach activities with stakeholders. These initiatives increase our understanding of climate change impacts on the North and provide us with ways to adapt to those impacts.

The Yukon government is working to complete adaptation initiatives with local partners and federal departments, as well as with the governments of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut through the Pan-Territorial Adaptation Partnership. The government is also partnering on important projects with organizations like the Yukon Research Centre, the Northern Climate ExChange and Council of Yukon First Nations.

As most of us know, climate change is affecting the North at a rate greater than virtually anywhere else on the planet. Many Yukoners see and feel the effects of climate change every day. Thawing permafrost is damaging buildings and highways, and changes in wildlife migration patterns are affecting traditional ways of life.

The impact of a warming world on transportation infrastructure, specifically related to permafrost thaw, has been a focus of our efforts in recent years. Thawing permafrost along the Alaska Highway from Destruction Bay to Beaver Creek has led to an annual repair cost of about $6 million in that area, a figure seven times higher than in regions that are permafrost-free. Since 2012, the Yukon government has partnered with the Northern Climate ExChange on a project that looks at permafrost characteristics along a 200-kilometre stretch of highway in the Kluane region. This project will recommend new techniques to reduce maintenance costs and increase public safety on our highways.

The 2015 progress report looks not only at our successes, but at our challenges. One of the main goals of our action plan is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While we have made progress on meeting these targets, recent changes to the way we measure those emissions indicate there is still work to be done.

In 2013, the Climate Change Secretariat commissioned a report titled Yukon Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The transportation sector. It examined all available data and found that while Environment Canada data is accurate at a national level, when applied to our smaller jurisdiction, it was significantly under-reporting the territory’s emissions.

Accurate data is important if we hope to make real progress in reducing emissions. It helps to communicate progress and opportunities for improvement. The Yukon Bureau of Statistics is working with Statistics Canada to address these data issues. Until Environment Canada’s analysis reflects Yukon’s real fuel usage, the Climate Change Secretariat, Yukon Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources will work together to produce accurate, made-in-Yukon energy use and emission reports.

It’s also important to put this in context and note that Yukon’s greenhouse gas emissions levels are still very low. Our progress report indicates that our emissions contributed less than one percent toward the Canada-wide total in 2013.

The 2015 progress report also identifies 28 new initiatives – most of them focussed on mitigation and adaptation – that support our climate change goals. The Yukon government will continue to work with its many partners on our approach to addressing climate change. We will make strategic investments in infrastructure and will protect our environment to ensure Yukon remains the best place to live, work, play and raise a family.

Finally, I would like to add that the progress report will provide important support to Yukon’s delegation to COP21, who depart Whitehorse today for the Paris conference. Communicating our ongoing work to address climate change to our national and international partners is integral to Canada’s unified approach to addressing this global issue.

Yukon’s Newest Campground

Wade Istchenko, MLA for Kluane

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, August 28th, 2015
by Wade Istchenko, Minister of Environment

As we drove out from Whitehorse toward Carcross earlier this month to check out the progress on the new Conrad Campground, senior Environment officials chatted about something we all already knew to be true–Yukoners love their campgrounds. With this in mind, I looked forward to the site visit, eager to share the progress with my government colleagues and then the public.

I’m pleased to say that construction of the new campground – the first new full-service facility of its kind in nearly 30 years – will be completed later this fall and will be open to the public in May 2016. It sits about 16 kilometres south of Carcross, off the South Klondike Highway, on the shores of Tagish Lake’s Windy Arm, and will offer 35 sites. While the bulk of the work is done, the final product will include sites for RVs, parking areas, picnic shelters, firewood cribs, fire pits and bear proof garbage containers. There will also be a play area and a cook shelter.

A group of Yukon government and Carcross/Tagish First Nation representatives recently visited the Conrad Campground, set to open to the public next May. Shown here (L to R) Bob Edzerza, Project Manager, Carcross Tagish Management Corporation; Minister of Environment Wade Istchenko; Eric Schroff, Director, Parks Branch, Yukon Environment; Khà Shâde Héni Danny Cresswell, Carcross/Tagish First Nation; and Justin Ferbey, CEO, Carcross Tagish Management Corporation.

A group of Yukon government and Carcross/Tagish First Nation representatives recently visited the Conrad Campground, set to open to the public next May. Shown here (L to R) Bob Edzerza, Project Manager, Carcross Tagish Management Corporation; Minister of Environment Wade Istchenko; Eric Schroff, Director, Parks Branch, Yukon Environment; Khà Shâde Héni Danny Cresswell, Carcross/Tagish First Nation; and Justin Ferbey, CEO, Carcross Tagish Management Corporation.

After seeing the quality of the work done, and the views from a number of the sites, I can say that the project has already exceeded my expectations. Tourists, Yukoners, and their families will enjoy this area for years to come.

Campers are not the only long-term beneficiaries of this project. I mentioned the quality of work done to date, and that is thanks to our successful partnership with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (CTFN) and its Development Corporation. During the tour I had the chance to talk with Bob Edzerza, who led the project through the Corporation. He spoke of the employment and training opportunities this project afforded several members of the First Nation, particularly youth members, who have gained valuable experience on heavy equipment and machinery. These skills will be valuable for the rest of their lives, and contribute further to their community’s prosperity.

I would like to thank Khà Shâde Héni Danny Cresswell and the CTFN Council and members for their commitment to this project, as well as the vision they share for further cultural and economic opportunities in this special area. Yukon Parks worked closely with CTFN and the Cultural Services Branch, Tourism and Culture, to ensure that the development of the campground is consistent with the objectives of the adjacent Conrad Historic Site, where the small town of Conrad City supported the Venus silver mine in the early 1900s.

The campground is an excellent base for exploring the surrounding area, whether by car, bike, boat or your own two feet. Numerous trails are just steps from the grounds, with bustling Carcross a short drive away. I encourage Yukoners and tourists alike to kick off their next summer season with a visit.

Congratulations to Yukon Parks and everyone who made this new campground a reality. This government heard from Yukoners that they wanted access to more recreational opportunities and I am very proud to say that in partnership with others, we have delivered.

To read more about Conrad Campground visit: www.env.gov.yk.ca/camping-parks/conrad-campground.

Resource protection, interpretive services and research ongoing at Herschel Island-Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park

Elaine Taylor, MLA for Whitehorse WestWade Istchenko

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, August 21st, 2015
by Elaine Taylor, Minister of Tourism & Culture and Wade Istchenko, Minister of Environment

As ministers for the departments of Environment and Tourism & Culture, we were fortunate to visit Herschel Island recently and observe the excellent work taking place at Herschel Island-Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park.

The island is Yukon’s most northerly point, approximately five kilometres off our northern coast, and is home to more than 100 species of birds along with caribou and muskoxen. In addition to its fascinating flora and fauna, the park is of great historical importance to our territory. The land has been used for centuries for hunting, shelter and as a meeting place by the Inuvialuit. In the 1890s, whalers established a community at Pauline Cove due to its deep, safe harbour. The park was created in 1987 as a result of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. Its purpose is to conserve and protect wildlife and habitat, protect heritage resources, and allow for ongoing traditional use by the Inuvialuit.

During our recent visit, with the assistance of the Yukon government’s park rangers, we were able to see first-hand how the park is managed and hear directly from staff and visitors about their experience. It was valuable to see the excellent collaboration of our two departments, with Environment administering and managing the park, and Tourism and Culture managing the heritage resources found there for the benefit of Yukon residents and visitors.

A team of park rangers from the department of Environment monitors natural and historical resources, conducts patrols and surveys, and provides interpretive services to visitors. The park rangers also assist Parks Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard with search and rescue, and are true ambassadors for the island. They collect data, such as weather conditions, ice conditions, bird migration, and the condition and abundance of vegetation within established sampling areas, which in turn the Yukon government shares with researchers around the world.

Staff from Tourism and Culture work at the park to restore, conserve and document the history and historical structures that remain on the island, which include 12 standing buildings (dating from 1893 to 1930), several subterranean ice houses and many burial sites.

Given that the average temperature in the Arctic has risen three to four degrees over the past 50 years, changes to the permafrost and ground temperature are carefully monitored. Our departments work collaboratively to manage Herschel Island’s precious heritage resources and monitor any effects that are caused by the changing climate.

The park also allows Yukon to provide important contributions to science at an international level. During our visit, we met with researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute of Germany. They are doing field studies on the island to examine the rates of ground warming and deterioration of the permafrost. Researchers from McGill and Carleton universities have also worked on projects at Herschel Island. Other research includes collaboration between the Wegener Institute and the University of Edinburgh, with logistical support from Yukon government, to measure long-term vegetation plots to help understand growth trends. The department of Environment’s Ecological and Landscape Classification Program is also undertaking a full mapping project this year on the island, in cooperation with the Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope), to inform future wildlife management decisions.

One aspect of the strength and value of Herschel Island’s contributions is that data has been collected continuously there for more than 20 years. This longevity and continuity in scientific data collection can be seen in only a few areas of the circumpolar world, and it is part of what makes Herschel Island such an important contributor to research on an international level.

Last year, just over 400 people visited the park, which is accessible by boat and aircraft in the summer. This year, two cruise ship visits are expected, in addition to commercially-guided and private visits. Site visits are strictly controlled – with staff monitoring the effects visitors are having on the environment and artifacts.

Visitors to the park normally include cruise ship passengers, Inuvialuit, researchers, tourists, Yukon government employees, sailboat travelers and Coast Guard staff. This year, we were privileged to be among those visitors. Our trip to Herschel Island was a fascinating experience for both of us and we are proud that the Government of Yukon supports the important historical preservation and scientific research work taking place in this unique and remarkable place.