Thoughts & Key Recommendations on Whitehorse’s Official Community Plan

Written by Maegan Elliott, Conservation Coordinator at CPAWS Yukon, Heather Ashthorn, Executive Director of Wildwise Yukon, and Sebastian Jones, Fish, Wildlife, and Habitat Analyst at Yukon Conservation Society.

Header image by Maegan Elliott: Conservation Intern Preet Dhillon walks along a large wetland complex within Whitehorse city limits

The City of Whitehorse is seeking feedback on key policy ideas for the next Official Community Plan until August 31st. This high-level plan will provide overarching direction for the next 20 years, helping determine how Whitehorse addresses big issues—like affordable and just housing, charting how new development occurs, and ensuring that the future is shaped by the visions of the First Nations whose territories Whitehorse occupies. Our organizations encourage people to engage with the full scope of the Official Community Plan, but for the purposes of this blog we’ll focus on the parts of the plan that relate to wildlife habitat and climate change. 

You can read about these key policy ideas, also called emerging directions, here and access the survey to provide your feedback here by August 31st. This blog post includes key recommendations to the City from three local environmental organizations: CPAWS Yukon, Wildwise Yukon, and the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS). 

Key Recommendations from CPAWS Yukon

Overall, the directions laid out for the next Official Community Plan align with CPAWS Yukon’s climate action and conservation goals. The plan includes positive policy directions such as: finding ways to strengthen the circular economy, support low impact and efficient transportation, reduce wildfire risk, monitor and manage climate change impacts, improve our food security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, densify housing development, maintain a network of green connections throughout the City, and look for opportunities to expand city parks beyond city boundaries with regional planning. CPAWS Yukon is also pleased to see the plan consider a collaborative approach to the conservation of McIntyre Creek, a significant wildlife area and wildlife corridor that passes through the city. However, we have a few key recommendations to offer:

  • Consider the potential future need for wildlife underpasses or overpasses along high-traffic roads that are likely to be upgraded in the future, such as the Alaska Highway and Mountainview Drive.
  • Ensure that further development within McIntyre Creek, such as a road, is removed from consideration before collaborative planning for the area is complete.
  • Improve how wildlife attractants, like garbage and compost bins, are managed in the city and strengthen applicable bylaws, especially along green spaces.
  • Follow the directions laid out in the Wildfire Risk Reduction Strategy. If forest is cleared for fuel breaks, ensure breaks are strategically located to ensure they’re effective and not simply a tool to clear land for development.
  • Ensure alignment with directions laid out in Our Clean Future, Yukon’s strategy to respond to climate change.

Wildwise Yukon’s Key Recommendations

Wildwise Yukon is a not for profit society, established in 2012, that operates to prevent and reduce human-wildlife conflict in the territory through research, outreach and education programs. Wildwise Yukon’s recommendations for the Official Community Plan center on improved coexistence with wildlife in Whitehorse: 

  • Promote human-wildlife coexistence across city strategies.
  • Include specific direction in the Official Community Plan for reducing human-wildlife conflict.
  • All city planning processes must align to promote wildlife-human coexistence. The Official Community Plan should acknowledge that we live in wildlife territory and demonstrate that wildlife will be considered in all planning processes. For example, the Official Community Plan should:
    • Outline the City’s intent to improve our waste management system so it does not lead to habituation and food conditioning of bears.
    • Provide direction for Parks planning in a way that considers and avoids development in areas with optimal bear forage and historical human-bear conflict and maintains trails and campgrounds in a manner which decreases risks.
    • Empower the strengthening of bylaws and regulations to ensure increased agricultural activity in the city doesn’t lead to increased human-wildlife conflict.
    • Consider the use of ornamentals for city beautifications that are not attractive to bears or other wildlife.
    • Empower revisions to municipal building code to require bear proof enclosures for waste storage in all new buildings.
  • All documents should reference the Whitehorse Bear Hazard Assessment, which was co-commissioned by WildWise, the City, Yukon Government, Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council in 2016.

Yukon Conservation Society’s Key Recommendations

YCS is a grassroots environmental non-profit organization, established in 1968. Through a broad program of conservation education, input into public policy, and participating in project review processes, we strive to ensure that the Yukon’s natural resources are managed wisely, and that development is informed by environmental considerations. Policy directions in the Official Community Plan contain numerous excellent ideas, and YCS hopes these suggestions are helpful: 

  1.     Towards Reconciliation:
  • The Towards Reconciliation Policy Directions does reference “continued collaboration” with First Nations, but it does not define a formal role for First Nations in planning. We recommend that this is addressed, and that there is a clear plan for how the City of Whitehorse will ensure that Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Kwanlin Dün First Nation are meaningful partners in all planning decisions.
  1.     Climate Action:
  • We are pleased to see that a community emissions inventory is proposed; this would be strengthened with measurable targets in line with the International Panel on Climate Change’s direction to massively and urgently reduce emissions immediately, and mechanisms for enforcement.
  • There is an opportunity to reduce wildfire risk and advance Reconciliation by supporting First Nations led controlled burns.
  • We are cautious about expanding agriculture lands as a means towards increased local food production; there are real ecological consequences to converting wild lands to agriculture, and given the amount of underutilized, and un-utilized agriculture land, this may not be a good approach.
  • Winter Transportation should be part of a Winter City Strategy.
  1.     Towards a Sustainable Mode Share:
  • Achieving sustainable transportation is an excellent policy direction.
  • The target to reduce single passenger traffic should aim to reduce the total number of trips in single passenger vehicles compared to today, not simply the proportion of trips as a whole.
  • YCS suggests zoning and other incentives that will foster and even mandate vehicle free households.
  • In our experience, neighbourhoods rarely include a network of walking/cycling/ski trails separate from road networks. Foot trails can pass between houses in a way that roads cannot, and can greatly increase the livability of neighbourhoods.
  1.     Conservation of Natural Areas:
  • We suggest that the Conservation of Natural Areas direction includes a commitment to a defined minimum percentage of lands set aside for conservation, rather than ‘a large percentage’. The setting of this percentage, and identifying which lands, is another opportunity for Reconciliation.
  • Key wildlife corridors should be identified and protected, and wildlife crossing for busy roads should be planned for.
  • The Yukon River Corridor extends from the Southern Lakes to the Alaska border northwest of Dawson City, and early signals from the Draft Dawson Regional Land Use Plan indicate that this corridor will be managed as a unit, primarily for conservation. YCS recommends a commitment to integrating the Yukon River corridor within Whitehorse municipal limits into the Yukon wide Yukon River Corridor Special Management Area.
  1.     Strong Downtown and liveable areas:
  • YCS supports the approach that directs development to the downtown core rather than towards a highway strip. A commitment to zoning that prevents contradictory decisions would put meaning to this policy direction.
  • YCS supports the concepts of Urban and Neighbourhood centres and encouraging development adjacent to transportation routes.
  1.     Targeting the Right Supply of Housing:
  • Consideration should be given to Municipally owned and built housing, a model which has proven itself as a method of rapidly addressing affordable housing gaps in numerous countries. 
  1.     Intensifying Employment Areas:
  • We applaud the direction to accommodate growth, rather than foster growth, and we agree with densifying development.
  • Given that infinite growth on a finite land-base is impossible, no matter how excellent the planning, YCS suggest that Whitehorse consider ways to arrest the curve of growth, and to set a population target and methods to achieve it.

You’ve made it all the way to the end of the key recommendations from CPAWS Yukon, Wildwise Yukon and YCS! To gain some inspiration for your own feedback, scroll down and enjoy a cinematic masterpiece produced by the City of Whitehorse. Then, go take the survey to have your say in the Official Community Plan!

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