Conservation Win! The Peel Watershed is Protected

The Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan was signed August 2019, protecting the Peel Watershed!

The Peel Watershed is a large (over 24,000 square miles) and remote area located in the North-East of Canada’s Yukon Territory. It consists of 6 major rivers that all merge into the Peel, which then flows into the Mackenzie River and ultimately into the Arctic Ocean. The Yukon’s Peel River Watershed is one of the largest and most beautiful undeveloped natural areas left in North America. It is also home to several First Nations communities who have inhabited these lands for millennia. However industrial development and mining threatened to fragment this stunning landscape and harm its delicate ecological balance. There are 8,431 active mineral claims in the Peel Watershed, of which a staggering 6,773 were staked after the Peel Land Use Plan process began in 2009. Not surprisingly, the first step for any major development in the Peel would have been building roads and perhaps even a railway. Such infrastructure would have fragmented this stunning, unbroken landscape and harmed the ecological balance as they would foster a proliferation of resource extraction projects.

The 18-day Peel River Expedition down the Wind and Peel Rivers in Yukon, Canada. Part of an expedition organized by the international League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWs) to Protect the Peel. Expedition members Andy Maser, Peter Mather, Tomo Uemura, Kate Weekes, and Dona Novasky. Images also shot in the Gwich’in community of Fort MacPherson of first nations (aboriginal people) using the land in a traditional way to gather foods. The Gwich’in are working hard to protect their traditional lands, as they depend on them for the cultural and subsistence lifestyle.
Dall sheep, one of many animals that call this critical wilderness watershed home. These dall sheep, were surprisingly receptive to people….most sheep in the watershed don’t let you get within 1 kilometer of them. This group are used to paddlers and let us approach and photograph. ©Peter Mather / iLCP

In 2014, iLCP partnered with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Yukon Chapter to provide the visual assets needed to ensure the area’s protection. The photos served to increase awareness of the area locally, nationally and internationally, to educate the Yukon public and stakeholders, and to lobby with the necessary authorities.


Thousands of canoeist paddle the tributaries of the Peel River every year, seeking solitude, wilderness and adventure. Kate Weekes and Dona Novacosky float over the aquamarine colored waters of the Wind River.. The wilderness provides a relief from hectic city life for thousands of paddlers every year. Kate stands to get a better view of the upcoming rapids. ©Peter Mather / iLCP

What does the final plan look like?

  • 55% permanent protection, called Special Management Areas

  • 25% interim protection, called Wilderness Areas

  • 3% interim protection for threatened boreal caribou, called Wilderness Areas-Boreal Caribou

  • 17% open to various levels of development

In total the Peel will have 83% protection! That’s 55,858 square kilometers of new protected areas in the Yukon! 

Check out some more images from the iLCP expedition, or view the full journey!

Many of these images were taken at the Midway Music Festival a cultural gathering for the Gwichin of the Mackenzie Delta. Gwich’in who depend on the Peel for their subsistence lifestyle. Many people live on the banks of the Peel River getting their year’s fish supply and drying it in their traditional smokehouses.
Tony Alexie is cleaning a freshly killed Canadian Goose. He burns the feathers off in a fire, before cooking the goose over coals to provide lunch for everyone. He is carrying on with traditional subsistence living on the Peel River. His ancestors have hunted goose along this river for thousands of years. ©Peter Mather / iLCP

Pacific Loons nest throughout the Peel Watershed and specifically in the Turner Wetlands…a world-renowned wetland that supports tens of thousands of waterfowl. ©Peter Mather / iLCP

Thousands of canoeist paddle the tributaries of the Peel River every year, seeking solitude, wilderness and adventure. Tomohiro Uemura plays with the water during a long day of canoeing on the Peel River. ©Peter Mather / iLCP

Thousands of canoeist paddle the tributaries of the Peel River every year, seeking solitude, wilderness and adventure. Dona Novacosky and Kate Weekes paddle through the Peel Canyon, a beautiful cathedral of rocks that tower hundreds of meters above the river. ©Peter Mather / iLCP