Q.P. Klondike Search & Rescue, May 1, 2013

Question re:  Tombstone Territorial Park management

Mr. Silver:    Mr. Speaker, earlier this year, I attended a public meeting about the Tombstone Territorial Park Management Plan. It requires a review three years after the plan’s approval and that is what is happening this spring.

One of the issues that was raised at the meeting was search and rescue in the park. The park management committee drafted its recommendations that Yukon develop regulations necessary to fully implement the park’s management plan. This will help manage the park and ensure public safety.

The current policy of the government is “hiker beware.” The Department of Environment’s website warns visitors, and I quote: “Yukon Parks staff do not have the capacity or responsibility for initiating search and rescue.”

Inevitably, the Klondike Search and Rescue Association and the RCMP are involved in any rescue. As the numbers of visitors continue to increase, so will the number of people who will encounter problems. How does the government plan to address this concern?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:    Mr. Speaker, the Tombstone Park is a great example of collaboration between the government and First Nations with regard to a park in the territory. 

Of course, this year, as the member opposite noted, we are conducting a review of that plan in conjunction with our planning partners, the First Nations. A number of issues have come up through that process that suggest we will have to make some changes throughout the coming years, perhaps.

One of the things that we’ve noted is the fairly dramatic rise in attendance at that park and the visitation at the interpretive centre. So we’ve seen a fairly strong increase in interest of Yukoners and visitors to the territory in attending that park. We’ll have to make decisions about the services that are provided in that park, in conjunction with our First Nation planning partners.

So with regard to the specific issue of search and rescue and hiker safety, those are, of course, in the mix as well, and we’ll given them due consideration and thought, but I’m not in a position to commit to a specific program at this time.

Mr. Silver:    One of the draft recommendations for the new TombstonePark management plan is that regulations be drafted to ensure public safety. There is no plan in place now to deal with search and rescue situations when they arise — steep embankments, specifically.

The City of Dawson is bringing a resolution to the annual general meeting ofYukon municipalities that is coming up this weekend. It addresses the broader issues of search and rescue capabilities in rural Yukon and raises the issue of funding and community involvement.

KSARA, the Klondike Search and Rescue Association, can be a part of the solution to this problem. It needs help to coordinate search and rescue planning, and its members need access to training. The current approach, which is simply “hiker beware” is a recipe for disaster. We should not wait until a tragedy occurs. What is the government doing to address this gap in search and rescue coverage?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:    As I said earlier, we are always working with First Nations, our planning partners, to manage a number of parks throughout the territory, and I point out that the Yukon has the second highest percentage of protected areas in the country. So we have a lot of area to manage, and we do that collaboratively with the respective First Nations in respective areas. So, in this particular case, we are working with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation to manage the Tombstone Territorial Park. We’ve made significant investments in that park throughout the years, including the building of what I would consider an absolutely phenomenal building in the interpretive centre there, and we are always taking action to ensure that our parks are safe and that Yukoners have the opportunity to enjoy them safely, as do visitors to this territory.

So, again, with regard to the specific management planning of the park, those are actions that we’ll do in conjunction with First Nations and we are currently reviewing the plan as a whole in conjunction with that First Nation, so if the issue of search and rescue is something that comes out specifically, as the member opposite has noted, then we will have to deal with that.

That is something we will have to work with our partners in planning to develop how best to respond and what services to provide in that park.

Mr. Silver:    I appreciate the answer from the minister responsible. I’m sure that Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in will say the exact same thing — that KSARA is definitely part of the solution. I’m flagging this issue for the minister for specific reason. Visitation in that park, as he mentioned, has increased, and in 2012 there were over 12,000 visitors to the park. The park’s isolation is what makes it both attractive and dangerous at the same time. When visitors can do their best to prepare and be safe, there still will continue to be accidents, and we need to do our best to be prepared.

At the meeting I attended earlier this year, there was concern about the lack of a plan for search and rescue — and that was at the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Cultural Centre. I’m looking for a commitment from this government that will address the problem. The park’s management plan suggests new regulations might be in order for this to happen.

Is this government going to respond positively to the recommendation, and when might we expect an answer about the improved search and rescue capabilities in Tombstone Park?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:    What I can commit to is that we will respond positively to all recommendations that we receive. On some of them, of course, we will have to consult our planning partners and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.

So, at this time, I can’t commit to a specific regulation, but what I can say is that we take the recommendations that come out of this process very seriously and will give them due consideration and thought as we move forward with the Tombstone Territorial Park management. Of course, like I said and as the member noted, this is a park that has seen a dramatic rise in visitation over the years and is really a gem in the territory when it comes to attracting visitors as well as a huge attractant for Yukoners to get out and enjoy Yukon’s exceptional environment and wilderness.

When it comes to ensuring that Yukoners and visitors alike are safe in the territory, of course that is a priority for us, but when it comes to the specific regulations, I can’t make a commitment at this time. What I can say is that I’ll continue to work with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in to ensure that theTombstone Territorial Park is properly managed.