Mr. Speaker, the Department of Lands is responsible for managing and administering Territorial lands and Commissioner’s land. Territorial lands are public lands formerly administered by the federal government and devolved to the Government of the Northwest Territories on April 1st, 2014. Commissioner’s land is public land already under the GNWT’s jurisdiction and formerly administered by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. Prior to April 1st of this year, the GNWT was only responsible for .02% of the land mass, or roughly 2700 square kilometers. Post-devolution we are now responsible for 85% of the land mass of the NWT or 1.15 million square kilometers.
At this time, Commissioner’s land and newly devolved Territorial lands are managed and administered under separate legislation and policy frameworks. Now that the GNWT manages the majority of public land in the NWT, we need to develop new recreational leasing policies that apply to both types of land.
Mr. Speaker, the Department of Lands has begun work on a new Recreational Land Management Framework. The Recreational Land Management Framework will help to harmonize the Department’s approach to recreational land management while taking into account existing legislation, regulations and policies. Our goal is to ensure that decisions on recreational leasing consider potential land use needs and that land is managed in a transparent and consistent manner across the territory.
The Recreational Land Management Framework will address unauthorized use, access to leasing opportunities, maintaining public access to popular sites, and protecting areas of ecological and cultural value. It will also include area-specific studies and planning to address local land management issues like high demand for recreational leases.
One area that will be studied is the Ingraham Trail and Highway 3 area near Yellowknife outside of the existing sub-divisions. Lands has begun a land use plan scoping study to evaluate the potential benefits of an area-specific land use plan for this area.
The Government of the Northwest Territories will engage Aboriginal governments as it develops the Framework, both individually and through the Intergovernmental Council, which was established to give Parties to the Devolution Agreement the opportunity to collaborate on land management issues. Letters advising Aboriginal governments of our plans and inviting them to participate have already been sent.
The Department will also engage with the public and key stakeholders to identify their interests and concerns about recreational land management as part of developing the Framework. The Department will post the draft Framework on its website so that the public and stakeholders can review, ask questions and provide feedback.
While the Recreational Land Management Framework is being developed, no new applications will be accepted in the focus area. This will ensure the conditions of future leases meet the most up-to-date standards and guidelines. I want to emphasize that existing leases in good standing will not be impacted. Commercial activity will not be affected.
Notwithstanding this, Mr. Speaker, the Department of Lands will also be examining options in the short-term for managing vacant, previously surveyed lots within existing subdivisions in the focus area.
Mr. Speaker, I want to be clear that the GNWT is also taking action against unauthorized occupancy across the Northwest Territories. We have recently enforced a court order to remove an individual and their belongings at a site that was unlawfully occupied. The Department has also increased the number of inspections it conducts in order to identify all unauthorized users and has stepped up efforts to raise public awareness.
Guided by the Land Use and Sustainability Framework, the Department of Lands is committed to managing public land in a fair, transparent and sustainable manner to ensure that rural land across the NWT is managed in a way that reflects traditional use and northern priorities.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, Northerners care about the land and want to enjoy access to rural land for recreational purposes across the Northwest Territories. The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to ensuring that access is responsive to the priorities of our residents and respects traditional use – both now and into the future.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.