Mismanagement of Canada’s Largest National Park Is Attracting International Scrutiny. Here's Why.

One year ago, after scathing reports by international agencies, the federal government promised to better protect Wood Buffalo National Park, with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna saying a warning from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, followed by an equally dire assessment by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), were a call to action.

But that action is moving at a glacial pace, even though the stated threats to the integrity of Canada’s largest national park, such as upstream oilsands development, climate change and construction of the Site C dam, are continuing unabated.

Change in the [Peace-Athabasca Delta] is undisputed and there are clear, consistent and conceivable hints at causal relationships with industrial development, confirmed by western science and local and indigenous knowledge,” the report warned. It also took aim at forestry, pulp and paper, uranium mining, agriculture and other resource development in the watershed.

Canada Commits Historic $1.3 Billion to Create New Protected Areas

Hart River Peel Watershed by Juri Peepre

The Trudeau government committed an unprecedented $1.3 billion in Tuesday’s Budget 2018 to protect land and water in Canada over the next five years. The funds will help Canada meet its target to protect 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of oceans by 2020 under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

This is a very good news day for conservation in Canada,” Alison Woodley, national conservation director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), told DeSmog Canada.

‘There Isn’t Time’: Endangered Orcas Need Emergency Intervention, Coalition Tells Ottawa

Time is running out for the remaining 76 orcas that make up B.C.’s Southern Resident killer whale population and the federal government should take action to intervene, say a coalition of environmental groups petitioning Ottawa for an emergency order under the Species At Risk Act. 

The groups say the petition is coming now because they believe the endangered population is at a critical juncture. 

What Does The Peel Watershed Ruling Mean for the Yukon – and Canada?

Peel Wateshed Peter Mather

The long-awaited Supreme Court verdict on the Peel Watershed case is finally here.

In a unanimous ruling, the highest court in the country decided that three Yukon First Nations and two environmental organizations were correct in their push for a lengthy land-use planning process to be maintained and only rewound to the point where the government can conduct final consultations.

It’s been a lengthy and complex case. So what does today's decision really mean?

Q&A: Why the Fate of Canada’s Peel Watershed Rests in the Supreme Court’s Hands

Hart River, Peel Watershed Yukon

The fate of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed — one of the most pristine wilderness areas in Canada and home to four First Nations — will be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on Dec. 1.

What lies in store for the Peel will be determined by future land-use planning in the territory and whether and how those plans grant industry access to the undeveloped region.

PHOTOS: Documenting the North's Mighty and Threatened Peel Watershed

Peel Watershed Peter Mather

The Peel Watershed covers 68,000 square kilometres of pristine mountains, wetlands, rivers, tundra and forest. It is world renowned for its rugged natural beauty and ecological richness, and, more recently, as a wilderness under threat. 

Thousands of mining claims dot the territory, with companies seeking to extract copper, platinum, uranium, lead-zinc, and iron. The mines themselves would disrupt the landscape and watershed, and the roads required to support those mines have attracted their own criticism for the landscape fragmentation they would bring. 

Canada Has Three Years to Increase Protected Areas by 60% And, Um, It’s Not Going to Be Easy

Hart River Valley Peel Watershed. Photo by Juri Peepre

In less than three years, Canada has to increase the amount of land and inland waters it protects by 60 per cent to meet a commitment under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

The commitment requires signatories to legally designate 17 per cent as “protected areas.” Those can include national, provincial and territorial parks, as well as Indigenous protected areas, tribal parks and privately protected spaces. But to qualify, the areas must be closed to industrial activity.

It’s not going to be easy.

Canada Risks International Embarrassment Over Mismanagement of World Heritage Site: UNESCO

Wood Buffalo National Park salt flats

Canada’s largest World Heritage Site is under threat from unfettered oilsands development and hydro dams on the Peace River — where the B.C. government is now planning to build the massive Site C dam — says a hard-hitting report by a United Nations agency.

While contaminants from the oilsands are affecting water and air quality, water flows through Wood Buffalo National Park are being strangled by dams, according to the highly critical report by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature

The report warns that, if there is not a “major and timely” response to its recommendations the organization will recommend that Wood Buffalo National Park be included in the list of World Heritage in Danger, a list usually reserved for sites in war-torn countries or those facing other disasters.

The park, made up of 4.5 million hectares of boreal plains in northern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories, has been affected by decades of massive industrial development along the Peace and Athabasca Rivers, along with poor management and lack of overall consideration of the effect of projects, it says.

The scale, pace and complexity of industrial development along the critical corridors of the Peace and Athabasca Rivers is exceptional and does not appear to be subject to adequate analysis to underpin informed decision-making and the development of matching policy, governance and management responses,” says the executive summary, which adds that the park is also subject to the additional stress of climate change.

Battle to Protect Northern Yukon, Home of Pristine Peel Watershed, From Industry Heads to Supreme Court

Wind River in the Peel Watershed. Photo by Peter Maher

Almost 40 years ago, former federal judge Thomas Berger issued a final report in the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, at the time Canada’s longest, largest and most comprehensive industrial project review.

The massive two-volume report was the product of exhaustive consultations between 1974 and 1977 with Dene, Métis and Inuit peoples, and recommended that the proposed construction of a gas pipeline be delayed for a full decade in the Northwest Territories and permanently barred from the Northern Yukon as it would “entail irreparable environmental losses of national and international importance.”

It turned out to be an incredibly pivotal moment in the history of Indigenous rights and ecological protections in Canada, arguably helping to preserve the largely pristine Northern Yukon, Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea for the decades since.

And on March 22, 2017 — a single day before his 84th birthday — Berger will fight another battle on behalf of the region, this time representing three Yukon First Nations (Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Na-cho Nyak Dun and Vuntut-Gwitchin) and two environmental organizations (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Yukon Conservation Society) in the Supreme Court of Canada over land-use planning in the Peel Watershed.

B.C. Coastal First Nations Conservation Economy Booming: New Report  

The tiny community of Klemtu has been transformed over the last decade as funding from Great Bear Rainforest agreements allowed members of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation to revamp their tourism strategy and come up with new business opportunities while protecting their traditional territory.

The Spirit Bear Lodge was expanded from six to 24 beds, the single wildlife viewing vessel was replaced with a new fleet of boats and business tripled.

Tweet: Tourists from all over now travel to Klemtu to watch grizzlies, wolves, whales & the rare white spirit bear #bcpoliTourists from all over the world now travel to Klemtu to watch grizzly bears, wolves, whales and — for the lucky ones — the rare white spirit (Kermode) bear.

It has been huge for the community,” said Chief Councillor Douglas Neasloss.

About 50 people from the village of 320 are now employed in some way in tourism operations and have been trained for jobs ranging from chefs to tour operators.


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