UNESCO hears fears that Wood Buffalo National Park 'is going to dry out'

UNESCO monitors arrived in Fort Chipewyan Wednesday to hear how low river levels are affecting Wood Buffalo National Park and their way of life.

‘If you take away the land, you’ve taken away the well being of our nation,’ Fort Chipewyan chief says

UNESCO monitors will observe and hear how low water levels are threatening Wood Buffalo National Park’s ecosystem. (Courtesy of Mikisew Cree First Nation)

UNESCO monitors are in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., to hear first hand from First Nations and Metis peoples how low water levels are threatening Wood Buffalo National Park's fragile ecosystem and whether the park should be classified as threatened.

Land users say they've noticed changes in water levels and fear the world's largest inland delta is disappearing.

"It's going to destroy pretty much the whole delta. The whole delta is going to dry out," said Steve Courtoreille, chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.
Mikisew Cree Chief Steve Courtoreille (David Thurton/ CBC News)

"There'll be nowhere for the fish to spawn, the birds to land and for the moose to survive. Let alone the buffalo."

Wood Buffalo is home to North America's largest population of wild bison.

The Mikisew Cree First Nation is worried that damming of the area's waterways, the future Site C project in BC, climate change and nearby oilsands activity are affecting water levels.

Many in Fort Chipewyan, a community where residents complain about high food prices, depend on the land for food.

"That's our livelihood," Courtoreille said. "That's our grocery store."

Over the next three days, UNESCO observers will hear from the First Nations in Fort Chipewyan, scientists and others in the community about the threats to the park.

"The land is us," Courtoreille said after meeting with the observers. "If you take away the land, you've taken away the well being of our nation."

Wood Buffalo National Park was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983.

If the United Nation places the park on a threatened list, it will join 55 others and mean the park is eligible for immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund.

The move would also alert the international community to the situation and encourage corrective action.

On Sunday, monitors will leave for Fort McMurray and then travel to Edmonton where they will meet with industry officials, the province and B.C. government officials.