Mikisew Cree want Wood Buffalo National Park put on UNESCO 'in danger' list

The Mikisew Cree First Nation is asking a United Nations organization to put Wood Buffalo National Park on its list of endangered world heritage sites.
The salt plains in Wood Buffalo National Park were among the reasons it was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1983. The Mikisew Cree First Nation is now asking the UNESCO to put the park on its list of endangered world heritage sites. (submitted by Carolyn Matthews)

The Mikisew Cree First Nation is asking a United Nations organization to put Wood Buffalo National Park on its list of endangered world heritage sites. 

The national park that spans the Alberta-N.W.T. border is home to one of the largest inland freshwater deltas in the world, one of the reasons why UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site in 1983. The delta is formed by the Peace and Athabasca rivers. 

Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Steve Courtoreille says the Bennett Dam has had catastrophic effects on the ecosystem since its construction in the late 1960's. He says the water levels throughout the delta fell, lakes dried up and the previously abundant muskrat, once central to his peoples' way of life, virtually disappeared from the area. 

Courtoreille says he expects the impact from BC Hydro's site C dam, approved in October for construction on the Peace River, to be even worse. He says he's also concerned about the impact of encroaching oilsands development happening south of the park.

"Our fear is that our park is no longer going to be a world heritage park, it's going to be a wasteland, with nothing there," he said.

Courtoreille says people in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., feel BC Hydro's intention to build another dam on the Peace River will further threaten both their way of life and the animal and bird species that the park is supposed to protect.

The First Nations' petition to UNESCO calls for greater government regulation and further studies into the proposed impact of industrial activity on the ecology of the park. They also ask for a buffer zone around the park, where industrial activity near the park's borders would be prohibited. 

"This buffer would protect the part of the delta that's not contained within Wood Buffalo National Park, as well as habitat for the endangered whooping crane," said Alison Ronson, executive director for the Northern Alberta branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. 

She says her organization is supporting the Mikisew Cree First Nation in its attempt to get the park added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage in Danger. 

"When a site is placed on a list in danger it would be an obligation of the government to respond to that and work with UNESCO to make sure that this natural site, of importance both in Canada and internationally, is addressed and protected," she said.

BC Hydro has said they've done an environmental assessment has the approval to go ahead with the Site C dam.

No one at Parks Canada was available for comment.


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