North

Parks Canada cancels whooping crane tours in Wood Buffalo National Park

Whooping crane tours were set to begin this week in Wood Buffalo National Park, but the Salt River First Nation and Fort Smith Métis Council say Parks Canada didn't consult with them about holding the tours.

Salt River First Nation, Fort Smith Métis Council say they weren't consulted about tours

Biologists in N.W.T.'s Wood Buffalo National Park spotted 202 whooping cranes with a total of 32 young fledglings during an annual summer survey — up from 28 fledglings last year. (Klaus Nigge/Parks Canada/Wood Buffalo National Park)

Parks Canada says there will be no whooping crane tours in May and June of this year, following complaints from aboriginal groups about a lack of consultation. 

The tours were listed to begin in Wood Buffalo National Park this week.

Thirty people were supposed to be taking the tours this summer, which cost between $1,300 and $3,800. 

On Friday, the Salt River First Nation said it planned to go the federal court for an injunction to stop the tours, which are scheduled to begin today.

Ken Hudson, the president of Fort Smith's Métis Council, says Parks Canada never came to them, either.

Hudson says they have concerns about the altitude of the flights over the park. He says Parks Canada was proposing flight ceilings of about 300 metres for planes and 360 metres for helicopters.

He says he would have liked the opportunity to consult with the Canadian Wildlife Service or the people who monitor the whooping cranes about how the proximity of aircraft could affect wildlife.

"If we consult with them and they advise us that no, that's way too low, we'd get back to Parks and get them to change it before we give it support," says Hudson. "But we weren't given that opportunity."

Hudson says that if First Nations are resorting to injunctions to stop the tours, that shows there's something very wrong with the system.

Salt River Chief Frieda Martselos says she first heard about the plan to offer tours through the media. She says the first time the plan was discussed with Parks was at a meeting in April.

"It is an endangered species," says Martselos. 

"It has an effect on the buffalo, also, and all fur-bearing animals because they're going to be landing helicopters just a few kilometres from the nesting area and using blinds. Those are big things. And Parks Canada has a duty to consult Salt River First Nations."

Parks Canada would not agree to an interview. It did issue a statement saying it is committed to engaging with aboriginal groups about the whooping crane experience.

The Parks Canada website still lists flyover tours scheduled for August.

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