Ottawa moves to protect 2 large northern areas

Ottawa announced Wednesday it is acting to protect two large swaths of boreal forest and tundra in the Northwest Territories from development.

Ottawa announced Wednesday it is acting to protect two large swaths of boreal forest and tundra in the Northwest Territories from development.

The two areas, which cover close to 10 million hectares, include tracts of wilderness in a 15,000-square-kilometre area along the Arctic Circle calledthe Ramparts River and Wetlands, and a section of the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.

During a news conference Wednesday in Ottawa, Baird saidthe federal government is "withdrawing massive areas from industrial development to protect some of the most impressive ecological and cultural wonders in the North for generations to come."

The lands are not national parks or wildlife areas yet, but the interim land withdrawal does protect the areas from "the allowance of mineral staking, sale or lease during the course of negotiations," said a government release.

Ottawa has set aside $830,000 to establish the new national wildlife area in the Ramparts River and Wetlands, and has ordered studies on the creation of a new national park at the Great Slave Lake location.

Baird said rules must be followed before the designations are official.

"All these rules and regulations have been put in place so we can protect our environment from bad things," said Baird. "Sometimes you have to run through some hoops to do some good things."

Creating the national park would fulfil and expand an initiative first proposed in 1970, when Liberal Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, while the Ramparts River proposal dates back at least four years.

Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said it's important that the lands, whichcover roughly twice the area of Nova Scotia, be protected now, before the development of natural resources progresses any further.

"Having these interim land withdrawals sets aside huge portions of land that can help us bring it all into balance before that development gets too far along," said Strahl.

Move praised by locals, environmentalists

Frank T'seleie, who lives in Fort Good Hope along the Mackenzie River, said the Ramparts River and its wetlands have been used by the Dene for thousands of years. The area is also home to many endangered species, he said.

"The falcon, the elusive caribou, woodland caribou are in this area, and also our own history," said T'seleie.

NDP MP Dennis Bevington said there is already so much development in the North— from diamond and uranium minesto oil and gasventures — and no one to fill the jobs.

People want to learn from development that's already happened in areas like Alberta, he said.

"As northerners, when we look at development, we realize that we don't want to be in a situation of a Fort McMurray, where anything goes and land and the environment can just take a complete back seat," he said.

Environmental groups like the World Wildlife Fund Canada, which have criticized the Conservative party on issues such as climate change, praised the decision.

"We'll probably come out swinging next week on climate change and their targets for industry, but today, this is a massive accomplishment and we applaud it," said Lorne Johnson, director of theOttawa bureau of theWWF.

With files from the Canadian Press