UNESCO World Heritage Committee decision on Wood Buffalo National Park is a warning to Canada
— Press Release July 3, 2019
EDMONTON – Indigenous and environmental groups fear for the future of Wood Buffalo National Park as the UNESCO World Heritage Committee echoes warnings of unresolved threats
On July 3, 2019, representatives from around the world gathered in Baku, Azerbaijan, for the 43rd World Heritage Committee meeting and discussed the fate of Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada’s largest national park. The World Heritage Committee called upon Canada to take further actions and warned that if Canada fails to address the threats facing the Park, it could be placed on the List of World Heritage Site in Danger.
In its decision, the Committee recognized the significance of these changes occurring within the Park. The UN body stated that “considerably more effort” and “more funding will likely be needed” to address the complexity of the challenges facing the Wood Buffalo National Park if the Park is to retain its status as a World Heritage Site. The decision requested action on the unmitigated threats of increasing upstream industrial development, like the approved Site C project, and confirmed the immediate need for “effective sharing of governance and management with indigenous peoples”.
A multi-stakeholder group of Indigenous and environmental groups believe that the Park meets the conditions for it to be inscribed as “in Danger”. We support the decision made by the Committee to continue monitoring the status of the Park as a first step, and call upon Canada to provide the resources necessary to fully address these serious issues threatening the Park.
In line with today’s decision of the World Heritage Committee, we call on Canada to:
- Immediately establish water management agreements and plans to return water to the Park needed to sustain its ecological integrity and indigenous rights;
- Immediately invest in new monitoring and science capacity in the Peace-Athabasca Delta, including Fort Chipewyan;
- Take all steps necessary to prevent any further degradation of the quality of the Athabasca River and the Park from tailings ponds and proposed regulations to allow the release of ‘treated’ tailings effluent into the Athabasca River
- Guarantee that the Project List under the new Impact Assessment Act requires impact assessments for all activities that may impact this World Heritage Site
- Conduct the assessment of Site C that the World Heritage Committee and other international bodies, experts and indigenous groups have requested for years
Representatives from Mikisew Cree First Nation, whose 2014 petition initiated the World Heritage Committee’s review of the Park, and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, attended the meetings in Baku.
“Canada has watched Wood Buffalo National Park degrade for decades and we’re disappointed in the government’s lukewarm action so far. The threats faced by this Park are enormous and they have not been properly managed, even with the international community watching” says Gillian Chow-Fraser, Boreal Program Manager for CPAWS Northern Alberta. “Without meaningful action right now, the Park is doomed, and so are the people that depend on it.”
Melody Lepine, Mikisew’s lead for the UNESCO petition added: “It is time for big, bold action by the federal and provincial governments to restore the Peace-Athabasca Delta. The World Heritage Committee’s decision makes it clear that Canada has a lot to do over the next few months to get water management agreements in place and to commit the actual resources needed to show Canadians it will get this Park back on track. We’re hopeful today’s decision is a wake up call for Canada that it must work with us and increase its efforts to stop the deterioration of the Delta that the indigenous communities of Fort Chipewyan rely on.”
About the multi-stakeholder group:
We are a multi-stakeholder group of Indigenous communities and local environmental organizations that have closely followed the developments around Wood Buffalo National Park, and advocate for stronger action to save the Park. The group submitted a joint letter to the Committee, signed by 14 parties (including: Mikisew Cree First Nation, Fort Chipewyan Métis Local 125, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, CPAWS Northern Alberta, CPAWS National, CPAWS Northwest Territories, Alberta Wilderness Association, Keepers of the Athabasca, Sierra Club BC, Alliance4Democracy, RAVEN, Peace Valley Environment Association, Peace River Environmental Society, Vicky Husband; the letter is additionally supported by the Northwest Territory Métis Nation and Smith’s Landing First Nation). The letter emphasized the urgent need for action from Canada and the provinces. The letter addressed the overwhelming need for immediate increase in funding to reflect the size and needs of the Park, and called for stronger regulations from all jurisdictions.
The joint letter can be viewed here: https://cpawsnab.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/WBNP-Joint-Letter-WHC-20190502.pdf
Wood Buffalo is important due to its immense ecological value, and the Indigenous cultural and spiritual connections to the area, leading to its designation as a World Heritage Site in 1983. It is a part of the world’s largest protected intact boreal forest. The Park helps sustain wood bison and the endangered whooping crane. Indigenous communities depend upon the lands and the water that flows through it to maintain their ways of life.
The Park has experienced rapid degradation, most notable in the Peace-Athabasca Delta where the Peace River and the Athabasca River converge. Though historically flooding nearly every decade, its now threatened by prolonged drying periods. Declines in water quantity and quality are linked to cumulative impacts from a long list of upstream industrial developments that manipulate the rivers, namely hydropower projects on the Peace River and the oil sands region on the Athabasca River. These complex effects are additionally compounded by climate change.
The World Heritage Committee was petitioned in 2014 to list Wood Buffalo National Park as a World Heritage Site in Danger. At the 43rd meeting, the Committee requested that Canada report back by December 1, 2020, with an update on the status of the conservation of the Park, which should include updates on the assessment, mitigations and compliance measures implemented to address the threats from upstream industrial projects.
For more information please visit: www.cpawsnab.org/wood-buffalo-np
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is Canada’s only nationwide charity dedicated solely to the protection of our public land and water and ensuring our parks are managed to protect the biodiversity within them. Over the last 50+ years, CPAWS has played a lead role in protecting over half a million square kilometres – an area bigger than the entire Yukon Territory. Our vision is to protect at least half of our public land and water so that future generations can experience Canada’s irreplaceable wilderness.
CPAWS has chapters in almost every province and territory across Canada, and two chapters here in Alberta – a Southern Alberta chapter located in Calgary and a Northern Alberta chapter located in Edmonton. As a collaborative organization, CPAWS works closely with government of all levels, industry representatives, and communities to manage our impact on a shared landscape. We also advocate for the creation of parks and protected areas for the benefit of both current and future generations of Canadians.