United Nations report concludes Canada is failing to protect Wood Buffalo National Park

Today UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee released a much awaited report with its findings from a 10 day monitoring mission that UNESCO sent to Wood Buffalo National Park in the fall of 2016.

The monitoring mission determined that dams on the Peace River and oils sands projects south of Wood Buffalo National Park are having impacts on the Park that are “far more complex and severe than previously thought”.  The report concludes that anything less than a “major and timely” response to these threats would “constitute a case for recommending inscription of Wood Buffalo National Park on the List of World Heritage in Danger.”

The UNESCO report is part of a United Nations process initiated by a petition filed by the Mikisew Cree First Nation in December 2014 to have Wood Buffalo National Park added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. Mikisew took this novel step after decades of federal and provincial governments ignoring Mikisew’s concerns about the health of the Peace Athabasca Delta, which is an important area for the exercise of Mikisew’s rights and culture within Wood Buffalo National Park.

The report recommends giving Canada one opportunity to “immediately develop a structured and adequately funded response” to the 17 recommendations in the report. The recommendations fall in three general categories: (1) developing a plan to fix the problems with the Peace Athabasca Delta, (2) enhancing the Park’s resources for environmental monitoring and protection and (3) correcting Canada’s outdated approach to working with indigenous peoples in the Park. Key recommendations include:

  • Transition to a genuine partnership with aboriginal groups in governing the Park;
  • Improve and expand monitoring of the Peace-Athabasca Delta;
  • Conduct an environmental and social impact assessment of the Site C dam on the Peace-Athabasca Delta;
  • Conduct a systematic risk assessment of tailings ponds;
  • Assess options for a buffer zone between the Park and oil sands projects;
  • Better regulate land uses south of the Park;
  • Start a process towards restoring flooding cycles in the Delta; and
  • Strengthen Parks Canada’s conservation focus and capacity for managing the park.

Mikisew representatives had this to say about the report in a press release issued today:

“We agree with the report’s recommendations. We brought our petition to UNESCO because our way of life is tied to the Peace-Athabasca Delta and Canada’s failure to protect this important area has put our people at risk. Canada needs to respond quickly and strongly to implement the report’s recommendations because the Delta doesn’t have much time,” says Mikisew Chief Steve Courtoreille.

Melody Lepine, Mikisew’s lead for the UNESCO petition, added, “This report confirms what Mikisew elders have been saying for years. Canada may have ignored the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the Mikisew Cree in the past, but now the world will be watching. It’s time for Canada to start working with us to protect the Delta.”

Mark Gustafson, along with the JFK Law team, represent Mikisew on its UNESCO petition.

For more information

Wood Buffalo National Park Reactive Monitoring Report: https://whc.unesco.org/en/documents/156893

Press Release regarding the UNESCO Report: https://cpaws.org/news/united-nations-report-concludes-canada-is-failing-to-protect-wood-buffalo-n

Video about Mikisew’s UNESCO petition: https://vimeo.com/131438792

About the petition:  www.mikisewgir.com/projects/

Canada’s response to UNESCO Report: https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/minister-mckenna-welcomes-report-on-joint-reactive-monitoring-mission-to-wood-buffalo-national-park-615898123.html