National park could lose UN heritage status

OTTAWA — Canada has eight months to put forward a detailed plan to improve the health of its largest national park or risk having the United Nations add it to a list of world heritage sites considered to be in danger.

Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories, has been a world heritage site since 1983. In March the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization in March issued a report warning the park was at risk from industrial development, including oil sands and hydroelectric dams, and would be designated “in danger” if Canada didn’t implement 17 recommendations to save the park.

The park is home to one of the world’s last self-regulating bison herds and is the only remaining nesting ground of the endangered whooping crane.

The UNESCO report, based on a visit to the park by experts last fall, came after a complaint from the Mikisew Cree First Nation in 2014. The UN agency’s world heritage committee recommendations include improved staffing, better collaboration with indigenous partners on the park’s management and a risk management review of oil sands tailing ponds, focused on the impact on the Peace-Athabasca delta.

Now it has set a deadline of February 2018 for Canada to show its plan to meet those recommendations and another deadline of December 2018 to show progress on that plan.

Mark Gustafson, a lawyer representing Mikisew Cree First Nation, told the Canadian Press on Tuesday that “in danger” is a designation usually given only to sites affected by war and government breakdown, such as the ancient city of Aleppo in Syria and Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“It would mean Canada has failed to protect some of the world’s most critical natural habitat,” said Gustafson.

He said he thinks UNESCO will begin to move on such a designation as early as next summer if there is no action plan in plac.

NDP environment critic Linda Duncan said Tuesday she is livid that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said in the House of Commons last week the government is working with 11 indigenous communities on a co-operative management framework.

“Not only has she not consulted with them, she isn’t even returning their phone calls,” said Duncan.

In a letter to McKenna this week, Melody Lepine, director of government and industry relations for the Mikisew, said the community hasn’t been able to even get a single meeting with Parks Canada to start talking, nor could it even get information on who at Parks Canada is working on the file.

The only recommendation Ottawa did not accept was to do another environmental assessment of the Site C hydro dam project in British Columbia, arguing the project had already been assessed and approved. The UNESCO committee said it was dismayed by that decision.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, McKenna said she welcomed the UNESCO review as “an important reminder that we must always work to protect Canada’s special places.”

Conservative environment critic Ed Fast said Canada should look at the recommendations, but not feel beholden to them because Canada is a sovereign nation that should be able to make its own decisions about the balance between development and environmental protection.

“It’s almost as if UNESCO is issuing a threat to Canada, which is unfortunate,” said Fast.

He said shutting down Site C is “insanity” and he hopes the government holds to its resistance against that recommendation.

—follow @mrabson on Twitter.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

BREAKING: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

Saddle up Red Deer, the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Canada is coming… Continue reading

Veterans’ Park barrier key to pedestrian safety, says Red Deer traffic engineer

The recently roughed-up concrete barrier in front of Veterans’ Park has seen… Continue reading

Man accused of home invasion in court

Victim was shot and cut with machete in September 2017 attack

Suspect accused of fleeing police in court

RCMP fired shots twice while trying to arrest three suspects in October 2017 chase

WATCH: Rebels play floor hockey with Annie L. Gaetz students

The Rebels may be on a losing streak but they were definitely… Continue reading

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Central Albertans recall Hawaii’s false missile alert

Former Red Deer councillor Paul Harris was hanging out at the Ka’anapali… Continue reading

This robotic maid takes us one step closer to ‘The Jetsons’

Imagine this: You’re rushing to get ready for work — juggling emails,… Continue reading

Milan line offers canine couture for pampered pooches

Milan has long been the world’s ready-to-wear fashion leader. Now, dogs are… Continue reading

Kim Kardashian West and husband Kanye welcome baby girl

NEW YORK — It’s a girl for Kim Kardashian West and her… Continue reading

Advocate poll takers oppose plastic bag ban

Red Deer Advocate readers like their plastic bags. In an Advocate poll,… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month