The government has released an in-depth plan to save Wood Buffalo National Park that an NWT leader says could actually work – so long the plan turns into action.
“It’s an ambitious plan for sure,” said Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation (NWTMN). “If they put the money it needs into (saving the park), it could be possible to do it.”
Work has already started, he said, and a good working relationship has been established between the federal government and the NWTMN, among other partners.
“We’ve put in our concerns and they’ve been met,” said Bailey.
His biggest concern now is making sure the plan is funded, projects are actually completed and the project’s major partners – namely, Alberta and British Columbia – are kept on board. The GNWT is also a partner, as are the K’atlodeeche, Deninu Kue, Salt River and Smith’s Landing first nations and the NWTMN.
“The time is very short with all the work that we’re trying to get done,” said Bailey. “We’ve got to continue working together.”
The plan contains 142 actions in seven areas, the majority of which – 75 – fall under “environmental flows and hydrology.”
In addition to a bevy of data collection and research projects, the plan has already identified several areas in the park for an initial phase of restoration projects, said Nadine Stiller, an associate regional director general for Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Much of these have to do with reviving the Peace-Athabasca Delta.
At the heart of many of the park’s issues is that less water has been flowing into this area and feeding its wetlands, which are vital habitat for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife.
With Indigenous co-operation, the team plans to pinpoint other areas of key ecological value and look into remediation, which
could include flowing more water into the area, creating ice dams and in-stream weirs.
The other six areas are Indigenous partnerships, environmental assessment, connecting conservation areas, tailing ponds risk assessment, monitoring and wildlife and habitat conservation.
New protected areas were put into the park last year and Laurie Wein, senior program manager for Parks Canada and lead on the action plan, said more are planned, including a “biodiversity stewardship area” on the southern boundary of the park.
“We are very proud of the plan,” said Wein. “We believe that it is through the collective actions and effort of involving all these government departments and our Indigenous partners that we can rise to meet the challenges for Wood Buffalo.”
Two years ago, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned the park was in danger of losing its World Heritage status as its ecological value was under threat.
The action plan blames climate change, upstream damming and industrial activity for the environmental degradation.
While it promises environmental assessments for future threats, it said there is no legal mechanism to put a project such as B.C.’s Site C dam – which has been identified by researchers as a grave threat to water flow in the park – back under environmental review if it has already received a go-ahead.