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Wood Buffalo receives worst conservation outlook for World Heritage Sites in Canada

Indigenous communities and conservation groups call for Canada to take appropriate action on this national park.

Indigenous communities and conservation groups call for Canada to take appropriate action

EDMONTON, ALTA. – This week the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released its 2017 World Heritage Outlook  an assessment that looks at threats to the conservation of natural World Heritage sites around the world.

Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada’s largest World Heritage Site, is classified as having the worst conservation outlook in all of Canada and the second worst conservation outlook of North American World Heritage Sites.

Wood Buffalo is the only site in North America to receive a Significant Concern rating with a deteriorating conservation outlook since the last review in 2014.

The report finds that the Peace-Athabasca Delta within Wood Buffalo is at significant risk from upstream industrial development. These developments include existing and planned hydro-electric dams along the Peace River in British Columbia  including the Site C dam  and from oil sands development along the Athabasca River in Alberta.

The outlook also finds Canada’s management response to the deterioration of the Park is inadequate “in light of the scale, pace and complexity of the challenges,” and recommends “significant investment in better understanding and monitoring the impacts and risks from industrial development,” is needed, as is
“enhanced water governance across jurisdictions and more meaningful of First Nations and Métis in the management and governance (decision-making) of the national park and its surroundings.”

Concerns about Wood Buffalo National Park's failing ecosystems have received international scrutiny since the Mikisew Cree First Nation filed a petition to have the park placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. In July of 2017 the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations requested Canada create an action plan that addresses threats to the Park.

“Elders in our community have been concerned with the deteriorating state of the Park’s ecosystem for years. This outlook report is another wake up call for Canadians and creates more pressure on Canada to take action to better protect and manage the Park,” says Melody Lepine, Mikisew Cree First Nation’s lead for the petition. “We are asking Canada, Alberta and B.C. to start taking action with us to turn this situation around. We also call again on British Columbia to cancel the Site C dam.”

“Once again the UN is telling Canada in no uncertain terms that more must be done, and now, to protect Wood Buffalo National Park,” says Candace Batycki, program director at Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “Cancelling the Site C dam is one immediate action that the British Columbia government can and must take, with the support of Canada.” 

“This outlook just reinforces the need for better management of ecosystems both within and outside of our protected areas,” says Kecia Kerr, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Northern Alberta chapter. “As the outlook states, ‘it is troubling that well-known and massive environmental management challenges do not receive the deserved attention despite consistent concerns by a wide range of credible actors, stakeholders and rights-holders.’ ”

Read the IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2: A Conservation assessment of all natural World Heritage Sites. 

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