Newspaper article The Canadian Press

UNESCO Issues Warning about Wood Buffalo National Park Due to Dams, Development

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

UNESCO Issues Warning about Wood Buffalo National Park Due to Dams, Development

Article excerpt

UNESCO issues warning about national park


An United Nations agency has issued a warning about the environmental health of Canada's largest national park.

In a report released Friday, UNESCO says northern Alberta's Wood Buffalo National Park is threatened by energy development, hydro dams and poor management. It warns that unless the area is better cared for, the park will be added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

The report acknowledges that the overall condition of the vast park -- bigger than the Netherlands -- remains good. But it concludes there's no guarantee that will continue.

"There is long-standing, conceivable and consistent evidence of severe environmental and human health concerns based on both western science and local and indigenous knowledge," the report says.

"The concerns coincide with the absence of effective and independent mechanisms to analyze and address these concerns at an adequate scale."

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna welcomed the report.

"The findings and recommendations contained in this report represent a call to action," she said in a release. "A true response to this report will only be possible through collaboration."

UNESCO inspectors visited the park in September and October. They came at the urging of First Nations, who have long expressed concern about the cumulative effects on the Peace-Athabasca Delta of hydro projects in British Columbia, oilsands development in Alberta and climate change, which is already changing the landscape.

"The key issue is the declining water level," said Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.

"There's mud flats everywhere and we just can't get out on the land. When you can't navigate on our river systems through our delta, it's preventing us from exercising our rights and passing on our culture."

Concerns about water levels go back to the construction of B.C. Hydro's Bennett Dam, built in the 1960s without environmental assessment.

No study has ever been conducted on how much water the delta needs to sustain ecological functions, even as industrial demands increase. Shifting precipitation patterns from climate change are already lowering summer water levels. …

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