Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: A Threat to One of the Jewels in Our Crown

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: A Threat to One of the Jewels in Our Crown

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: A threat to one of the jewels in our crown

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Nov. 20:

This country's national park system is the Canada of myth and of the world's imagining, breath-taking natural sanctuaries that are superb, unique, irreplaceable.

The largest of these - at almost 4.5 million hectares of forest, wetland, salt plains and prairie - is Wood Buffalo National Park, straddling the boundary of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Wood Buffalo, established as a national park in 1922 and larger than the Netherlands, is home to North America's largest population of wood bison, a threatened species. It contains flyways for countless species of migratory birds and is the world's only breeding ground for the endangered whooping crane.

It has huge tracts of boreal forest of spruce, jackpine, aspen and poplar. It has some of the largest undisturbed grass and sedge meadows left in North America. And it contains the world's largest freshwater delta at the mouth of the Peace and Athabasca rivers.

Wood Buffalo's size and remoteness has allowed for the protection of entire ecosystems. For those features, UNESCO named it a World Heritage Centre of outstanding universal value in 1983.

Appallingly, that status is in danger, despite warnings that have been urgent and frequent.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a global umbrella of 10,000 experts which advises UNESCO, says in a new report that Wood Buffalo is significantly threatened by hydroelectric and oilsands development. In fact, "the conservation outlook deteriorated since (the last report in) 2014."

The causes are several.

Climate change is a no-doubter to those who live in Canada's North. In the Northwest Territories, former Tuktoyaktuk mayor Merven Gruben told the Star, "our summers are getting longer, the springs are getting earlier, and the falls are getting later."

More specific to Wood Buffalo is the drying-out caused by dams on the Peace River and contamination from oil-and-gas activities along the Athabasca, especially the oilsands of Fort McMurray 225 kilometres to the south. …

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