Highlights

23 august 2012

New NWT’s national park boundaries leave critical wildlife habitat unprotected, critics say

Picture

Naats'ihch'oh National Park Reserve (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

On the second day of his annual northern tour, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stopped in Moose Pond, NWT, to announce the creation of Canada’s 44th national park, the Naats'ihch'oh National Park Reserve.

“Today’s announcement will ensure that almost the entire length of the South Nahanni River, its tributaries, and most of its watershed will now be protected within our national parks system,” he said.

But critics caution that protecting only part of the Nahanni watershed is just not good enough.

Gilda Salomone spoke with Kris Brekke, executive director of the Northwest Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).
Kris Brekke welcomes the announcement of a new national park reserve, but adds that the boundaries established leave out critical wildlife habitat that is essential for the ecological integrity of the region.

The boundary has “eliminated an area that is extremely important for protecting mountain woodland caribou habitat, grizzly bear habitat, Dall’s sheep habitat, … it also eliminates a significant portion of the source waters of the Nahanni River… About 60 or 70 per cent is protected, but the thirty that is left out has a significant portion of the ecological value”, says Brekke.


        
Source: Parks Canada

Source of contention

The boundaries have been a source of contention since talk of the new park started in 2007. Consultations were held with aboriginal leaders and elders, mining companies, paddling outfitting companies, nature and wildlife conservation groups and other stakeholders. There were three main proposals: boundary 1 would’ve protected 94 per cent of the watershed, boundary 2, 84 per cent,while boundary 3, the one chosen, will protect 70 per cent of the territory.

“The public process and ecological assessments that came out in the consultation suggested that boundary 1 should be used to protect Naats'ihch'oh. The federal government yesterday chose to select boundary 3, despite all the scientific and public evidence”, says Brekke.

The former premier of the Northwest Territories, Stephen Kakfwi, was also disappointed at the announcement. He deplored that an important part of the land will be used for mineral development.

“He’s taken the heart right out of it. The middle of it is carved out, so that mining can happen, dead center in the middle of this proposed national park,” said Stephen Kakfwi.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen visited Moose Pond, Northwest Territories on Tuesday, where a new national park is being created. Harper announced the boundaries of the Naats'ihch'oh National Park Reserve on Wednesday during his tour of the North. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A bad precedent

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen visited Moose Pond, Northwest Territories on Tuesday, where a new national park is being created. Harper announced the boundaries of the Naats'ihch'oh National Park Reserve on Wednesday during his tour of the North. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
But Prime Minister defended the choice of boundaries and did not want to be drawn into a debate about them.

“Obviously, one of our objectives is to make sure we protect our environment and also allow for economic opportunity here”, he said.
Kris Brekke warns that integrating areas for industrial development in spite of core ecological values establishes a bad precedent.

“If you think in the context of Canada, the Northwest Territories has about 8 percent only protected areas. Areas like British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon, which are very developed, have more protection, 12, 13, 14 per cent. So to think that in the North the job has been done… is false,” he says.

Brekke believes that fully protecting areas like the Nahanni watershed should be done before industrial development takes place.

Gilda Salomone, with files from the CBC.

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