Massive northern park at risk of landing on ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list
Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas. (Parks Canada)
The status of Canada’s largest park as a world heritage site remains wobbly after a United Nations body expressed grave doubts about a federal plan to rescue it.
“Considerably more effort will be needed to reverse the negative trends at a time when climate change combined with upstream industrial developments and resource extraction are intensifying,” says a draft decision on Wood Buffalo National Park from UNESCO, which manages the UN’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Further deterioration, it says, “could eventually lead to the inscription of the property on the list of World Heritage in Danger.”
Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas and breeding grounds for millions of migratory birds from four continental flyways.
With almost 45,000 square kilometres of grasslands, wetlands and waterways, it is the world’s only breeding ground for endangered whooping cranes and home to the world’s largest herd of free-ranging wood buffalo. First Nations depend on the area.
But it has been deteriorating for decades. In 2014, the Mikisew Cree asked UNESCO to examine the park and see if it still merited designation as a World Heritage Site.
- ‘We’re not convinced’: Groups criticize draft plan to restore Wood Buffalo National Park
- Almost every part of Canada’s largest national park deteriorating: federal study
- Canada dragging its feet in protecting Wood Buffalo National Park, critics say
The UNESCO report prompted Ottawa to commission a 561-page study that concluded 15 out of 17 measures of ecological health were declining. The effects — everything from low water flows to curtailed Indigenous use — stem largely from changes to area rivers caused by climate change, dams in British Columbia and industry in Alberta.
Canada proposed solutions such as artificially induced spring floods and other water flows. Ottawa also promised more careful environmental reviews of nearby development and better consultation with local Indigenous people.
…But Canada failed to answer concerns about B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam, UNESCO says. It also points out that ongoing oilsands development upstream from the park is of “serious concern.” MORE