Wood Buffalo statement (Canada) to 41st Session on the Wold Heritage Committee - POLAND, July 5th, 2017
On July 5, 2017, GIR Director Melody Lepine addressed the World Heritage Committee in Kraków, Poland, regarding the status of Wood Buffalo National Park, and the need for urgent action to protect the land’s ecological integrity. This address follows the Committee’s decision to offer Canada one last chance to improve the deteriorating state of Wood Buffalo and the Peace-Athabasca Delta. Mikisew continues to press both domestically and internationally for better protection of the Park, Canada’s largest World Heritage Site. Please find her full address documented in the video below:
The World Heritage Committee
Call to Action!!
In 2014, Mikisew Cree First Nation submitted a petition to UNESCO regarding longstanding concerns on the deterioration of Wood Buffalo National Park, and in particular the Peace-Athabasca Delta, which is critical to maintaining the site’s ecological integrity, as well as Mikisew’s social, cultural and economic wellbeing. The Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.
In Fall 2016, a joint UNESCO/IUCN reactive monitoring mission visited Wood Buffalo National Park. The mission report, which set out 17 recommendations, validated Mikisew’s concerns: UNESCO and the IUCN concluded that Canada had to do more to understand and address the impacts of industrial development upon this international treasure.
In July 2017, the 41st UN World Heritage Committee (WHC) meeting in Poland set out specific actions Canada must take to keep Wood Buffalo National Park off the List of World Heritage in Danger (Link to WHC decision). UNESCO made a number of key requests of Canada:
Allocate adequate resources for the elaboration and implementation of an Action Plan to apply all recommendations of the mission report within 17 months
Provide an interim report to the World Heritage Centre within 7 months on how Canada will implement the mission recommendations
Make every effort to finally assess and understand the potential impacts of the Site C hydropower project
Conduct a systematic risk assessment of oil sands tailings ponds and an assessment of impacts to the Park from the proposed Teck Frontier Project and submit those to UNESCO’s advisory bodies for review
Canada must design an Action Plan that includes concrete measures to deal with all 17 recommendations from the mission report, which include:
Transition to a genuine partnership with aboriginal groups in governing the Park;
Improve and expand monitoring of the Peace-Athabasca Delta;
Conduct an environmental and social impact assessment of the Site C dam on the Peace-Athabasca Delta;
Assess options for a buffer zone between the Park and oil sands projects;
Start a process towards restoring flooding cycles in the Delta; and
Strengthen Parks Canada’s conservation focus and capacity for managing the park.
Mikisew looks forward to designing and implementing the Action Plan in partnership with Canada, and alongside all relevant Indigenous communities, provincial and regional government entities, and other interested parties. Mikisew will continue working with the World Heritage Committee to ensure Canadian officials respond to this powerful call to action.
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What can you do to help?
Call to Action:
Write or Tweet to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to fully implement the reactive monitoring mission's 2016 recommendations and the World Heritage Committee's 2017 decision on Wood Buffalo National Park. Share your letter with:
- Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna
- Federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett
- Federal NDP Environment Critic Linda Duncan
- Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley
- Premier of British Columbia John Horgan
- Alberta Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips
- Alberta Minister of Energy Marg McCuaig-Boyd
- CEO of Parks Canada Daniel Watson
In The News
- Opinion: UNESCO seeks new safeguards for Wood Buffalo National Park - The Hill Times, July 10th, 2017
- United Nations report expresses concern about Site C impact on Wood Buffalo National Park - Vancouver Sun, July 7th, 2017
- UN World Heritage Committee could put Wood Buffalo National Park on UN World Heritage in Danger list - Energetic City, July 7th, 2017
- Ultimatum de l’UNESCO pour le parc de Wood Buffalo - Radio Canada, July 6th, 2017
- B.C.'s Site C dam faces UNESCO heritage site scrutiny - Metro Vancouver News, July 6th, 2017
- UN Committee direct Canada to protect Wood Buffalo National Park.. or else - CBC News, July 5th, 2017
- National park could lose UN heritage status – BC Local News, June 6, 2017
- UNESCO issues warning about Wood Buffalo National Park – CTV News, March 10, 2017
- Groups want Trudeau to revisit Site C approval over world heritage status - Canadian Press, October 3rd, 2016
- Environmental groups urge UNESCO to revisit Site C dam - Globe and Mail, October 3rd, 2016
- Groups want Wood Buffalo National Park on list of Word Heritage Sites in danger - Global News Edmonton, October 3rd, 2016
- Groups urge UNESCO to put Wood Buffalo National Park on 'in danger' list - CBC Edmonton, October 3rd, 2016
- Will UNESCO mission lay groundwork to protect Wood Buffalo National Park? - CBC Edmonton, October 1st, 2016
- UNESCO see Fort Chipewyan's low water levels up close - CBC Edmonton, September 30th, 2016
- UNESCO hears fears that Wood Buffalo National Park 'is going to dry out' - CBC Edmonton, September 29th, 2016
- UN looks at BC hydro project's potential impact on Alberta world heritage site - Canadian Press. September 28th, 2016
- UNESCO Mission to investigate dangers to WBNP to hear from environmental groups - Media Advisory, September 27th, 2016
- WBNP under siege, says First Nation as UNESCO World Heritage Committee visits - National Post, September 26th, 2016
- Canada subject to UNESCO expert review over threats to Wood Buffalo and indigenous communities - Media Advisory, September 25th, 2016
- UNESCO begins monitoring mission of Wood Buffalo National Park - CBC News, September 25th, 2016
- UN monitoring mission eyes Site C Dam impact on Wood Buffalo National Park - Canadian Press, September 25th, 2016
- Site C Dam Project betrays Trudeau's commitment to First Nations - CBC News, August 24th, 2016
- Canada urged to review impact oil sands projects would have on National Park - The Globe and Mail, July 2nd, 2015
Mikisew Cree First Nation are traditional stewards of the Peace-Athabasca Delta
The Mikisew Cree First Nation are traditional stewards of the lands and resources around the Peace-Athabasca Delta. As stewards, Mikisew have witnessed Wood Buffalo deteriorate as a result of industrial activities and climate change. They see even bigger threats to Wood Buffalo on the horizon.
If the threats to Wood Buffalo are not corrected, the outstanding universal values of this World Heritage Site may be lost forever. Because Mikisew’s culture is tied to the Peace-Athabasca Delta, the loss of Wood Buffalo’s natural values would put Mikisew Cree’s distinctive culture at risk. Other indigenous communities stand to be similarly affected.
For these reasons, Mikisew is asking that Wood Buffalo be added to the list of World Heritage in Danger.
Wood Buffalo is a Global Treasure
Wood Buffalo is a national park that is situated primarily in northeastern Alberta, Canada. It is located downstream from some of the largest industrial projects in the world, including oil sands projects.
Wood Buffalo contains examples of the most unique and unsurpassed ecosystems in the world. It's important attributes include:
• the world’s largest freshwater inland delta, the Peace-Athabasca Delta;
• outstanding examples of ecological and biological processes;
• significant natural habitat for threatened species such as wood bison;
• outstanding migratory bird populations, including endangered whooping cranes;
• unique perched basins;
• large expanses of boreal forest, which absorb the world’s carbon;
• exceptional natural beauty; and
• indigenous cultural and spiritual areas.
Wood Buffalo sustains multiple indigenous communities, including the Mikisew Cree First Nation. The physical and cultural survival of Mikisew cannot be separated from the health of Wood Buffalo.
The Threats to Wood Buffalo’s Outstanding Universal Values (OUVs) are Serious and Imminent
What is threatening Wood Buffalo?
• Existing hydro-regulation is causing the drying of the Peace-Athabasca Delta;
• A massive new dam has been proposed on the Peace River that could further damage the Delta;
• Decades of oil sands activities are contaminating critical parts of Wood Buffalo, particularly the Delta. Oil sands projects disrupt migratory bird pathways, remove vast quantities of water from the Athabasca River, contaminate the air and leak toxic waters into the Athabasca River at a rate equivalent to a major oil spill every year;
• The world’s largest oil sands mine is proposed on the Park’s doorstep and partly within a watershed flowing into Wood Buffalo;
• Climate change is exacerbating the drying out of the Delta; and
• Canadian governments are removing environmental protections and failing to adequately conserve Wood Buffalo in the face of these threats.
Canada says the threats to Wood Buffalo are not serious because parts of the Park will remain even if the Peace-Athabasca Delta is compromised by upstream oil sands developments and hydro-dams. This is wrong. Wood Buffalo cannot maintain ecological completeness or support its OUVs if the Delta is threatened. Also, indigenous communities need the Delta for their cultural survival.
Strong evidence exists that the ecological integrity of Wood Buffalo is at grave risk.
Renowned scientists, former Directors General of Parks Canada and former Superintendents of Wood Buffalo have reviewed Mikisew’s petition and all confirm that Wood Buffalo’s OUVs are in danger from serious and immediate threats.
The indigenous communities that live in and around Wood Buffalo have witnessed severe declines in Wood Buffalo’s water levels, bird populations, wood bison habitat and ecological functionality. They agree that these declines are getting worse.
Canada Lacks a Robust Legislative, Regulatory and Policy Framework to protect Wood Buffalo
Canada recently reduced and, in some cases, fully removed necessary environmental protections. Protections under the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Species at Risk Act have been reduced to allow for faster approvals of industrial projects.
Canada’s regulatory framework is not protecting Wood Buffalo. The regulatory process for the proposed Site C Dam on the Peace River ignored scientific evidence showing that the dam could impact the Peace-Athabasca Delta. And the regulatory review of the new oil sands mine being proposed on Wood Buffalo’s doorstep is not fully considering impacts to Wood Buffalo.
Canada’s “Commitments” to act do not stand up to scrutiny
Canada’s commitments to monitor the issues facing Wood Buffalo are misleading. The reality is that the monitoring programs listed in Canada’s response to Mikisew’s petition have identified serious negative changes to Wood Buffalo’s OUVs, but no corrective actions have been forthcoming. Without action, these are essentially commitments to document the deterioration and death of Wood Buffalo.
Canada says that it collaborates with indigenous groups in relation to the threats facing Wood Buffalo. The reality is that Canada is excluding indigenous peoples from decisions relating to Wood Buffalo and research programs. Mikisew and other indigenous communities continue to voice concerns that Canada is ignoring the threats to Wood Buffalo to no avail.
All Treaty 8 First Nations in Alberta recognize the need for the World Heritage Committee to prompt Canada to shift from rhetoric to credible actions.
Despite evidence showing that oil sands projects are threatening Wood Buffalo, Alberta anticipates increasing the amount of bitumen extracted from the oil sands region upstream of Wood Buffalo by 1.8 million barrels per day from current levels. Alberta has never refused an oil sands project.
Canada refers to two programs, the Peace-Athabasca Delta Ecological Monitoring Program (PADEMP) and the Joint Alberta-Canada Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM), to suggest it has a policy framework to address threats to Wood Buffalo. These programs actually highlight that Canada is failing to credibly respond to threats to Wood Buffalo.
PADEMP has named contamination and lack of flow regulation as drivers of Wood Buffalo’s ecological decline. Yet, PADEMP has no power to take action to protect Wood Buffalo or affect policy or regulatory frameworks.
Even though JOSM’s research is showing threats to Wood Buffalo, governments continue to approve projects that threaten Wood Buffalo at a rapid pace. Just like PADEMP, JOSM has no power to take any actions to protect Wood Buffalo.
The monitoring programs listed in Canada’s response to Mikisew’s petition have identified serious negative changes to Wood Buffalo’s OUVs, but no corrective actions have been forthcoming. Without action, these are essentially commitments to document the deterioration and death of Wood Buffalo.
Inaction could have serious implications for the Convention and work of the World Heritage Committee
Without direction from the World Heritage Committee, Mikisew is concerned that Canada will not take any actions to help conserve Wood Buffalo.
The benefits of the World Heritage designation for Wood Buffalo will disappear without an “In Danger” listing because Canada is not taking necessary corrective actions to save Wood Buffalo. It is critical that the Convention be seen as an effective tool for conserving World Heritage.
Canada says that the threats to Wood Buffalo are overstated because some dangers facing Wood Buffalo may only affect the Peace-Athabasca Delta. This position ignores that the Delta is an Outstanding Universal Value designated under the Convention.
Failing to add Wood Buffalo to the list of World Heritage in Danger would create a precedent that state parties can “pick and choose” which OUVs to protect. The universal acceptance of the Convention would be diminished if state parties are allowed to sacrifice inconvenient OUVs, particularly those as critical as the world’s largest inland river delta
Mikisew Cree First Nation is a Cree nation whose lands and rights depend on the Athabasca River and surrounding waters. The Mikisew Cree signed Treaty 8 in 1899 at Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca.