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UNESCO calls on Canada to address threats to Wood Buffalo National Park

On Canada Day, while most of us were barbequing hamburgers and veggie dogs, and enjoying family and community celebrations of our magnificent country, members of the Mikisew Cree First Nation from northeastern Alberta were in Bonn, Germany where UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee was holding its annual meeting.  The Mikisew made the trek to highlight their serious concerns about the future of Wood Buffalo National Park, a World Heritage Site, which is part of their homeland and is being damaged by industrial mega-developments upstream.

In December of last year, the Mikisew Cree petitioned the World Heritage Committee to place Wood Buffalo on the list of World Heritage in Danger because of the threats posed to the park, particularly to the delta of the Peace and Athabasca Rivers which is the largest freshwater inland delta in the world. For millennia this delta has sustained Mikisew Cree and other indigenous communities. We share their concern about the health of this globally significant and sensitive ecosystem. READ MORE ABOUT THE PETITION

On July 1st the World Heritage Committee formally responded to the Mikisew Cree petition, acknowledging the serious threats posed by hydro-electric dams and oil sands projects and proposed open-pit mining near the park. In its decision, the Committee requested that Canada :

a)conduct a strategic environmental assessment of the cumulative impacts of all of these threats to Wood Buffalo National Park;

b) not take any decisions on any of the development projects that would be “difficult to reverse” and to submit the assessment to the World Heritage Centre for review; and

c) invite a joint UNESCO/IUCN field mission to investigate these threats further.

CPAWS applauds Mikisew Cree’s leadership and congratulates their team for successfully bringing these serious industrial threats to the attention of the Committee. Now it’s time for the federal, Alberta and BC governments to implement the World Heritage Committee’s recommendations and take action to safeguard the Peace-Athabasca Delta and all of Wood Buffalo National Park. After all, by nominating Wood Buffalo as a world heritage site, Canada committed to do “all we can” to protect its outstanding universal values on behalf of the entire world.  It’s time to deliver on our promise.

Read related items:

Globe and Mail, July 2, 2015

CBC, July 3, 2015

Globe and Mail, July 5

World Heritage Committee’s decision