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CPAWS calls on feds to stop road, protect entire Nahanni Watershed

  • Published on May 03 2007 |
  • This article is tagged as: nahanni

OTTAWA – In the wake of an April decision by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board to permit reconstruction of a 170 km winter road through the heart of the Northwest Territories’ Nahanni wilderness area, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is calling on the federal government to act now to ensure that no industrial development proceeds within this world-famous, yet fragile, ecosystem.  

The Board has issued a land use permit to Canadian Zinc Corporation, the junior mining company that owns the proposed Prairie Creek mine, that would permit the company to reconstruct a winter access road that has been abandoned for over 20 years.  CPaWS anticipates that with the road permit in hand, the company may begin re-building activity as early as this summer in the area by clearing brush and hauling in machinery. Over the five years of the permit, the company would be able to use the road to haul supplies such as diesel fuel into the mine, and toxic chemicals such as cyanide out.  

CPAWS has been leading a public campaign to protect the entire South Nahanni Watershed, one of the world’s most spectacular Boreal wilderness treasures, in an expanded national park reserve since 2003.  

“Federal Environment Minister John Baird has said he wants to move forward with protecting the Nahanni by expanding the national park.  It’s crunch time. We are calling on Minister Baird and his colleague, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, to sit down with company officials and find a way to stop this road and this mine, before the bulldozers move in,” says Alison Woodley, CPAWS’ Northern Conservation Specialist. 

“If the road were to go through, and if the Prairie Creek mine site were ever to begin operation, the threat to the ecological integrity of the Nahanni would be significant. World leading scientists have advised us that this area is simply too fragile, due to its karst topography and being prone to earthquakes, to ensure that industrial impacts could ever be contained,” adds Woodley.  

The re-constructed winter road would run directly through the mountainous Nahanni karstlands -- an area identified for protection through the expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve which is also a renowned World Heritage Site and premier canoeing destination.  The Nahanni karstlands, just north of the current park boundary, have been identified by scientists as having globally unique and sensitive geological formations that should be added to the park.     

The road permit application was never subject to an environmental assessment. In a 2004 court challenge CPAWS and the local Dehcho First Nations argued that an environmental assessment should be conducted because of the potential environmental impacts of the road on this sensitive area.  Canadian Zinc successfully argued that the permit should be grandfathered from environmental assessment because of a legal loophole that respects old, expired permits. 

The local Dehcho First Nations have passed a unanimous leadership resolution calling for protection of the entire South Nahanni Watershed, which lies within their traditional territory, including the Nahanni karstlands.  

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Contact:  

Alison Woodley
Northern Conservation Specialist
CPAWS
(613) 569-7226 ext 227
www.cpaws.org/nahanni