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Major success for Nahanni

Ottawa - As the lead conservation organization in the effort to protect the NWT's entire South Nahanni watershed within an expanded national park reserve, CPAWS welcomes Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement on August 8 that the federal government has protected nearly 29,000 km2 of land until October 2008 for the purposes of park expansion. 

Currently, Nahanni National Park Reserve - a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- protects less than 5,000 km2 of the watershed's approximately 39,000 km2 area. A federal government park expansion process has been underway for nearly five years and is expected to be completed by October 2008.

CPAWS, which led the original effort to establish Nahanni National Park Reserve in the 1970s, has long stated that the entire South Nahanni watershed must be protected from industrial development to ensure that its fragile ecological balance endures. 

The prime minister's August 8th announcement means that a further 5,400 km2 of land within the Nahanni watershed has been protected. In 2003, the federal government placed about 23,000 km2 in the greater Nahanni ecosystem under interim protection as part of land and self governance negotiations between the Dehcho First Nations and the federal government. The remaining approximately 6,000 km2 of the watershed not yet protected lie within the traditional territory of the Sahtu Dene and Metis and are being considered within a separate process.

"The Prime Minister's announcement is a very significant step forward on the path toward protecting the entire Nahanni watershed. It will mean that Nahanni, once expanded, will become one of Canada's largest national parks. We are extremely encouraged by his commitment to expanding the park boundaries and to conserving our northern Boreal ecosystems, especially as pressures for industrial development increase," says Anne Levesque, CPAWS National Executive Director.

The Dehcho First Nations have also been a strong voice advocating for protecting the Nahanni watershed- which largely falls within their traditional territory. 

"We also continue to applaud the Dehcho's vision for protecting the landscape of the north," adds Levesque. 

The next step in the Nahanni park expansion process will be a public consultation by the government on the new park boundaries scheduled for this fall. CPAWS will continue its efforts to ensure that the outcome of the park expansion process is full protection of the entire South Nahanni watershed. 

"While we are delighted with the Prime Minister's support for protecting the Nahanni, one of our biggest remaining concerns is that mining activity within the watershed is still going on and could harm the Nahanni's water quality and wildlife," adds Levesque.

CPAWS is most concerned about the Prairie Creek site just north of the existing park boundary, where facilities for a mine were built 25 years ago and barrels of cyanide remain. The mine has never operated but the current owners are taking steps to prepare for full operation. 

"We will ensure that the federal government lives up to its commitment to protect the greater Nahanni ecosystem and, as such, we'll be continuing to ask that the necessary steps are taken to end all mining activities in the watershed," adds Levesque.

CPAWS' goal is to ensure that at least 50% of Canada's lands and waters remain permanently wild. As climate change increases pressure on species and ecosystems to adapt, especially in the north, setting aside large wilderness areas is of growing importance.

Growing land use pressures from mining and oil and gas development mean action on conservation in the NWT is urgently needed now, before the chance to protect these lands is lost forever. 

"By protecting large wilderness areas like the entire Nahanni watershed, we will not only save places of amazing beauty, we'll also help vulnerable species like woodland caribou, and grizzlies and wolves to survive a changing climate," adds Levesque.
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For more information please contact:
Ellen Adelberg
Communications Director
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)
Ph. 613 569 7226 ext.234
Cell 613 292 2875

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