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UNESCO report on Wooden Buffalo park exhibits urgency of issues, First Nation says

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A report from a United Nations physique on environmental threats to Canada’s largest nationwide park exhibits the urgency of the issues, says a spokesman for the First Nation that initially introduced issues about Wooden Buffalo Nationwide Park to UNESCO.

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The doc, launched final week and the most recent in collection of examinations of the park on the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, reaffirms threats from dams, oilsands improvement and local weather change.

Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree First Nation says the report is clearer than ever about what must be performed, and when, to maintain the park in good environmental well being.

“I feel the specialists acknowledged the sense of urgency is now,” she mentioned Wednesday.

The Mikisew Cree introduced issues about Wooden Buffalo, a World Heritage website, earlier than UNESCO nearly a decade in the past.

The park’s conventional customers noticed water ranges within the park dropping yr after yr as a result of, they felt,of British Columbia’s upstream Bennett Dam. Additionally they feared rising oilsands tailing ponds posed a danger to water high quality.

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UNESCO responded to these issues in 2016, when an investigation discovered these fears properly grounded. Ottawa developed an $87-million plan to higher handle and monitor water within the park.

The brand new report is an evaluation of how properly that plan is working. It concludes there’s no have to take away the park’s World Heritage standing right now and praises most of the plan’s initiatives, such because the creation of wildland buffer zones.

However of 14 goals for the park, UNESCO says solely two are enhancing, with 5 secure and 7 deteriorating. 5 of its 17 suggestions pertain to the oilsands, together with a name for a danger evaluation of tailings ponds, reform to environmental monitoring, plans to reclaim the ponds that don’t threaten the park and reviewing new initiatives in mild of what’s already been developed.

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Bison stand on the shore of Claire Lake in Wooden Buffalo Nationwide Park. Rick MacWilliam/Postmedia Community

Though most of its suggestions have been made earlier than, the brand new report suggests timelines. The chance evaluation needs to be performed by the top of subsequent yr; tailings reclamation plans needs to be full earlier than 2026; and land use plans needs to be “expedited.”

Lepine mentioned these deadlines are the results of a go to the UNESCO workforce made to Fort Chipewyan, a group on the park’s boundary.

“They heard that urgency after they visited Fort Chipewyan. We’re so apprehensive.”

Lepine mentioned issues are even stronger after releases of oilsands wastewater from Imperial Oil’s Kearl website 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

“The Kearl incident actually make clear the significance of managing the tailings ponds, getting them cleaned up.”

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Gillian Chow-Fraser of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society agreed the brand new report is harder.

“It’s way more sturdy in its drilling into oilsands administration, actually calling for way more particular and bigger actions to enhance tailings administration.”

Kendall Dilling of Pathways Alliance, a gaggle of all main oilsands producers, mentioned its members “treasure Wooden Buffalo Nationwide Park and the wealthy number of life it helps.”

In an announcement, Dilling mentioned trade efforts to handle its environmental footprint are unprecedented and identified the wildland buffer across the park was achieved after oilsands firms surrendered leases within the space.

“We’ll proceed to construct on a decades-long monitor document of significant engagement with Indigenous teams on all elements of our operations and environmental efficiency.”

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He didn’t reply to particular questions on danger evaluation, monitoring or tailings administration.

Wooden Buffalo Nationwide Park as seen from the air. Equipped Picture/John McKinnon/Parks Canada

Alberta Setting and Parks spokesman Benji Smith mentioned the province is reviewing the report as it really works towards reclaiming the oilsands. He mentioned no tailings will probably be launched with out rigorous examine.

“Work is underway to find out if, and the way, oilsands mine water might safely be launched in some unspecified time in the future sooner or later,” he mentioned in an e-mail.

“Oilsands mine waters won’t be accepted for launch till we will definitively display … that it may be performed safely and that strict regulatory processes are in place to make sure the safety of human and ecological well being.”

Parks Canada launched an announcement welcoming the UNESCO report.

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“The report acknowledges that essential progress has been made within the implementation of the motion plan,” it mentioned. “The federal government of Canada has been working in shut collaboration with companions to advance analysis, ecological monitoring and ecological restoration initiatives all through the park.”

It didn’t reply to any of the report’s suggestions, which embrace a name for additional funding to enhance water ranges. Ottawa’s funding program for Wooden Buffalo ends this yr.

Lepine mentioned although lots of UNESCO’s suggestions have been ignored, it has nonetheless been worthwhile to contain the group.

Some progress has been made, she mentioned. And the threats to Wooden Buffalo at the moment are being taken severely.

“We actually confirmed the world, we confirmed Canada, that our issues have been actual and substantive.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first printed July 5, 2023.

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