A Yellowknife MLA says regulatory progress “seems to have come to a halt” when it comes to the territorial government’s portion of a protected area on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.
Kevin O’Reilly, who represents the Yellowknife electoral district of Frame Lake, said a range of regulatory measures designed to formalize and protect the area had still to be created.
Thaidene Nëné – meaning land of the ancestors in Denesǫłine Yati – encompasses 26,376 square kilometres jointly protected by Indigenous, territorial, and federal governments. It was established in August 2019 following decades of negotiations and planning.
The Northwest Territories is responsible for protecting a 9,105 sq km section, as well as establishing a 3,120 sq km wildlife conservation area.
O’Reilly said the territory has not yet formalized the establishment of these two areas by creating regulations under the territory’s Protected Areas Act and Wildlife Act. The territory also hasn’t established management boards, created a management plan, or designated long-term funding, he said in the legislature last week.
“This government has devoted minimal resources to the management of protected areas and there is a huge gap between public commitments and political will. We need a new approach,” he said.
By contrast, O’Reilly said, the federal government had been “going great guns” in providing for its section of Thaidene Nëné, hiring staff and creating a sport fishing system with Parks Canada. Ottawa signed a final agreement regarding its national park reserve with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation in September.
“These are all welcome events,” O’Reilly said.
In response, territorial lands and environment minister Shane Thompson said he expected territorial regulations to be complete by the end of 2021.
Thompson said members were being appointed to an operational management board and regional management board. “We’re in the process and it’s getting close,” he said.
O’Reilly told Thompson: “Getting close counts in horseshoes but not in this assembly.”
The MLA further criticized the territory’s protected areas public registry, saying there was a “real scarcity of information.”
“This public registry was meant to be a single-window access point for information, to ensure transparency and accountability around protected areas,” O’Reilly said. “A framework needs to be developed quickly, especially once management boards are established, as virtually all of their documentation is meant to be public.”
Thompson said work to improve the registry is slated to begin in January 2021. He expects the new version will be available next summer.
“We just need to do it right,” he said of updating the registry.
“We do have the money available to get the job done. It’s just going to take some time, and we need to have the patience to do it.”