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Environment
South Slave

$60M for Wood Buffalo National Park as new plan is submitted


Parks Canada has submitted its Wood Buffalo National Park state of conservation report to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, nearly a month behind schedule.

At the same time, the federal government announced a $59.9-million cash injection over the next three years to fund its commitments to save Wood Buffalo’s status as a world heritage site.

The money will fund “strengthening park management in collaboration with Indigenous partners,” Ottawa said, as well as enhanced research, monitoring and management of the Peace-Athabasca Delta using science and Indigenous knowledge, including new mechanisms for water management.

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The federal government first announced $27.5 million in funding over five years in June 2018, designed to pay for development and implementation of an action plan to stop the national park being listed as endangered.

The United Nations body said that would happen if Canada didn’t provide an “adequately funded” plan to protect Wood Buffalo from environmental threats.

When Ottawa finally submitted its action plan, UNESCO said the first plan needed “considerably more effort … to reverse the negative trends” in the park.

UNESCO told Canada to submit a report with more detail on the impact of BC Hydro’s Site C hydro project and other dams on the Peace River, as well as the effects of oilsands tailings ponds in Alberta, among other things.

The World Heritage Committee gave the federal government nearly a year and a half to update its plan, asking for an updated report by December 1, 2020. The new plan arrived in the form of the state of conservation report Parks Canada submitted on December 21. The date on the report, however, was not changed to reflect its late submission.

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“Notable progress has been made on the action plan to date, with more than half of the identified actions completed or under way,” Parks Canada said in a news release. The action plan includes 142 actions across seven themes, the majority focusing on environmental flows, hydrology, monitoring and science.

The report highlights various environmental assessments that have been completed, monitoring of tailings ponds and oilsands activities, water management, data sharing, and the establishment of two science and Indigenous knowledge task teams.

In response to UNESCO’s desire for a “buffer zone” outside Wood Buffalo National Park, the report notes creation of the nearby Richardson, Birch River, and Kazan Wildland Provincial Parks in 2018, alongside the Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland created by Alberta in 2019.

The Canadian Wildlife Service has taken actions like conducting an imminent threat assessment on the Ronald Lake Bison Herd, while the federal government has put more money behind the project at the suggestion of UNESCO.

Wood Buffalo National Park has also completed a procurement policy that should lead to “increased Indigenous economic benefits and includes Indigenous representatives in the procurement process,” the federal government said.

The park has also provided all of its employees with reconciliation training and increased the number of staff at its Fort Chipewyan office, which it says are actions designed to strengthen Indigenous partnerships.

Now that the report has been submitted, it will be published on the UNESCO World Heritage centre website and considered by the committee at its next meeting in China in summer 2021.

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