In late June, UNESCO warned Wood Buffalo National Park that if Canada didn't take action – and soon – the park would be deemed an endangered site.
This is a big deal: Wood Buffalo has been a designated World Heritage Site since 1983, but UNESCO believes climate change, governance deficiencies, and "longstanding and unresolved conflicts and tensions" between Indigenous peoples and the government have not been properly addressed, threatening the park's "global significance and intactness."
Investigating the park's management, UNESCO said "the notion of a 'regulatory crisis' ... was repeatedly communicated" and widely perceived.
Canada was given until December 1, 2018, to come up with an action plan – in the words of UNESCO's report, "one opportunity ... to immediately develop a structured and adequately funded response."
When Cabin Radio inquired about the status of the plan, which was supposed to be in the public consultation stage this fall, we learned the deadline has been pushed to February 1, 2019.
While a draft of the action plan is still supposed to be available for public review and input before the end of the year, Parks Canada was not able to say specifically when this will be or what form consultations will take.
In a statement from Parks Canada, Laurie Wein – the senior manager for the action plan – wrote, “An extension will ensure that all partners and Indigenous groups have the time to prepare the necessary input and be fully engaged in the development of the final action plan.
“Parks Canada was supportive of the proposal and, in the spirit of respect, co-operation, and partnership, submitted a request for extension to the World Heritage Committee, who accepted the request and set a new deadline of February 1, 2019 for Canada to submit its final action plan.”
The federal government – which is leading development of the plan along with the governments of Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and Indigenous partners – will still submit a draft of the plan to the World Heritage Committee by December 1.
Canada will hand in a “state of conservation” report at the same time.
The action plan will take into account the results of the strategic environmental assessment and the 17 recommendations set forth by UNESCO.
Canada has allotted $27.5 million over the next five years to develop and implement the plan.
Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territories Métis Nation, confirmed the Nation was one of the Indigenous partners approached to provide input.
He said the presidents of the Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, and Hay River Métis Councils have a seat at the table.
"I don't know how they are going to address everything by December. I think they need more time for sure," he said.
Bailey said the Nation appeared before the World Heritage Committee in 2017 to share some of its concerns with the governance structure in the park, and the process through which Indigenous governments are engaged.
"It has to be more meaningful than just consultation. They have to figure out how they are going to restructure the park management, and they haven't done that yet," Bailey added.
Smith's Landing First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.