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First Nation's fears prompt UNESCO tour of Wood Buffalo National Park

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 9/30/2016 8:53:00 AM

Officials from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee are touring Wood Buffalo National Park in response to fears that British Columbia’s Site C dam and Alberta oil sands development projects are putting the UNESCO World Heritage Site at risk. UNESCO officials began their 10-day monitoring mission on September 25, 2016. 

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, added Wood Buffalo National Park to its list of World Heritage sites in 1983. The park, which straddles the boundary between Alberta and the Northwest Territories, is home to the world’s largest herd of wood bison and a crucial habitat for the endangered whooping crane. 

The current UNESCO mission is formally “at Canada’s request,” but it follows a petition by the Mikisew Cree First Nation to add the park to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, citing a proposed open pit mine, inadequate response to climate change, lack of indigenous participation in monitoring programs, in addition to Site C and oil sands developments, as threats to the park. 

There are currently 55 sites worldwide, none in Canada, on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger. Placing Wood Buffalo National Park on the list will require Canada and UNESCO to find solutions to risks posed to the park and to monitor their implementation. It will also allow UNESCO to commit funds to the solution. 

The Mikisew Cree First Nation is asking Canadian federal and provincial governments to create a buffer zone around the park and for stronger regulations for industrial activities affecting its ecosystems.

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