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UNESCO warns of risks to Wood Buffalo National Park

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 3/17/2017 9:23:00 AM

Canada does not have a site on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. That may change. The list currently counts 55 World Heritage sites, and Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park is in danger of becoming number 56.

On September 30, 2016, EcoLog News reported on a tour of Wood Buffalo National Park by officials from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The committee was responding to a complaint by the Mikisew Cree First Nation that developments like a proposed open pit mine, inadequate response to climate change, lack of indigenous participation in monitoring programs, British Columbia’s proposed Site C dam and oil sands developments represented threats to the park.

The committee spent 10 days in the park and, on March 10, 2017, released a report finding that the park was at risk from understaffing and encroaching development.

It has produced a list of 17 recommendations and ominously given Canada “one opportunity . . . to immediately develop a structured and adequately funded response.” If Canada doesn’t deliver “a major and timely response,” the committee may recommend that the park be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger.

When Wood Buffalo National Park was established in 1922, it was largely inaccessible. Now major development is knocking at its door.

The committee found that the pace, complexity and scale of industrial development along the Peace and Athabasca Rivers, the lifeblood of Wood Buffalo National Park, have not been subjected to analysis sufficient to allow for informed government decision-making. Furthermore, it charged that governments have shown themselves unwilling to monitor the impacts of oil sands developments and to accept mounting evidence that they are having a serious impact.

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