A new report suggests Wood Buffalo National Park is one of the most threatened World Heritage sites.
The outlook which was released by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature suggests the park has the worst conservation outlooks in all of Canada and the second worst across North American Heritage sites.
Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Northern Alberta Chapter Kecia Kerr tells Mix News she believes it starts with the impact dams and oil companies are having on the water supply.
“Changes in water flow, those are affected by the hydroelectric dams that are upstream on the Peace River, there are also impacts on the Athabasca River. There are also impacts on water quality and so that’s where the oilsands mines are a bit of a concern.”
The Mikisew First Nation note their biggest concerns include the Site C dam along the Peach River in British Columbia and the different oilsands projects using water from the Athabasca River to help extract bitumen.
The proposed Frontier Oilsands mine is being studied for potential impacts it could have on the Heritage Site. The decision to start the project has also delayed allowing more time to review these potential environmental impacts.
“It’s really concerning,” added Kerr.
The First Nation believes the two are drying up the Peace Athabasca Delta, which is one of the biggest freshwater supplies across the globe.
Director for the Government and Industry Relations for the Mikisew Cree First Nation Melody Lepine says the water impacts are also affecting the wildlife.
She notes bison, waterfowls, wolves, and more animals are leaving the area.
“We were actually out on the Delta this summer with some of the experts doing this assessment and one of the things they noticed was just how quiet it was on the delta, there just wasn’t very many birds and this is definitely something the community has seen.”
“As the delta’s drying up, we’re seeing more and more noxious weeds encroaching in the area and taking up a lot of bison habitats.”
It’s also the last nesting ground of the endangered whooping crane.
Plans Moving Forward
The latest outlook isn’t providing the First Nation with any new information.
Back in 2014, they started a petition to have the park classified under ‘World Heritage in Danger.’ Lepine notes this hasn’t happened yet but could easily within the next year if Canada doesn’t look to fix the problems affecting the area.
The federal government was also given 17 recommendations, through an action plan, from UNESCO back in March which included environmental and social impact assessments on the nearby dams and oilsands.
At the time, the park was still considered “good and stable”.
“Since 2014, the last outlook, we’ve seen a decline in conservation values so I think this really puts additional pressure on Canada to deliver the action plan and adopting all 17 recommendations, completing the environmental assessments and really starting to show the steps that they are going to undertake to mitigate and address the concerns to Wood Buffalo,” added Lepine.
They’re hoping to see the results of the action plan released sometime during next spring.