The United Nations' UNESCO is urging Canada to delay development projects that could have an adverse impact on Wood Buffalo National Park until a full environmental assessment is completed.
Responding to a petition from Alberta's Mikisew Cree First Nation, UNESCO's world heritage committee concluded Wednesday that Canada's largest national park faces threats from industrial development. It proposed to work with the government of Canada to assess those threats and the state of conservation in the park, which straddles the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories, and includes the delta of the Peace and Athabasca rivers.
The park was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983 due to its abundant wildlife, including North America's largest herd of wild bison.
UNESCO has requested that Canada "not take any decision related to any of the development projects that would be difficult to reverse" and to submit the environmental assessment to the world heritage centre. The projects would include new oil sands mines and the construction of dams on the Peace River in British Columbia.
The decision came Wednesday after a hearing in Bonn, Germany, into a petition filed by the Mikisew Cree First Nation, which is based in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., a small community at the western end of Lake Athabasca, on the delta of the Peace and Athabasca rivers.
UNESCO's world heritage committee stopped short of listing Wood Buffalo as "in danger" as the had petition requested, but did note the threats to the park.
"We are deeply concerned about existing industrial activity and climate change on the Wood Buffalo National Park and the threat posed by megaprojects upstream of the Peace-Athabasca delta," Mikisew Chief Steve Courtoreille said in a release on Wednesday.
A spokesman for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the Harper government is committed to conservation in the park and would be "happy" to work with UNESCO on an assessment.
"Wood Buffalo National Park has some of the most pristine wilderness in the world, and our government is committed to keeping it that way," Ms. Aglukkaq's spokesman, Ted Laking, said in an e-mailed statement.
In a submission to UNESCO, the federal government said it is monitoring environmental impacts in Wood Buffalo National Park that occur from industrial development, and has a multistakeholder management plan that includes First Nations.
The Cree share the Fort Chip community with the Dene of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and Métis people. They are raising the alarm about major changes to the delta that may threaten local wildlife, and the potential impacts of further development.
The Mikisew and the ACFN have launched a court challenge to B.C.'s approval of the Site C dam on the Peace River, and have expressed concerns about an oil sands mine being proposed by Teck Resources Ltd.