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Canada commits to wilderness deal

People walk on a cliff overlooking Ram Plateau in the Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories in this undated handout photo released June 9, 2009.

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The federal government has agreed to what's being billed as an unprecedented commitment to wilderness conservation in North America.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice today announced he's signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States and Mexico that binds the three countries together in defending uninhabited spaces.

Much of the recent debate over the environment has been framed around climate change and Mr. Prentice says the Conservative government and Canada as a whole have not received enough recognition for conservation efforts. He said Parks Canada has roughly 300,000 square kilometres of land under protection, a space bigger than many European countries.

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It is Europeans who count themselves among the Conservative government's biggest international critics on climate change, especially over its abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol targets. That conservation is thriving is something "Canadians need to crow about it a bit more," Mr. Prentice said.

The minister is one of the featured speakers at an international conference in Merida, Mexico, where the memorandum was signed. The agreement is an international first in the area of wilderness protection. Mr. Prentice says the process of setting commons goals and building a well-connected continent-wide network of protected areas can now begin.

The goals include enhancing wilderness, both on land and at sea. Built into the arrangement is a regime that mandates the monitoring of existing protected areas to make sure they remain healthy. Mr. Prentice described that preservation aspect as the No. 1 priority of each country. There are also provisions that will each country work more smoothly to deal with the impact of climate change on protected areas.

"It is something that should be applauded in the United States, Mexico and Canada that we've been able to achieve that," Mr. Prentice said.

The Canadian government is being singled out at the Merida conference for its decision to expand the Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada, making the World Heritage Site and the sixth largest national park in the world.

The Nahanni reserve, in the Northwest Territories, is nestled along MacKenzie mountains and consists of four great canyons with swift, white water rivers. It is also home to alpine tundra and spruce tree forests.

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