December 10, 2007

Historic land withdrawal conserves over ten million hectares in far north

The federal government of Canada has announced an interim withdrawal of more than ten million hectares of land in the far north from industrial development as a step toward creating a national park in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake and a national wildlife area for the Ramparts River and wetlands (Ts'ude niline Tu'eyeta), both in the Northwest Territories.

The areas protected include: 1.5 million hectares designated for a future national wildlife area along the Mackenzie River near the town of Fort Good Hope under the Northwest Territories Protected Area Strategy; 3.3 million hectares proposed for a new national park on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake; and six million hectares of priority lands between the new park and an existing wildlife refuge to be managed for conservation and appropriate development by the Akaitcho Dene First Nations under a pending treaty agreement.

These lands will be permanently protected from development as management plans and final agreements are completed. Final designations for each area will follow within the next five years. The federal government will be providing $3 million for a study to assess the feasibility of establishing a national park in the vicinity of the East Arm of Great Slave Lake and $830,000 over five years to establish the Ramparts River and Wetlands National Wildlife Area.

Recommendations for the specific land withdrawals were put forward by Aboriginal communities, with the support of the federal and territorial governments, as part of an effort by First Nations to find their own balance between traditional and modern economies while protecting important ecological, cultural and spiritual areas.

The Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI) commended the initiative, calling it a landmark decision that signals a new era in conservation thinking. "Given that Canada's vital Boreal region is increasingly under stress, taking action to protect it will have globally significant outcomes," said CBI executive director Larry Innes. "Canada is taking a leadership role in protecting large, intact ecosystems from development, and on a scale unlike anything we've ever seen before," he added.

"It may seem like an obvious way to sequence conservation and development, but it rarely happens that way. Generally, development proposals come first, and once development is underway, it's often too late to think about large-scale conservation - the discussion quickly becomes about trade-offs and mitigation," Innes continued. "This finally gets the sequencing right."

The Canadian Boreal forest is the largest intact forest remaining on the planet, rivaling the Amazon in size and ecological importance. It stores more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem--more than twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests--and plays a vital role in climate regulation.

It provides habitat for billions of migratory birds and 40% of North America's waterfowl, as well as some of the world's largest remaining populations of grizzly and polar bears, wolves, woodland and barren-ground caribou.

Based in Ottawa, the CBI acts as a convener bringing together partners including governments, industry, First Nations, conservation groups, major retailers, financial institutions and scientists to create new solutions for the conservation and sustainable development of the Boreal Forest.

In other activities, the CBI reported that Nexen, the Pembina Institute, the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta and Domini Social Investments are the newest members of the Boreal Leadership Council (BLC).

First convened in December 2003, the BLC is a unique alliance of conservation groups, First Nations, resource companies and financial institutions that are committed to conservation and sustainable development solutions in Canada's Boreal forest. The 18 members of the BLC are also signatories to the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, which is a vision to preserve at least half of the Boreal forest while supporting sustainable development on the remaining landscape.

More information is available on the CBI Web site, www.borealcanada.ca.

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