Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Feds move to pro­tect North­ern re­gions

- By Mike De Souza

GATINEAU, Que. — The Harper gov­ern­ment re­ceived rare praise from con­ser­va­tion groups, north­ern abo­rig­i­nal lead­ers and op­po­si­tion par­ties on Wed­nes­day as it an­nounced a ma­jor ex­pan­sion of pro­tected ar­eas to stop eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties in the North that threaten forests and wildlife.

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter John Baird said the new pro­tected ar­eas, more than five times the size of Prince Ed­ward Is­land, demon­strate his gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to find­ing a bal­ance be­tween con­ser­va­tion and de­vel­op­ment.

“Con­serv­ing our en­vi­ron­ment has be­come a cor­ner­stone of our gov­ern­ment’s agenda. And nowhere is the op­por­tu­nity so unique and so press­ing as in the North,” said Baird, dur­ing a spe­cial cer­e­mony at the Cana­dian Mu­seum of Na­ture.

The move will pro­tect more than 10 mil­lion hectares of land near the east arm of Great Slave Lake and around the Ram­parts River and wet­lands in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries.

Baird, flanked by In­dian Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chuck Strahl, abo­rig­i­nal lead­ers and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, in­di­cated this is the first step to­ward cre­at­ing a new na­tional park and wildlife area in a re­gion that serves as a home for the bo­real for­est, tundra and the deep­est wa­ter in North Amer­ica, along with many dif­fer­ent species such as cari­bou, wolf, moose, wolver­ine and the great horned owl.

“Our North is a very spe­cial place,” Baird said. “It in­vokes great pas­sion in the hearts and minds of Cana­di­ans coast to coast to coast. Our North is a place of bound­less po­ten­tial with its huge swaths of un­touched lands. It’s a legacy that we all need to col­lec­tively pro­tect for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

The an­nounce­ment is the latest in a se­ries of con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives an­nounced by the Harper gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing a mas­sive ex­pan­sion of the Na­hanni Na­tional Park Re­serve, also in the North, and mil­lions of dol­lars in spend­ing to pre­serve and con­serve nat­u­ral wildlife across the coun­try.

Abo­rig­i­nal lead­ers who flew in from the North called the an­nounce­ment a sig­nif­i­cant step for- ward in pro­tect­ing their land and cul­ture.

“There’s fish in some of those small lakes that you can’t find any­where else in the world,” said Chief Frank T’se­leie of the K’asho Cot’ine Char­ter Com­mu­nity Coun­cil. “I would like to con­grat­u­late the gov­ern­ment of Canada and the min­is­ters for their com­mit­ment in work­ing with our var­i­ous part­ners in the ter­ri­tory to ob­tain pro­tec­tion for this area.”

Lorne John­son, an of­fi­cial with the World Wild- life Fund Canada, said he hopes the gov­ern­ment will even­tu­ally tackle cli­mate change in the same man­ner it’s tack­ling con­ser­va­tion is­sues.

“We’ll prob­a­bly come out swing­ing next week on cli­mate change and (the gov­ern­ment’s) tar­gets for in­dus­try, but to­day, this is a mas­sive ac­com­plish­ment and we ap­plaud it,” said John­son, on hand for the an­nounce­ment.

Baird said the new pro­tected ar­eas would con­trib­ute to the fight against cli­mate change by pre­serv­ing nat­u­ral car­bon sinks in Canada’s north­ern forests, which ab­sorb some of the heat-trap­ping emis­sions that cause global warm­ing.

Den­nis Bev­ing­ton, the NDP MP for the West­ern Arc­tic rid­ing in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, said he was pleased about the an­nounce­ment, but noted that wa­ter and air pol­lu­tion from in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity in Al­berta’s oil­patch still threaten the en­vi­ron­men­tal health of north­ern­ers.

Baird added that the pro­tected area would not af­fect the pro­posed path for the Macken­zie gas project, a pipe­line slated to bring nat­u­ral gas from the North into Al­berta.

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