Feds move to protect Northern regions
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.