Canada’s Largest World Heritage Site under Threat from “Unfettered” Development

Map of threats to Wood Buffalo National Park. UNESCO, 2017

Canada Risks International Embarrassment Over Mismanagement of World Heritage Site: UNESCO

By Judith Lavoie, March 13, 2017

Canada’s largest World Heritage Site is under threat from unfettered oilsands development and hydro dams on the Peace River — where the B.C. government is now planning to build the massive Site C dam — says a hard-hitting report by a United Nations agency.

While contaminants from the oilsands are affecting water and air quality, water flows through Wood Buffalo National Park are being strangled by dams, according to the highly critical report by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature

The report warns that, if there is not a “major and timely” response to its recommendations the organization will recommend that Wood Buffalo National Park be included in the list of World Heritage in Danger, a list usually reserved for sites in war-torn countries or those facing other disasters.

The park, made up of 4.5 million hectares of boreal plains in northern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories, has been affected by decades of massive industrial development along the Peace and Athabasca Rivers, along with poor management and lack of overall consideration of the effect of projects, it says.

“The scale, pace and complexity of industrial development along the critical corridors of the Peace and Athabasca Rivers is exceptional and does not appear to be subject to adequate analysis to underpin informed decision-making and the development of matching policy, governance and management responses,” says the executive summary, which adds that the park is also subject to the additional stress of climate change.

If the development approach of the last decades continues, the future of Wood Buffalo National Park is uncertain at best and several current project proposals add severity and urgency to the message, says the report, which singles out Site C and the Teck Frontier project, which would bring oilsands development closer to the southern boundary of the park and encroach on the habitat of the Ronald Lake Wood Bison Herd.

The park is home to the largest free-ranging buffalo herd in the world and includes the only known breeding ground for endangered whooping cranes.

UNESCO inspectors concluded that oilsands development near the park is affecting the water, land and air while putting human health at risk.

“There is long-standing, conceivable and consistent evidence of severe environmental and human health concerns based on both western science and local and indigenous knowledge,” it says, pointing to evidence that toxins such as mercury are showing up in fish and bird eggs.

The report includes 17 recommendations, including working more closely with First Nations, better monitoring of the Peace-Athabasca Delta, a systematic risk assessment of tailings ponds and strengthening of Parks Canada’s conservation focus and management of the park.

UNESCO also wants to see an environmental and social impact assessment of the Site C dam. …

Read the rest of this article at:

https://www.desmog.ca/2017/03/13/canada-risks-international-embarrassment-over-mismanagement-world-heritage-site-unesco

For more on Site C:

Is Site C Really ‘Past the Point of No Return?’ by Zoë Ducklow | March 15, 2017  https://thetyee.ca/News/2017/03/15/Site-C-No-Return/

The Startling Similarities Between Newfoundland’s Muskrat Falls Boondoggle and B.C.’s Site C Dam, by Emma Gilchrist | March 14, 2017
https://www.desmog.ca/2017/03/13/startling-similarities-between-newfoundland-s-muskrat-falls-boondoggle-and-b-c-s-site-c-dam

VIDEO: Site C Dam an ‘Economic Disaster,’ Says Former Premier Mike Harcourt, by Carol Linnitt | March 2, 2017
https://www.desmog.ca/2017/03/02/video-site-c-dam-economic-disaster-says-former-premier-mike-harcourt