Indigenous and environmental groups want feds to assess impact of Site C dam on UNESCO World Heritage Site

Charlie Smith

June 26th, 2018

A B.C. Hydro megaproject is at the centre of a campaign to preserve Canada's largest national park.

Covering nearly 45,000 square kilometres in northeastern Alberta and the Northwest Territories, Wood Buffalo National Park has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But Indigenous and environmental groups claim that Canada not yet followed through on 17 recommendations from a UNESCO committee to protect this natural wonderland. 

One of the Sierra Club B.C.'s primary concerns is that the federal government has failed to study downstream impacts of the $10.7-billion Site C Dam along the Peace River.

The Peace flows through Wood Buffalo National Park, joining the Athabasca and Birch rivers in one of the world's largest freshwater river deltas.

“By refusing to do an assessment of the downstream impacts from the Site C dam on the Peace-Athabasca Delta, as requested by UNESCO, we are putting an international treasure at risk,” Sierra Club B.C. Peace Valley campaigner Galen Armstrong said in a news release.

Wood Buffalo National Park has the world's largest number of free-roaming bison. More than 5,000 of them live in the park.

There are also nesting sites for about 220 whooping cranes, which migrate from the park to the Texas gulf coast in winter.

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing almost 1.5 metres with a two-metre wingspan, according to Nature Canada.

They're staging a remarkable recovery since the early 1940s when there were only 15 left in the entire world.

The Mikisew Cree First Nation, Sierra Club B.C., and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society will all have representatives in Bahrain this week to press the importance of protecting Wood Buffalo National Park at the annual meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

The Mikisew Cree First Nation's director of government and industry relations, Melody Lepine, said that Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna has taken "little concrete action".

This in spite of experts from UNESCO's World Heritage Centre and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature reporting that industrial projects are having impacts on the park that are "far more complex and severe than previously thought".

"So much more needs to be done, and done fast," Lepine said.

There's also the proposed Teck Frontier oilsands mine that's going through a federal-provincial review in northeastern Alberta between Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan. 

Canada faces a December 1 deadline to deliver an action plan to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

“The submission deadline for filing information for the hearing on the Teck Frontier mine is set for August 17, and the hearing is expected to take place in September,” CPAWS boreal program manager Adean Alessandrini said. “Approval of this and other industrial projects before Canada has even completed its action plan is irresponsible.”