Alberta creates world’s largest protected boreal forest
Alberta has designated four new provincial parks in the province’s north, creating the world’s largest contiguous protected boreal forest.
About the size of New Brunswick, the 6.7-million-hectare chunk of forest builds on Wood Buffalo National Park north of Fort McMurray.
The rejig expands the Birch Mountains park, and adds Kazan, Richardson, Dillon River and Birch River wildland provincial parks to the map.
It’s the largest addition to the Alberta Parks system in history.
The new protected areas were identified by the previous government in the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) in 2012.
That plan had “some enormous problems to solve,” Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said at the announcement in Edmonton on Tuesday, so her government took a fresh look at it.
At the time, Syncrude, Tallcree First Nation, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and the federal government were already at the table.
“This had been circling around for awhile as a proposal,” Phillips said.
“It took us coming to the idea to push it forward and say, ‘It’s more than a good idea, we’re going to do it.’”
Indigenous communities key
After rejigging the LARP, the Environment and Parks department took the updated plan to communities.
“What I heard was that people wanted the protected areas … but they wanted a voice in how those protected areas were managed, and they wanted to incorporate traditional land use and traditional knowledge,” Phillips said.
What evolved was a unique level of co-operation, which will see Indigenous communities partner with the government in a series of management arrangements to look after the new parks.
The government is also exploring an Indigenous Guardian Program, through which First Nations and Métis peoples are hired to monitor the areas, help maintain the lands and provide education and outreach to park visitors.
Tallcree First Nation Chief Rupert Meneen said the collaboration aligns closely with his tribal government’s values.
His nation relinquished its Birch River area timber licence and quota so the new Birch River park could be created. Syncrude gave $2.3 million to the NCC to cover off that quota payment.
“The boreal forest holds greater value to the First Nation for exercising our traditional way of life and the quiet enjoyment of our treaty rights,” Meneen told reporters Tuesday.
“It’s all about preserving lands and saving what’s there — the caribou there and the wildlife there. That’s what’s important.”
Bill Loutitt, CEO of McMurray Metis Local 1935, called the co-operative effort a “historic opportunity.”
“The new wildland provincial parks ensure Indigenous peoples have places to hunt and fish with their families for generations to come,” he said Tuesday.
For Phillips, the new parks and how they will be managed speak to conservation in the era of truth and reconciliation.
“This piece isn’t just about that protected area, but those ongoing conversations about co-operative management and how conservation looks in the 21st century,” she said.
“Conservation areas are as much about wildlife, biodiversity and climate resilience … as they are about how we support traditional land use, traditional knowledge, our treaty obligations and First Nations treaty rights.”
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