Land Protection Must Move Forward - By Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – NWT Chapter

  • Published on Jun 26 2014 |
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Land Protection Must Move Forward

by NWT Chapter, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

The NWT Protected Areas Strategy (PAS) was established in 1999 with the GNWT as a signatory. It was ambitiously created to provide communities, governments, and other interested parties with a forum to proactively assess and recommend the establishment of permanently protected areas in the NWT in advance of increased land and resource exploration and development. Protected areas are an essential component of an overall land use and conservation strategy. They help to conserve ecosystems, watersheds, and biodiversity; provide important benchmarks for assessing the effects of surrounding land use and environmental change; and provide long-term certainty about where industrial development is and is not acceptable.

Protected Areas

Since 1999, a number of environmentally and culturally sensitive areas have been identified, studied, and, in some cases, recommended for protection. These include Edehzhie (the Horn Plateau) in the Dehcho; Sambaa K’e (Trout Lake), Ka’a’gee Tu (Kakisa), Five Fish Lakes (Jean Marie River) and Buffalo Lakes and Trails areas in the Dehcho; Ts’ude niline Tu’eyeta (Ramparts River and wetlands in the Sahtu); and Dinàgà Wek’èhodi along the North Arm of Great Slave Lake in the Tlicho region. Most of these have been recommended for protection under federal legislation as National Wildlife Areas (NWAs). Thaidene Nene in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake is also proposed to be protected as a national park.

Impact of Devolution

But protection of these areas is now essentially on hold as a direct result of devolution. Prior to devolution, the GNWT effectively withdrew from the PAS process as it reviewed its pending land management responsibilities and authorities. It appears that the GNWT did not want to leave large blocks of land under federal jurisdiction at the same time that it was gaining increased land and resource management control. The GNWT indicated that it would prefer to develop and use northern legislative “tools” to protect and conserve lands in the NWT, but has not been able to offer the communities or regions any legislation that would achieve their goals or match the protection provided under federal legislation.

GNWT Delays

Devolution is now a reality, and communities are expecting decisions to be made regarding the lands that they have been faithfully and diligently moving forward under the PAS process. The GNWT cannot delay the process any longer, as land protection will provide a number of communities with the comfort and certainty they desire to move forward on other land and resource use initiatives, including development initiatives outside of these protected areas. The GNWT has to step forward and engage fully with communities and regions to resolve and finalize the commitments it and the federal government have made since 1999 through the PAS process.

Resolution may include the development of new forms of territorial land protection legislation, the continued use of federal legislation, or a combination of both. Those options can only be considered through full engagement between the GNWT and affected Aboriginal governments and communities, with federal involvement where and as required, and with the support of the non-government organizations that have helped fund and resource community involvement in the PAS process since its inception.

Balance Needed

It’s in the interest of NWT residents to have the current PAS initiatives concluded. This is essential to provide one more element of certainty to the broader range of land and resource management decisions that need to be made over the next few decades to conserve our beautiful and pristine lands, while allowing responsible and sustainable resource development to move forward. Balance is the key principle, and, as identified in the NWT’s recently released Land Use and Sustainability Framework, land protection is an essential component of a balanced approach to land use and conservation.

The people of the NWT need the GNWT to fully assume its new land management responsibilities and move decisively with its partners to fulfill its PAS commitments and obligations.