Debate over Wood Buffalo UNESCO site politicized: scientists

Wood Buffalo
Whooping cranes and a chick appear in this June 2008 file photo, taken in Wood Buffalo National Park. Supplied Image/J. McKinnon/

Two prominent water scientists say a debate over Canada’s largest national park has become politicized and industrial development is being blamed for changes it didn’t cause.

Brent Wolfe of Wilfrid Laurier University and Roland Hall from the University of Waterloo say B.C. Hydro’s Bennett Dam on the Peace River has had only a marginal effect on northern Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park.

After 20 years of research and nearly two dozen published papers, they conclude climate change has been drying out the world’s second-largest freshwater delta for more than a century.

And that there may be nothing anyone can do about it.

“What our research shows is that this landscape is overwhelmingly influenced by natural processes,” says Hall. “You’re going to end up wasting a lot of effort.”

Their conclusions are disputed by the author of a report done for the federal government, as well as by another leading researcher.

Wolfe and Hall criticize the 561-page study that was done in response to concerns the park’s environment has deteriorated, which potentially threatens its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The study concluded that 15 out of 17 measures of environmental health are declining in the area, mostly because of lower river levels and fewer floods to replenish lakes. It said industry and dams, as well as climate change and natural cycles, are behind the problem.

Wolfe and Hall say sediment cores in area lakes show that the Wood Buffalo region has been drying out since the early 1900s.

“All of our evidence suggests that drying began in the early 20th century,” Wolfe says. “We also have evidence that the flood frequency has been declining.”

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UNESCO ask for investigation of impacts to Wood Buffalo National Park

Whooping crane nesting area.
Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park ©2014 John McKinnon , Wood Buffalo National Park, Parks Canada. Click on photo to enlarge.

Editor’s Note: Friends of the Wild Whoopers is aware of the hydro-electric and oil and gas development in the vicinity of Wood Buffalo National Park. We are also concerned about potential impacts of these developments. Unfortunately, due to the vastness of the region and difficulty to travel there, we do not have the resources to visit the sites of concern at this time. Fortunately, however, we do have some well-informed sources that keep us apprised. And we will do our best to keep you informed. Stay tuned.

Now, we invite you to read the following article and watch the video at end of article:


Mikisew Cree First Nation Applauds UNESCO Decision on Wood Buffalo National Park


VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA–(Marketwired – July 1, 2015) – The Mikisew Cree First Nation is pleased that today, at the 39thsession of the World Heritage Committee in Bonn, Germany, UNESCO requested that Canada invite a Reactive Monitoring mission to conduct an in-depth investigation of how Wood Buffalo National Park is being impacted by hydro-electric and oil and gas development. Wood Buffalo National Park was listed as a World Heritage Site over 30 years ago for its globally unique and important ecosystems.

After acknowledging the threats to Wood Buffalo National Park from hydro-electric dams, oil sands development, and proposed open-pit mining near the Park, UNESCO also requested that Canada not take any decision related to development projects that would be difficult to reverse. UNESCO also requested that Canada undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment to assess the potential cumulative impacts of all developments on the Park.

UNESCO’s decisions comes in response to a petition from Mikisew in December to place Wood Buffalo National Park on the list of World Heritage in Danger.

“We are deeply concerned about the existing impact of industrial activity and climate change on the Wood Buffalo National Park and the new threats posed by megaprojects upstream of the Peace-Athabasca Delta.

We thank the World Heritage Committee for taking Mikisew’s concerns seriously in today’s decision,” says Mikisew Chief Steve Courtoreille.

To read entire article, click on: UNESCO Decision. logo

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