WWF honours Deh Cho First Nations and government of Canada for major conservation move
Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), a key species in the Mackenzie Valley.
Yellowknife, Canada – The Deh Cho First Nations and the government of Canada received an international conservation honour today for withdrawing over 10 million hectares of land from industrial development in the Northwest Territories’ Mackenzie Valley. WWF officially recognized this as a Gift to the Earth, as representatives of the government of Canada and the Deh Cho First Nations met in Fort Providence, NWT, to sign the Land Withdrawal and an Interim Resource Management Agreement. This major habitat and cultural conservation step is especially important because it comes in advance of finalizing plans for a natural gas pipeline along the Mackenzie Valley.
The Mackenzie is one of the world’s last remaining great rivers still in its natural state. Its vast watershed covers 180 million hectares, one-sixth of Canada. This pristine sub-arctic region is home to several aboriginal peoples, including the Deh Cho First Nation, as well as to huge populations of wildlife including caribou, grizzly bears, and migratory birds. These intact wildlife habitats are important watersheds and hunting, trapping and fishing areas for the Deh Cho — resources that have sustained them for thousands of years. The entire Deh Cho region occurs within two of WWF's Global 200 ecoregions
, Canadian Low Arctic Tundra and Canadian Boreal Forests.
“This is a tremendous achievement in an area coming under significant pressure for industrial development,” said Bill Carpenter, WWF-Canada’s Northwest Territories Conservation Director. “I’d like to congratulate Grand Chief Michael Nadli, the Deh Cho Elders, the Deh Cho Negotiating team and the Government of Canada on outstanding work.”
Unlike the situation 30 years ago, most aboriginal groups now support the development of a gas pipeline in the Mackenzie Valley — but not at any cost. Under today’s interim land withdrawal, about 7 million hectares will be protected from any industrial activity for five years, while more detailed assessments of resources are completed for these areas. In total, taking into account two previous land withdrawals, 10.1 million hectares (nearly half the Deh Cho lands) will be protected. The land withdrawal still allows for the possibility of a future Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline.
“This is a fundamental and very welcome shift in policy for the federal government, which WWF strongly supports,” said Dr Peter Ewins, WWF-Canada’s Arctic Director. “It’s a major expression of the government’s support for taking a conservation-first approach, which is rooted in northern Aboriginal land claims and traditional values. The government is recognising that protection of key cultural and wildlife areas must come first, before frontier areas are developed. This is clearly a minimum requirement to meet the principles and commitments of sustainable development.”
The Deh Cho First Nations, comprising 11 small communities in the upper reaches of the Mackenzie Valley, have survived for many thousands of years in balance with the land and its natural resources. They still value very highly the bounties provided by nature, but today also want to benefit from potential industrial development. Unlike other aboriginal groups in the Mackenzie Valley the Deh Cho (which means "big river" in the local language) have not yet settled their land claims with the federal government. Nevertheless, they have now reached an agreement on resource development, and on the protection of nearly half of their traditional homelands — including the interim land withdrawal signed on 17 April 2003.
A Gift to the Earth is a distinction reserved by WWF for environmental efforts of global significance. Since the program started seven years ago, only two other gifts have been recognized in Canada. The first was when the British Colombia government agreed to protect 1 million hectares in the northern Rockies in 1997. The second was last year, when Iisaak Forest Resources Limited, a native-controlled company on Vancouver Island, set aside valleys of pristine old growth forests as part of its revolutionary forest management techniques.
For further information:
NWT Regional Conservation Director, WWF-Canada
Tel: +1 403 997 6335
Dr Peter Ewins
Director, Arctic Conservation, WWF-Canada
Tel: +1 416 489 4567 ext. 286
(416) 489-4567 x 248