10 June 2009

Nahanni Reserve Expansion Announced by Canadian Government

The Canadian government has announced a massive expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve to over 30,000 square kilometers in the Northwest Territories province.

Map of the the Nahanni National Park Reserve. Courtesy of Parks Canada.

"Nahanni is one of the Crown jewels of our incredible system of national parks and it is with pride that I take part in the greatest conservation achievement in a generation," said the Honourable Jim Prentice, Canada's Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada. "Enshrining this magnificent area in legislation, under the Canada National Parks Act, is a gift to future generations that will ensure Nahanni National Park Reserve is managed according to the most stringent conservation standards."

"The expansion will make Nahanni six times its current size, and the third largest park in Canada," according to officials. "It will protect over 30,000 square kilometres (a little less than the size of Vancouver Island), which is approximately 91% of the Greater Nahanni Ecosystem in the Dehcho region. It will enhance Nahanni’s UNESCO World Heritage Site designation as a protected area and will now include much of the South Nahanni River watershed."

The expansion is also expected to benefit opportunities for tourism.

"Nahanni National Park Reserve is important to the culture of the Dehcho First Nations. The expanded boundary will ensure Nahanni continues to be revered as a place of mystery, spirituality and healing," said the Honourable Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians. "We are very pleased to have reached this remarkable achievement through strong collaboration with Dehcho First Nations, and with the support of the Government of the Northwest Territories."

Ram Plateau landscape at Nahanni. Picture by Mike Beedell. Both photographs courtesy of CPAWS.

"This landmark conservation achievement will enhance the ecological integrity of Nahanni for generations to come by protecting large areas of vital habitat for several key species currently listed as Species of Special Concern" according to Parks Canada. "Specifically this means the protection of habitat and ranges for:

  • about 500 grizzly bears – more bears than are found in Banff and Jasper national parks combined;
  • two herds of the northern mountain population of woodland caribou including migration routes and calving, rutting and wintering grounds;
  • alpine species including Dall’s sheep and mountain goats;
  • important trumpeter swan nesting areas; and
  • entire bull trout stream systems.

"Even when we don't walk on the land, our spirit is walking the land," said J. Antoine, Nahanni Expansion Working Group. "This work has taken many years, many people working with passion and dedication. We must always remember the words of our Elders, "take care of the land and the land will take care of us."

"The Nahanni personifies the spectacular nature of the Northwest Territories landscape," Premier Floyd K. Roland said. "It is a region that holds great cultural and traditional value to the people of the NWT and represents our spirit, beauty and potential to travellers from around the world. The size and nature of this expansion highlights our shared commitment, as Northerners to protect and sustain the value and wonder of our region for the future."

"The Nahanni is the jewel of Canada’s Boreal forest, and one of the world’s greatest wilderness treasures. Canada has shown true global leadership by protecting it," said Eric Hébert-Daly, national executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

"Nahanni’s new boundary includes the highest mountains and largest ice fields in the Northwest Territories. Protecting many of the tributaries to the South Nahanni River, it encompasses the entire watersheds of Caribou River, Clearwater Creek, Cathedral Creek, Rabbitkettle River, Meilleur River, Irvine Creek, Ram River and more."

In comparison, Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay Parks in the Rocky Mountains of Canada together protect 20,235 km2. Yellowstone National Park in the United States protects 8,983 km2.

Nahanni North Karst landscape. Photograph by Harvey Locke.

The Nahanni National Park Preserve had previously included an area of 4,766 km2 along the lower reaches of the South Nahanni and Flat Rivers.

"The announcement of final boundaries comes nearly two years after Prime Minister Harper and former Environment Minister John Baird promised a massive expansion of the park, crowning years of collective work by CPAWS, local First Nations and many others to convince the federal government to permanently protect this iconic wilderness area," according to CPAWS.

"The original Nahanni National Park Reserve was set aside in 1972 to protect the river from possible hydro-electric development. The river at its heart — the South Nahanni — has since developed a reputation as one of the top paddling rivers in the world, and in 1978 UNESCO named the park the first natural World Heritage Site."

"The Nahanni lies within Canada’s Boreal region, home to the world’s largest remaining wilderness forest, and a prime source of oxygen and freshwater. The Nahanni is also an integral part of a wildlife corridor known as 'Yellowstone to Yukon' that stretches from Yellowstone Park, in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, through Alberta and British Columbia to the Yukon Territory."

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