EDMONTON — The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has asked Canada to invite a team to Alberta to study how the oilsands and other nearby projects will affect Wood Buffalo National Park.
The UN committee's request follows a petition by the Mikisew Cree First Nation in December that asked for the park to be added to a list of world heritage sites in danger.
After asking Ottawa for responses to the First Nation's concerns, the committee has made several recommendations.
It says it wants the government to invite a joint team from the World Heritage Centre and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to review the impact of the oilsands, a proposed open-pit mine and the proposed Site C Dam in B.C. on the park.
It also asks the government to conduct an environmental assessment that takes in the potential cumulative impacts of all developments on the value of the park.
Wood Buffalo has been a UNESCO World Heritage site for over 30 years and is noted for having the largest population of wild bison, as well as for being the natural nesting place of the whooping crane.
"We thank the World Heritage Committee for taking Mikisew's concerns seriously in today's decision," Mikisew Chief Steve Courtoreille said Wednesday in a news release following the committee's decision.
"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."
Parks Canada responded in a letter earlier this year to the World Heritage Centre that the case for a danger listing was "overstated."
George Green, vice-president of heritage conservation with Parks Canada, noted that the proposed Site C Dam on the Peace River was reviewed by an independent, joint federal-provincial panel and that it found there would be no impact on the Peace-Athabasca Delta.
Green also noted that at 45,000 square kilometres, the park's size provides for "considerable potential resilience."
He further noted that while a report last November from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature indicated some concerns with dam construction, industrial development and climate change, he said it didn't conclude that Wood Buffalo was facing a critical situation.
"It is important to recognize that Canada has — at both the federal and provincial levels — robust environmental and assessment permitting processes," Green wrote.
Construction on the $8.8-billion hydroelectric Site C project by Crown utility BC Hydro is slated to start this summer.
The UN committee advises Canada "not to take any decision related to any of these development projects that would be difficult to reverse."