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Alberta government expands protected lands in boreal forest

Last Updated Feb 11, 2021 at 5:15 pm MDT

Environment Minister Jason Nixon announces an expansion of the boreal protected region in northern Alberta. Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 (PHOTO: Alberta Government)

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — The world’s largest boreal protected area got a bit bigger on Thursday, as the United Conservative Party government announced an expansion of the lands.

It grows the conservation area by 143,800 hectares on the southern edge of Wood Buffalo National Park, northwest of Fort McMurray.

“Just to put that into perspective, it’s about three times the size of Waterton Lakes National Park,” Premier Jason Kenney said. “This will help protect the landscape, watersheds and area wildlife. The expanded protected area will keep its wild, undeveloped character but also allow for some responsible recreation activities.”

Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon built further on the importance of protecting the area.

“The area, also home to Alberta’s bitumen reserves, is home to a wealth of plant and animal species not seen anywhere else in our province. The region’s wetlands and forests also serve as the lungs of the province, and its waterways connect with a continental network of others, making its preservation critical,” he said.

The region also overlaps with caribou ranges and will help protect their habitats.

The protected area is intended to support traditional uses for Indigenous peoples in the area as well, including for the Mikisew Cree First Nation.

“The expansion of Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Park is part of our vision for protecting the Peace Athabasca Delta and important resources like caribou and wood bison. We applaud the collaborative effort that brought us to this point, including the broad support from our partners in the energy and forestry sectors, the provincial and federal governments and other Indigenous nations. This is a big, shared achievement,” Chief Peter Powder said.

Kenney said it involved work from numerous stakeholders, including oil and gas firms.

“Mikisew Cree First Nation has led the collaborative work on the potential expansion, and companies — namely Athabasca Oil Corporation and Cenovus — have agreed to surrender Crown mineral agreements in the area.”

The provincial government is characterizing this as the “world’s largest contiguous protected boreal forest area,” which is technically true however it does not recognize that the protected area was first established by the previous NDP government.

The announcement on Thursday does extend the size of the Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Park, which lies within the entire protected boreal area.

In 2018, the NDP announced the protected lands amassing more than 6.7 million hectares and then added an additional 166,000 hectares later that year.

“Our government is committed to protecting our land, water and forests for future generations. Preserving these areas has allowed Alberta to establish the largest contiguous boreal protected area in the world. This historic achievement shows what can be accomplished when governments, First Nations, industry and environmental organizations work together,” former-Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said.

The public has 30 days to offer comments on the plan to the Alberta government.