November 21, 2007 14:15 ET

Northern Land Withdrawal for Protection Is the Largest Ever in Canada: WWF-Canada

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Nov. 21, 2007) - WWF-Canada today congratulated the communities involved, and strongly supported the announcement by the Government of Canada that over 10 million ha (25 million acres) have been withdrawn from industrial development in the Mackenzie River Basin.

This was legally accomplished by Orders in Council, approved by the federal government at the request of local First Nations for an interim period of 4-5 years, in order to maintain options for protection around Great Slave Lake and along a northern stretch of the Mackenzie River in the NWT.

The new area withdrawn around Great Slave Lake totals 8.8 million ha, and was proposed by the Akaitcho Dene, who reside in a half-dozen communities surrounding the lake. The overall Akaitcho withdrawal includes 2.6 million ha, over and above the 700,000 ha already reserved for East Arm National Park, which has been championed by the Akaitcho community of Lutsel K'e--about 350 people still closely connected to the land.

The 1.5 million ha area further to the north and west, adjacent to the Mackenzie River, is called "The Ramparts," because of the sacred cliffs along the river. It was proposed by the Sahtu Dene/Metis (Khashogotiae), especially the residents of Fort Good Hope, and includes world-class wetlands that qualify the area to eventually become a National Wildlife Area.

"The Akaitcho interim land withdrawal, including the area of interest for East Arm National Park, would have been the largest in Canadian history by itself," said Monte Hummel, President Emeritus of WWF-Canada. "But when you add in the area of the Ramparts, for a total of over 10 million ha, we're well into record territory!" Hummel has been deeply involved in WWF's northern work for nearly 30 years. "This maintains options for protection on a national and international scale, and as such, goes a long way to strengthen Canada's North."

For many years now, Stephen Kakfwi, former Premier of the NWT whose home community is Fort Good Hope, has been working with WWF to advocate implementation of the NWT Protected Areas Strategy and protection of the Ramparts in particular. " I join WWF in congratulating the Ministers involved and support this important announcement," said Kakfwi. "The leadership and residents of Good Hope are to be especially recognized for their determination to protect their lands and waters in advance of industrial development."

In the case of Fort Good Hope, the industrial development Mr Kakfwi was referring to is the Mackenzie Gas project, which includes a proposed gas pipeline right down the Mackenzie Valley.

In the case of Lutsel K'e, industrial pressures include unprecedented uranium exploration east of Great Slave Lake, right out to the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary.

"I think the real significance of today's announcement is that First Nations' wishes to sequence conservation first are finally being acted upon, up front in the development process while conservation can still make a difference," said Rob Powell, Director of WWF's Mackenzie River Basin program. "WWF looks forward to working with the communities involved in today's announcements, as they determine exactly what kind of protection they want. And there are many other communities who have identified areas they want to protect throughout the Mackenzie Valley."

WWF-Canada has been engaged with other national conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the Canadian Boreal Initiative, in supporting community-initiated protected areas proposals for over ten years now. This support has taken the form of maintaining a full-time office in Yellowknife; providing direct financial, technical and moral support to northern communities themselves; partnerships with First Nations, territorial and federal governments; and testimony before the Joint Review Panel examining the Mackenzie Gas Project.

This news release and associated material can be found on wwf.ca.

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