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The Slow Road to Conservation: Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

The Slow Road to Conservation:

Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy

from "Offsetting Resistance: The effects of foundation funding from the Great Bear Rainforest to the Athabasca River", a special report by Dru Oja Jay and Macdonald Stainsby. Released September, 2009.

Testimony from Petr Cizek:

Starting in 1999, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) obtained the first of their multi-million dollar grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts and initiated the implementation of the so-called Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy (PAS) with the Federal Government and the Territorial Government. For a number of years, I was perplexed at how soft the approach of CPAWS and WWF was. I did a little bit of work for both organizations, mainly WWF, specifically developing a series of map products and atlases with an aim to identify a comprehensive network of conservation areas which was intended by this Protected Areas Strategy and which neither of these organizations were promoting at that time.

The Canadian Boreal Initiative didn’t show up on the scene until some years after that, in 2003. In 1999, there was a big grant that went to not only CPAWS and the WWF in the Northwest Territories but also to CPAWS in the Yukon.

The PAS is a creature of the WWF. In 1996 the World Wildlife Fund threatened to go to court over the approval of the first diamond mine in the Northwest Territories, and settled out of court for the PAS. The PAS was a joint Federal-Territorial-First Nations and Environmental organizations initiative to set up a network of conservation areas that were in the Northwest Territories. Industry was at the table as well. So this was a partnership of all the different sectors.

As part of the original grant in 1999, CPAWS and WWF promised something like 4 million acres to be set aside in four years. Of course, they never came close to achieving this.

There’s a process in the PAS to do a so-called resource assessment for each area, which includes a non-renewable resource assessment– outlining the areas with high mineral, oil and gas potential which should be considered for exclusion from the conservation areas.

In what I saw–starting in 1999, on until about 2005 when I discovered the connections to the Pew and how it all works based on the experience in the United States in the 1980’s–my main point of perplexion was that neither CPAWS nor WWF were interested in actually nominating a network of areas. Part of the PAS was the notion that candidate areas were supposed to be nominated by First Nations, by the communities. For some reason, WWF and CPAWS weren’t even making suggestions.

If you go to the Protected Areas website you’ll still see only a handful of areas that have even been proposed. Only one has achieved permanent protection, two tiny peninsulas on Great Bear Lake– which were in play before the PAS.

Again, the areas of high non-renewable resource potential will have been excluded from each site. There are a handful of sites that have been proposed that are in various stages of ‘nomination’, some are just proposed, and some have what are called ‘interim land withdrawals’ which are temporary freezes on mineral staking and oil and gas exploration.

If you look at the map, there are only a handful of sites. This is not even close to being ‘ecologically representative’ and this is ten years later.

I kept being perplexed why these organizations are not taking a more activist role. Meanwhile more and more land was getting staked or opened up for oil and gas exploration licenses are being handed out left, right and centre. So I actually started sending out little maps to WWF showing how much land is getting staked. Finally, they did the typical thing and they gave me a pretty big contract.

The contract was to identify a network of conservation areas. So I prepared this 200 page report with dozens of maps. Based on the best available data, here are some possible areas you should be thinking of.

They asked me to do a little workshop, they called it a teach-in with the other members of the Protected Areas Strategy which included the government agencies and the other environmental groups. I spent a day doing this presentation and workshop and I got totally ripped to shreds.

They ripped apart my work on the basis of “Oh, the data isn’t good enough, how can we make these decisions”– I’ve never seen so much absolute rage in my whole life. All the participants were livid that I had the gall to suggest a whole suite of conservation areas, when I basically said that for now this is the best available data that we have. I had basically gone through 40 years of government reports and identified sites that different biologists had considered important and digitized them into maps and so forth and said this is the best that we have for now. These are the sites you should be concerned about. There were 20 or 30 people there who tore me to shreds, and that’s when I realized what this was really all about.

There weren’t any industry people there, it was all government bureaucrats– mainly biologists– and staff of CPAWS, Ducks Unlimited, and the World Wildlife Fund.

It was creating this enormous façade to give the impression that something was going on and that there was absolute political terror at the prospect of actually implementing this so-called Protected Areas Strategy or even suggesting a real network of conservation areas.

It was after that I happened to come across an article by Felice Pace in Counterpunch. It was the first of the articles that described to me what had been going on in the United States and it was exactly the same.


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