Canada’s federal government opened a whole new can of worms Wednesday after announcing that a national park, to be created in the North of the country, will be smaller than some had hoped, to make room for mining endeavours.
The chosen boundaries leave 70% of the overall mineral wealth outside the proposed Northwest Territories’ national park, so that is available for mining companies to explore.
"I know this continues to be an item of discussion and park boundaries are reviewed from time to time," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he announced Wednesday the official establishment of the Naats'ihch'oh National Park Reserve while in the Northwest Territories. He is in the area as part of his annual summer tour of the region, with stops in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Manitoba.
A Parks Canada review of the new boundary, quoted by the Vancouver Sun, said the authority is taking full advantage of the area’s mineral potential, “while still providing minimal protection of conservation values."
But “minimal” is not a word environmentalists and the general public generally like, especially when it comes to the environment and species conservation. Groups are raising questions about the degree to which mining interests were accommodated in Harper’s decision and the impact of mineral exploration and potential production on the area.
Native leaders aren’t delighted either. Instead, they say they’ll try persuading Parks Canada to expand the park so that it includes a wider range of land along the Nahanni River, which they deem a place of spiritual and cultural significance.
The Nááts’ihch’oh Park is famous for its turquoise pools of water, formed by melting snow, which support the native wildlife and flora.
Representatives of the mining industry interviewed by CBC, however, said even the announced limits leave vast areas of mineral wealth out of reach. They claim the area could be mined in environmentally sustainable ways, bringing jobs and profit to a depressed local economy.