Canada’s failure to protect Wood Buffalo National Park to be raised at UNESCO meeting

As UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee convenes this week for its annual meeting in Manama, Bahrain, Indigenous and environmental groups are calling on Canada to do more to protect its largest park, Wood Buffalo National Park.

Members of Mikisew Cree First Nation are in Bahrain to present to World Heritage Committee members. They will urge Canada to implement all seventeen of the Committee’s recommendations to ensure protection of Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The presentation highlights images from Wood Buffalo National Park—including the globally important Peace-Athabasca Delta—taken recently from the air, land and water by photographer Louis Bockner, as well as photographs of Indigenous elders in the area.

This meeting marks the one year anniversary of a formal UNESCO World Heritage Committee decision calling on Canada to take steps to protect the park. If sufficient progress is not made to heed this call, Wood Buffalo National Park could be added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. Assignment to this status would mean Wood Buffalo National Park could lose its World Heritage status.

Canada has until December 1, 2018 to submit its full action plan to protect the park.

The situation facing Wood Buffalo National Park is dire. In 2017, experts from UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature concluded that impacts on the park from development are “far more complex and severe than previously thought.” Since then, the park has been identified by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature as having the worst conservation outlook for a Natural World Heritage Site in Canada.

Canada’s response over the past year continues to fall short.

“When our community heard Minister McKenna tell us that the mission report was a ‘call to action,’ we were hopeful,” said Melody Lepine, Director of Government and Industry Relations for Mikisew Cree First Nation. “A year later, there is little concrete action to report to our elders except that we keep trying to get government to honour its commitment. So much more needs to be done, and done fast.”

“Canada has an international obligation to ensure protection of its World Heritage Sites,” said Galen Armstrong, Peace Valley Campaigner at Sierra Club BC. “By refusing to do an assessment of the downstream impacts from the Site C dam on the Peace-Athabasca Delta, as requested by UNESCO, we are putting an international treasure at risk.”

Canada has about five months to finalize an action plan to present to the World Heritage Committee. Meanwhile, other large industrial projects such as the Teck Frontier Oil Sands Mine are being considered that could amplify the negative impacts on the park.

“The submission deadline for filing information for the hearing on the Teck Frontier mine is set for August 17, and the hearing is expected to take place in September,” said Adean Alessandrini, Boreal Program Manager for CPAWS Northern Alberta, “Approval of this and other industrial projects before Canada has even completed its action plan is irresponsible.”

Editors: Photographs of Wood Buffalo National Park, including the Peace-Athabacsa Delta and Indigenous elders in the area, are available at:
Credit to Louis Bockner/Sierra Club BC.

For background, visit

Supported by:

  • Mikisew Cree First Nation
  • Alberta Wilderness Association
  • Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)
  • Sierra Club BC
  • Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

Media contacts:

Melody Lepine | Mikisew Cree First Nation, Director, Government and Industry Relations
780-792-8736 | [email protected]

Galen Armstrong | Peace Valley Campaigner, Sierra Club BC
778-679-3191 | [email protected]

Adean Alessandrini | Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Northern Alberta
780-297-3394 | [email protected]

Candace Batycki | Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
250-352-3830 | [email protected]