The Alberta government plans to create the largest contiguous protected boreal forest area in the world by expanding the Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland in the northeast part of the province.
Under the plan, the wildland area would be expanded by 143,800 hectares, Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday at a news conference.
“For generations, Albertans have found beauty and pride in the stunning natural landscapes across our province,” Kenney said.
“Alberta’s sweeping prairies, the rolling foothills, the majestic mountain vistas have inspired countless works of art and have brought tourists here from all around the world.
“And Alberta’s government has taken significant steps to make sure that these treasures are both celebrated and preserved. But it’s often easy to forget that more than half of our entire province is covered with boreal forest.
“These lush green areas have provided homes and habitat for native species for generations, long before humans arrived on this land. And because of what we are announcing today, they’ll continue to do so for generations to come.”
The province established the Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland in 2019. The park currently covers more than 160,000 hectares. Kitaskino means “our land” in Cree and Nuwenëné means “our land” in Dene.
The expanded area of the park is located between the Birch River Wildland Provincial Park and existing Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland, south of Wood Buffalo National Park.
‘Part of who are are’
The boreal forest is home to many species closely associated with Alberta, such as moose, bears, river otters, caribou and wood bison, and has supplied traditional medicines for Indigenous people for thousands of years, Kenney said.
“And because they sit atop the oil and gas resources that have driven our modern economy, both government and industry have made it a priority fully to restore these lands once work is completed.
“In short, these lands, particularly the boreal forest, are a part of who we are.”
To make the expansion possible, the Athabasca Oil Corporation and Cenovus will surrender Crown mineral agreements in the area.
“This is a shining example of how valuable and important partnerships and collaboration are when it comes to land use and conservation planning,” the premier said.
Members of the public can weigh in by taking part in an online survey until March 15. The province plans to do further engagement with Indigenous communities.
Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon said the project, two years in the making, will protect an area almost three times the size of Waterton National Park in southern Alberta.
The project is now in its final stages, and after a 30-day public consultation the intent is to enshrine the park in legislation, he said.
“It is taking all of the tools that we have in place in northern Alberta and bringing it together to be able to accomplish some of our big environmental goals up there,” Nixon said.
“It is also an illustration that this government doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to partnering with Indigenous communities and industries in this province, to have success with environmental issues at the same time as creating jobs.”
The expansion follows the completion of the Moose Lake area plan announced earlier this week, he said.
The government is committed to increasing outdoor recreation in the area, including backcountry activities, and offering expanded opportunities for people to hike, ski, hunt and fish, Nixon said.
“The Kitaskino Nuwenene Wildland will provide Albertans with even more incredible landscapes in which to enjoy our great province.”
Nixon thanked the Mikisew Cree First Nation for its leadership in helping to move the project forward.
‘Our way of life’
“Today is a proud and exciting day for our community because an important part of our vision of our lands is moving closer to becoming a reality,” said Peter Powder, chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.
“And it’s moving forward in the right way, with a spirit of partnership and collaboration that spans multiple sectors of the Alberta economy.”
The process started with elders and land users giving their vision for how to best protect the territory, Powder said.
“It’s important, it’s our culture, it’s our way of life,” he said of the wildland.
“But the importance goes beyond just us, it matters to all Albertans … we’re here today on the verge of protecting 150,000 hectares of important ecological and cultural areas because our vision has been supported by so many, including leading forestry and energy companies like Athabasca Oil, Cenovus, Imperial, Teck, Suncor, Northlands and Alpac.
“It’s worth repeating, every single company that has the interest in the area has helped us move forward.”
The wildland area overlaps with the Red Earth Caribou range, making the expansion key to maintaining that threatened species, Nixon said.
Athabasca Oil Corporation has agreed to surrender about 234,750 acres of Crown mineral agreements in the area, Nixon said, and Cenovus has agreed to surrender more than 60,000 acres.
“This is a great example of how we can achieve positive outcomes when we work together,” he said.
Rob Broen, president and CEO of the Athabasca Oil Corporation, said the industry recognized the ecological and cultural significance of the area and his company was pleased to play a key role in making the expansion happen.
“We have helped protect an important part of Alberta’s natural beauty and ecological infrastructure for future generations, while also providing opportunities to support Indigenous culture,” Broen said.