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AWA Signs Joint Letter to UNESCO Mission Assessing Wood Buffalo National Park Heritage Status

August 17, 2022

Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) has co-signed a joint letter submitted by CPAWS Northern Alberta on behalf of environmental and Indigenous organizations across Canada, which was submitted to the IUCN/UNESCO World Heritage Centre on August 17, 2022 regarding their Reactive Monitoring Mission to assess the status of Wood Buffalo National Park.

From the CPAWS Northern Alberta news release:

Groups welcome international investigation into the condition of Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada’s largest national park facing the biggest dangers

August 17, 2022  

Edmonton, AB, Treaty 6 and Métis Region 4 – Indigenous organizations and civil society organizations across Canada welcome an investigation into the ecological state of Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Canada’s largest national park. In an open joint letter (attached below), the groups call on federal, provincial and territorial governments to work together and with Indigenous governments on a major and immediate response to save the Park before it’s too late.  

The investigation, formally called a “Reactive Monitoring Mission”, is scheduled to begin later this week. Over ten days, mission leads will visit the park and complete a comprehensive on-site assessment to confirm if the park meets the conditions to be given an “In Danger” inscription. 

This is not the first time a Reactive Monitoring Mission has investigated Wood Buffalo National Park. A mission was also carried out in 2016 and resulted in a report with several recommendations to address the downward trajectory of the health of the park. In July 2021, the World Heritage Committee determined that the still deteriorating condition of Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage site could constitute justification for formally listing it as a World Heritage Site in Danger. A second investigation is warranted to assess if conditions are still deteriorating and if Canada’s response has been adequate.  

Despite large investments and an Action Plan, the situation in the park remains dire. The federal government has invested $88 million over five years to improve the outlook of Wood Buffalo National Park and to help deal with its numerous threats. Unfortunately, the dangers remain severe according to many civil society and Indigenous groups.  

“A major challenge is that many of the threats come from outside the park’s boundaries,” says Gillian Chow-Fraser with CPAWS Northern Alberta. “Impacts from Alberta’s oil sands and B.C.’s hydroelectric projects, like Site C, are carried downstream to the park, affecting the waters, ecosystems, and communities that depend on a healthy Peace-Athabasca Delta.”   

More work is also needed to address water governance, achieving co-management with Indigenous communities, and extending funding commitments beyond 2024.  

“Despite commitments to co-management with Indigenous communities and a process to develop water governance, progress has been slow while the threats remain or increase. This needs to change,” says Chow-Fraser.  

“The investigation is an indication of the unabated challenges that are facing the park today,” says Kecia Kerr from CPAWS Northern Alberta. “Wood Buffalo’s Peace-Athabasca Delta is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas, is the summer home of millions of migratory birds and other plants and animals, and stores enormous amounts of carbon, so keeping it healthy is also critical to tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.”   

The Mission report is expected to be released early next year, just after the world gathers in Montreal for the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, which will focus on protecting nature and halting and reversing biodiversity loss around the world. This offers an opportunity for provincial and federal governments to commit to the actions necessary to resolve the enormous threats to this globally significant national park.    

Open Letter: 

The following open letter was sent to the Reactive Monitoring Mission leads on August 17, 2022, on behalf of fifteen civil society organizations and Indigenous groups: Alberta Chapter of the Wildlife Society (ACTWS), Alberta Wilderness Association, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment – Alberta, Council of Canadians – National, CPAWS British Columbia, CPAWS National, CPAWS Northern Alberta, CPAWS Northwest Territories, David Suzuki Foundation, International Buffalo Relations Institute, Keepers of the Water, Nature Alberta, ShagowAskee Foundation, and WCS Canada.  

To view the full letter, please click the link below:


We have spectacular wilderness in Alberta, much of it under some form of protection. Every square millimetre of it has had to be fought for - will always have to be fought for, forever and ever. The struggle to retain and repair wilderness is conducted not just by a few individuals, but by large numbers of committed people, from all walks of life, all working in various ways toward the same end. We need to be grateful to all of them.
- Dave Mayhood
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