February 3, 2017
The Hay-Zama complex is a large lowland wetland region comprising marshes, eutrophic freshwater lakes, willow swamps, river deltas, floodplain woodlands, and wet meadows.
Hay-Zama is located in the far northwest corner of Alberta, 50 km northeast of Rainbow Lake, and constitutes one of the most extensive sedge wetlands in western North America. It is characterized by extreme seasonal and annual water level fluctuations.
The Hay-Zama complex is a large lowland wetland region comprising marshes, eutrophic freshwater lakes, willow swamps, river deltas, floodplain woodlands, and wet meadows. The area is located in the far northwest corner of Alberta, 50 km northeast of Rainbow Lake, and constitutes one of the most extensive sedge wetlands in western North America. It is characterized by extreme seasonal and annual water level fluctuations. The sizes and depths of the lakes vary according to the seasonally fluctuating inflow from the Hay River. The complex and surrounding area host a variety of user groups with significant interests in the wetland’s resources.
The complex is located on three of four major North American migration routes. As an internationally significant area, it is one of 1,069 sites globally that are designated under the Ramsar Wetlands Convention on Wetlands of International Significance; it has Ramsar designation for its importance as a waterfowl production / staging and moulting site, although the designation confers no practical protective status.
The region is especially important for ducks and geese. The Canadian Nature Federation and Bird Studies Canada has designated this area an IBA (Important Bird Area). It stands, however, as an ecological island in a highly degraded landscape; it sits above a productive oil and gas reserve that has been tapped since the 1960s.
The Hay-Zama wetland complex is the only site in the province selected for reintroduction of wood bison, a species listed as “At Risk” in Alberta. The bison herd has thrived in the area, as the wetland sedges and grasses provide critical winter forage.
Through the efforts of the Hay-Zama Committee, Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park is being twinned with the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China, another Ramsar site. For the last several years, AWA Past-President Cliff Wallis has been building capacity in Inner Mongolia in nature reserve management. The Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve is grassland, lake, and wetland habitat, and is part of the most extensive remaining temperate grassland in the world – the Daurian Steppe. Both Hay-Zama and Dalai Lake affect minority populations – Mongolians in China and the Dene Tha’ in Canada.
Hay Zama Petroleum Well
In the last few years, Alberta’s ability to be partners has been compromised due to a lack of staff for the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park. We hope that Alberta will find the resources or develop local capacity to have staff on the ground in Hay-Zama Wildland Park so that this cooperation can continue in its fullest form. AWA writes to Premier Redford on the announcement of her pending tour to China to bring attention to the partnership Alberta has with the twinning of these two significant Ramsar sites.
As an active member of the Hay-Zama Committee (which includes representatives from the First Nations community, government, Ducks Unlimited, and the energy industry) AWA continues to work with this committee and is pleased to see resource extraction winding down. AWA promotes the Hay-Zama Committee’s consensus-based, collaborative process as a model for phasing out industrial activities within protected areas and had opportunities during 2012 to promote this model in other areas of the province. AWA continued pressing the government to honour its commitments to the Dalai Lakes nature Reserve. Staffing issues related to remoteness of this Alberta treasure have made continuity in support and communications with our IMAR colleagues difficult.
The Hay-Zama model was used as a model for a Conservation Leadership Program (CLP) full day workshop taught by Vivian Pharis and Christyann Olson for 30 international students learning about activism and strategic models for working on difficult issues.
In accordance with the MOU twinning Hay-Zama lakes with Dalai Lakes Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, Wuliji, a staff person at the Dalai Lakes Reserve, is in Alberta for a two month work-study program. His time is spent learning about parks and protected areas management strategies and practice, working relationships with First Nations peoples, and learning how ENGOs operate in Alberta and cooperate with First Nations and government departments. AWA is integrally involved in creating a successful work experience for Wuliji.
A delegation from Alberta travels to the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) for a study tour and biodiversity workshop sponsored by AWA. Cliff Wallis and Christyann Olson join the delegation from AWA and travel to IMAR.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is signed in Alberta in May of 2008 when we twinned Hay-Zama Wildland Park with Dalai Lake Nature Reserve and both parties, the Alberta government and IMAR government, commit to help each other protect these two internationally significant protected areas; both of them enjoy Ramsar site status under the Convention on Wetlands signed in Ramsar, Iran, 1971.
AWA wins a place in the RCEN biodiversity Handbook for Hay-Zama, Dalai Lakes
Congratulations! Your case study/best practice was selected in the Pan-Canadian Biodiversity Handbook Contest! Your submission will be included in a handbook that will be posted on the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN) website and distributed to Environment Canada and the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
Representatives of three governments – Alberta, the Dene Thá First Nation, and China – meet in the northern Alberta community of Chateh to celebrate the official dedication of Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park. The event also celebrates the official twinning of Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park with the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China. The twinning was initiated and brought to completion by AWA Director Cliff Wallis, who attended the event along with AWA Executive Director Christyann Olson.
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development announces that a special management hunt for bison is planned for 2008-09 in northwestern Alberta “to manage the province’s only free-range, disease-free wood bison population…. A long-term plan to re-establish wood bison across northern Alberta is being developed” (Government of Alberta News Release).
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development releases “Bison Surveys in the Hay-Zama Lowlands, March 6-7, 2008.” The survey reports that the 29 bison originally brought into the Hay-Zama area from Elk Island National Park in 1983 has prospered and expanded to close to 700 individuals.
Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture writes to the Hay-Zama Committee, informing them that the Government of Alberta will not compensate Sound Energy Trust with regard to cessation of production from two wells (4-23 and 7-11) in Hay-Zama.
Two men are fined a total of $17,000 in provincial court in relation to the poaching of a bison calf in the Hay-Zama area.
The Hay-Zama Committee writes to Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture asking for government compensation to Sound Energy Trust with regard to cessation of production from two wells (4-23 and 7-11) in Hay-Zama.
Alberta Community Development (CD) informs Sound Energy (Dec. 15) and the Hay-Zama Committee (Dec. 20) that the Ministry continues to support the Memorandum of Understanding with Sound Energy, with the expectation that Sound Energy will honour its commitment set out in the MOU and cease production from the two wells specified by December 31, 2006 (4-23 and 7-11). Sound Energy responds to CD (Dec. 19) by requesting clarity from all parties involved (Alberta Energy, EUB, Dene Thá First Nation) on several issues, including “the mechanism for compensation for early cessation of production.”
26 March: A leak occurred at a Navigo Energy site in the Hay-Zama Complex (1-33-112-06 W6) releasing approximately 1 m3 of oil and 0.5 m3 of freshwater onto the site. Navigo followed normal cleanup procedures.
Crispin Energy, which has been operating in the Hay-Zama Complex, has been bought out by Pengrowth, and Navigo Energy is merging with Clear Energy. These changes present challenges as the new companies are initiated to the Hay-Zama Committee process. When a company changes hands, it is assumed that the new company is a signatory to the Memoranda of Understandings that have been established previously. At the last HZC meeting, Pengrowth wanted to extend their deadline (currently December 31, 2006) for leaving a medium-risk area, “but they came with nothing for the land,” says AWA’s Cliff Wallis. “We had to tell them that’s not how we work.”
AWA’s Cliff Wallis drafts a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation between the Hay-Zama Lake Wildland Park and the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve, Inner Mongolia, China. The MOU expresses a commitment to building capacity through information exchange in the areas of participatory approaches to nature protection and community development; protected area management, including cooperative management with local communities; and ecotourism, including sharing of benefits within local communities.
12 May: AWA’s Cliff Wallis writes to Community Development Minister Gary Mar requesting assistance in coordinating intergovernmental affairs and other relevant government departments to formalize the twinning of Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park with the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China. The Minister replies (3 June) with a promise to contact Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations to see how similar relationships have been accomplished in the past.
The winter of 2005/06 is the last winter in which industry can start new projects in the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park.
25 October: In a letter to Community Development Minister Gene Zwozdesky, AWA’s Cliff Wallis requests endorsement and facilitation of the twinning of the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park with the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China. The Minister responds (18 November) with a promise to explore the parameters of such a proposal.
The Hay-Zama Committee unanimously supports pursuing development of a collegial, “twinning” relationship between Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park and the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia, China, another Ramsar wetland. The purpose is to provide a forum for a formal exchange of information on research, management, local environment, and people.
25 March: A diesel fuel spill occurs at a Navigo site in the Hay/Zama complex. According to Navigo, approximately 3 m3 of diesel spilled, with 2 m3 recovered and with 1 m3 having soaked into the surrounding soil. Runoff from the “soil island” carries a hydrocarbon sheen onto the surrounding water. Navigo immediately responds by installing an oil spill boom and absorbent pads and by excavating and bagging contaminated soil.
27 November: Navigo Energy signs Addendum 2 of the MOU with the Hay-Zama Committee. The document describes the drilling program for the 2003/04 season. It also defines that the last drilling program in the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park and the overlap of the I.R. 209 will take place during the winter of 2005/2006.
11 June: Devlan Energy and the Hay-Zama Committee (HZC) sign a Memorandum of Understanding to reduce the time frame that oil and gas operations are conducted in the Park and to improve environmental performance for those operations. The MOU is reached in consultation with the public, government, industry, and Dene Tha’ First Nation. The HZC has
now signed agreements with all operators in the Park (Enviroline 30 June 2003).
AWA President Cliff Wallis reports that oil development has been completely phased out of the Hay-Zama complex, except for one small area in Duck Lake, which is a closed system that isn’t connected with the rest of the complex. Gas development will end completely by 2017 at the latest. AWA hopes the Hay-Zama Committee process will serve as a model to guide the phase-out of “non-conforming” uses from other proposed and existing protected areas in Alberta. “The government is at the table but they don’t run the process,” says Wallis (Enviroline 31 March 2003).
After consultation with environmental groups, Dene Tha’ First Nation and Alberta Community Development (Parks and Protected Areas), Navigo Energy agrees to abandon two more oil wells in the Hay-Zama complex and to surrender some subsurface leases that it recently acquired. The Hay-Zama Committee recommends allowing additional surface access for seismic so that Navigo can gather information that will assist in the orderly phase-out of energy production activities in the complex.
The Hay-Zama Committee forms a tourism subcommittee comprising representatives from the Dene Tha’, the MD of Mackenzie, Alberta Parks, forestry, and the oil and gas industry. The purpose is to see whether tourism is the best alternative for the band in managing the land after the oil and gas industry leaves the area. A study is planned to explore the social aspects, the environmental factors, and the current state of the land.
Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) are signed by Crispin Energy and the Hay-Zama Committee.
21 May: Ventus Energy detects a minor sheen on open water in the Hay-Zama complex. The spill volume is approximated to be less than 5 litres. The source of the spill is undetermined.
Following objections from the Hay-Zama Committee (HZC) and AWA, Castle River Resources decides to move the site of its proposed oil well completely outside of Area 1, the most environmentally sensitive area of Hay-Zama. The HZC is reviewing a new oil pipeline proposal by Crispin Energy that would cross part of the Wildland Park (Wild Lands Advocate 16 February 2002).
31 December: Ventus Energy reports a pipeline leak in the Hay-Zama complex. Spilled fluid is recovered by vacuum truck.
15 October: In a letter to Community Development Minister Gene Zwozdesky, the Hay-Zama Committee requests the addition to Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park of a half section of Crown land outside the western boundary of the Hay Lake I.R.
11 October: The Hay-Zama Committee (HZC) endorses the Hay Zama Lakes Wildland Park Management Plan, which incorporates all the agreements reached by the HZC and recommends a system of cooperative management for the Wildland Park between the Dene Tha’ First Nation and Alberta Parks and Protected Areas. Key elements of the Plan include the following:
The Department of Community Development presents the Draft Management Plan to the Dene Tha’ council.
26 June: An Open House is held at the Dene Tha’ community of Chateh to consult on the Management Plan.
23 June: Barrington Petroleum ignites an uncontrolled sour gas well west of the Zama Lake oilfield. The well, unproductive since 1984, was reported to be spewing gas on June 11.
AWA does an inspection tour of the Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park and confirms the first abandonment and dismantling of oil wells in the extreme risk open water areas of Zama Lake, three years ahead of schedule.
The management plan process is initiated by Parks and Protected Areas and the Hay-Zama Committee.
Recognizing the long-standing relationship of the Dene Tha’ to the Hay-Zama complex, the Hay-Zama Committee creates a third co-chair: government, industry and Dene Tha’ now share chair responsibilities.
12 October: Addendum 1 to the September 1999 MOU is signed by the Hay-Zama Committee and Ventus Energy. The addendum further accelerates the removal of high-risk oil wells in open water areas, but with an unprecedented trade-off that will allow new pads to develop low-risk natural gas wells in a less sensitive corner of the complex. While uncomfortable with the trade off, AWA is pleased that it will result in no higher-risk oil activity in any open water area of Zama Lake.
27 September: A Memorandum of Understanding is signed by Ventus and the Hay-Zama Committee. The MOU includes the concept of time limitation and an exit strategy for the energy industry from the complex.
5 May: Through the work of the Hay-Zama Committee and Alberta Parks and Protected Areas, Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park is established. Designation as a Wildland Park provides legislated protection to an important wetland and wildlife habitat.
16 January 1996: Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (later AEUB) issues Interim Directive ID96-1 regulating oil and gas operations in the Hay-Zama complex. This significantly improves environmental performance and puts limits on new development. ID 96-1 adopts new boundaries for the complex based on the work of the Hay-Zama Committee and on biological and hydrological criteria (rather than on the more arbitrary township/range coordinates of the previous boundaries). The key objective of ID96-1 is to encourage the safe and rapid depletion of oil and gas reserves and to prohibit surface development on mineral leases acquired within the complex after 16 January 1996. ID96-1 later becomes part of the Management Plan for the Park.
An Emerald Award is given to Pat Cabezas, one of the co-chairs of the Hay-Zama Committee, in recognition of the work of the Committee in getting ID96-1 in place.
The Dene Tha’ First Nation joins the Hay-Zama Committee.
A large portion of northwestern Alberta is designated a Bison Management Area to provide regulatory authority for managing the Hay-Zama wood bison herd.
The Hay-Zama Committee is reactivated at the request of the energy industry. It includes representatives from the Dene Tha’ First Nation, Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, Governments of Canada and Alberta, Ducks Unlimited, AWA, and the energy industry. It is committed to accelerating the winding down of activities that have a high potential to negatively impact the Complex.
AWA requests that the UN World Heritage Committee consider eight sites in Alberta, including Zama Lake, for World Heritage Site designation.
The Hay-Zama Committee is created through the Alberta Resources Conservation Board Interim Directive ID85-4 to address cultural, environmental, and economic concerns related to oil and gas activities in the Hay-Zama complex.
Hay-Zama is selected as one of 20 key provincial wetlands for active management in the joint Ducks Unlimited/Alberta government “Wetlands for Tomorrow” initiative.
Twenty-nine wood bison are reintroduced to the Hay-Zama area from Elk Island National Park.
The Hay-Zama complex receives international recognition through its designation as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. The term originated in 1971 from the Ramsar, Iran Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat. The Convention’s mission is the conservation and wise use of wetlands by
national action and international cooperation as a means of achieving sustainable development throughout the world.
Provincial Health Minister J. D. Henderson notes that conservationists are calling for a shutdown of the oil industry in the Rainbow-Zama Lake oilfield, “belatedly recognized as a primary staging route for migratory ducks and geese.” He says that the increasing wave of concern for pollution has seen more fiction than fact presented through the news media, which tends to sensationalize issues. He contends that Alberta’s record in pollution control and environmental conservation is second to none in North America (Calgary Herald).
July 3: The Alberta Oil and Gas Conservation Board issues Interim Directive ID69-3. The ID acknowledges the importance of the Zama Lake complex and draws up special requirements for the drilling and production of wells in this area “in order to accommodate the search for oil and gas in this area and to ensure the breeding ground and staging area would not be endangered.”
The Hay-Zama wetland complex becomes a focus for the oil and gas industry and offshore developments of these reserves are pursued within the complex.
Ducks Unlimited has been involved in managing the wetland for conservation purposes since 1939, when the province passed an Order-in-Council giving them authority to manage the wetland complex for waterfowl habitat. Amendments to the OC in 1960 and 1968 clarified land descriptions and excluded the Indian Reserves from the management area.
In 1968 the Dene Tha’ band council passed a resolution to cooperate with Ducks Unlimited in the management of the wetland. According to Environment Canada, “There is no active management practiced specifically for waterfowl at present but future management may include the control of water levels.”
Since 1994, the Hay-Zama Committee has guided the management of the Park, including oil and gas development. The Committee includes representatives of diverse organizations: the Alberta Conservation Association, Alberta Energy, Alberta Wilderness Association, the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency, Dene Tha’ First Nation, Ducks Unlimited, the Energy and Utilities Board, Sustainable Resources Development, and several oil and gas companies.
The Committee uses a transparent “bottom-up” process with consensual decision making, and its work is based on the concept that economic activities, environmental sensitivities, and cultural priorities can co-exist. By helping the diverse participants work toward resolution through constructive discussion, the Committee has avoided the necessity for an EUB hearing.
AWA hopes the Hay-Zama Committee process will serve as a model to guide the phase-out of “non-conforming” uses from other proposed and existing protected areas in Alberta.
The Ramsar agreement, Interim Directive ID96-1, the Management Plan (completed and endorsed by all concerned parties in 2001), and various Memoranda of Understanding are key tools in managing oil and gas development in the Park. While the EUB has played a role in the development and enforcement of special regulations, the Hay-Zama Committee continues to lead in the protection of the Wildland Park.
Alberta Fish and Wildlife will continue to manage the wood bison herd to achieve the objective of reintroducing wood bison to their original territory.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an international treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands. This designation obliges “wise use” of a site and brings increased publicity and international prestige for the designated wetland. “Wise use” is defined as sustainable use for the benefit of humankind in a way compatible with the maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem.
Contracting parties (i.e., member countries, of which Canada is one) commit themselves to the following:
Nationally, each contracting party designates an Administrative Authority as its focal point for implementation of the Convention. Countries are encouraged to establish National Wetland Committees, involving all government institutions dealing with water resources, development planning, protected areas, biodiversity, tourism, education, development assistance, etc. Participation by NGOs and civil society is also encouraged.
The Ramsar guidelines strongly urge parties to develop National Wetland Policies or Strategies, or identifiable parts devoted to wetlands in national environmental or biodiversity strategies, and they outline a broad-based multi-sectoral consultative process of policy development to resolve conflicting interests and share ownership in the policy among all stakeholders.
Contracting parties are urged to recognize the value of the knowledge and skills of local and indigenous people in relation to wetland management, making special efforts to encourage and facilitate their participation in the development and implementation of wetland policies and programs.
December 22, 2016
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