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“Water is a big part of our Life”: Naats’ihch’oh National Park Reserve on the South Nahanni River

by admin ~ April 9th, 2008

The Sahtu Dene and the Canadian Government announce plans for a new National Park Reserve in the headwaters of the South Nahanni River. The land withdrawl covers 7,600 square kilometers, and includes two familiar landmarks to wilderness canoers: Moose Ponds and Mount Wilson. The area has long been recommended for conservation by the Sahtu Dene, and the land withdrawl provides interim protection (for five years) during the planning process for the new park in the Sahtu Settlement Area. “Water is a big part of our life in the North,” said Sahtu Dene Grand Chief Frank Andrew. “That is why we wanted to protect all the waters, all the rivers that come to the Mackenzie River” (CBC). At a press conference for the announcement, Environment Minister John Baird spoke of the rapid pace of development in the North, and a commitment to conserve the greater Nahanni ecosystem and the ecological integrity of the area. This includes habitat protection for grizzly bears, dall sheep, and woodland caribou, and recognition of the unique cultural heritage of the Nahanni watershed (a UNESCO world heritage site).

Industrial development is progressing in the north, with roads, pipelines, exploration for minerals, oil and natural gas, and development of mines and wells. Amidst this development, the Greater Nahanni Ecosystem has remained a large, relatively intact wilderness area. The land withdrawal will prohibit new mineral staking. However, existing third party interests in the area, including existing mineral claims and leases, will be respected (Parks Canada).

Next steps for the proposed park include feasibility studies and development of an impact and benefit plan. Naats’ihch’oh (pronounced naah-tseen-CHO) draws its name from the Slavey word for Mount Wilson, and means “stands like a porcupine.” Further down the river, on lands adjacent to the new park, three boundary options are being considered for the proposed expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve (with different concessions for existing mineral claims). Each option considers the size and scope of individual planning units, and the balance of interests between conservation goals and mineral extraction potential. Recommendations on the boundary options are expected soon from the Nahanni Expansion Working Group.

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