Actions to Ensure the Protection of Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site

OTTAWA, Nov. 19, 2018 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is steadfast in its commitment to protect the environment while growing the economy.

Today, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, announced that the proposed Hammond Reef Gold Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects when the mitigation measures described in the Comprehensive Study Report are taken into account. These mitigation measures include air emission controls, effluent treatment, and steps to address effects on fish and fish habitat.

In reaching her environmental assessment decision, the Minister considered the Comprehensive Study Report as well as comments received from Indigenous groups and the public. The Governments Interim Approach and Principles for environmental assessments ensures that project decisions are informed by meaningful consultations with Indigenous peoples, public input and scientific evidence, including Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, and an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions.

The project is an open-pit gold mine and on-site metal mill, located 23 kilometres northeast of the town of Atikokan, Ontario. The project was assessed as a comprehensive study under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (the former Act of 1992). The Minister has referred the project to the responsible federal authorities in accordance with the former Act.

The responsible authorities, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Natural Resources Canada, will consider the outcome of the environmental assessment prior to issuing any authorization. If the project proceeds, the responsible authorities will ensure that a follow-up program is implemented.

By working together to protect the environment and grow the economy, we can ensure a healthy and prosperous future for our children and grandchildren.

“Protecting the environment and growing the economy are top priorities for our government. As we have been from the start, we remain fully committed to making thoughtful and comprehensive environmental assessments based on scientific evidence and meaningful consultations with Indigenous peoples. “

For further information: Caroline Theriault, Press Secretary, Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, 613-462-5473; Marissa Harfouche, Communications Advisor, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 613-219-2789 , [email protected]

In July 2015, the World Heritage Committee issued a decision requesting that Canada invite a World Heritage Centre (WHC)/International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Reactive Monitoring Mission to Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site to evaluate its state of conservation. The Committee also requested that Canada undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to assess the potential cumulative impacts of all developments on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, including hydroelectric dams, oil sands development, and mining.

Canada welcomed the Reactive Monitoring Mission and worked closely with the WHC, the IUCN, and Indigenous partners to plan the visit. The mission occurred between September 26 and October 4, 2016 in which representatives of the WHC and the IUCN met with federal, provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous communities, industry, and environmental non-government organizations.

Working with partners and stakeholders, including Indigenous peoples, the Government of Canada is taking action to respond to the World Heritage Committee’s recommendations. We are confident that through this collaboration we can create a path forward and secure the future of Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site, so that it remains a treasured place with Outstanding Universal Value for generations to come.

· In December 2016, Parks Canada contracted Independent Environmental Consultants (IEC) to undertake the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) requested by the World Heritage Committee.

· In August 2017, the SEA Draft Scoping Report was shared with other federal departments, provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous partners, industry groups, and conservation organizations. It was also made available for public comment.

· In the spring of 2018, The SEA for Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site was completed in fulfilment of the World Heritage Committee request to undertake such an assessment. The SEA identifies potential cumulative impacts to the Outstanding Universal Value of Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site.

· In 2017, a Federal-Provincial-Territorial Coordinating Committee was established to coordinate jurisdictional collaboration in the development of the action plan for Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site.

· The Government of Canada is leading a collaborative effort with the Governments of Alberta, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories, in partnership with Indigenous organizations, which all have areas of responsibility in the development of the action plan, and with other stakeholders. A comprehensive response to the World Heritage Committee recommendations will only be possible through collaboration at all levels within Canada.

· In keeping with the spirit of reconciliation and co-operation, the 11 Indigenous communities associated with Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site through a co-operative management committee have been actively engaged in the development of the action plan to ensure that the contributions of Indigenous peoples, their histories and cultures, as well as the special relationship Indigenous peoples have with traditional lands and waters are reflected.

· The Government of Canada’s Budget 2018 provided historic investments to protect Canada’s nature, parks, and wild spaces. Included in these investments in Canada’s Natural Legacy is an investment of $27.5 million in funding over five years to support the development of an action plan for Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site.

· Engagement with Indigenous groups, stakeholders, and Federal/Provincial/Territorial partners on the draft action plan occurred in fall 2018. Public consultations will take place from November 19 to December 10. Following the consultation period, a final plan will be completed in early winter 2019. The final action plan is scheduled to be submitted to the World Heritage Centre by February 1, 2019.

· In August 2017, together with the Alberta Energy Regulator, Canada announced an amendment to the Joint Review Panel Agreement for the proposed Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project. The amendment mandates the independent Joint Review Panel to specifically consider and report on the potential environmental and cumulative effects of the project on the Outstanding Universal Value of the Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site, including the Peace Athabasca Delta (PAD). The amendment was developed in consultation with Indigenous communities.

· The Joint Review Panel established to review the proposed Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project and conduct the assessment of the potential environmental effects of the project started its public hearing on September 25, 2018. The Joint Review Panel completed the evidentiary portion of the hearing on October 24, 2018 and has scheduled closing arguments in December.

· In December of 2017, the Ministers of Alberta Environment and Parks and Environment and Climate Change Canada, signed a Memorandum of Understanding that renews each Government’s commitment to monitoring of oil sands development, including environmental monitoring within the Peace-Athabasca Delta region of Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site. The agreement also recognized and affirmed treaty and Aboriginal rights of Indigenous people as per Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

· Under this agreement, Environment and Climate Change Canada is investing up to $2 million annually to assist local Indigenous communities – including some of those whose traditional territory includes Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site – to develop and implement community-based environmental monitoring projects.

· Parks Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Alberta and Indigenous communities, among others, are all conducting on-going science and monitoring work in the Peace-Athabasca Delta.

· In February 2018, the Government of Canada proposed changes to environmental and regulatory processes, including project proposals that may have an impact on national parks. In part, these changes will ensure decisions are informed by consultation with, and input from, Indigenous peoples and the public.

· Environment and Climate Change Canada has convened a multi-jurisdictional process to address the specific recommendations under the theme of environmental flows and hydrology that impact the world heritage site. Environment and Climate Change Canada and Parks Canada have worked with technical advisors from governments and Indigenous partners to develop the relevant action plan content for this theme. The next step will be to establish a governance mechanism that will oversee the implementation of actions under the environmental flows and hydrology theme.