Expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve

National parks and national park reserves are established to protect and present outstanding examples of natural landscapes and natural phenomena, representing Canada's 39 natural regions. For Parks Canada, the goal is to protect for all time representative natural areas of Canadian significance in a system of national parks, to encourage public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of this natural heritage so as to leave it unimpaired for future generations.

Parks Canada has been working to expand Nahanni National Park Reserve to improve representation of its natural region and to protect more of the watershed of the South Nahanni River. This expansion will result in Nahanni National Park Reserve growing from under 5,000 km2 to about 30,000 km2 in area.

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) was conducted in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally-sound decision making.

In 2003, the minister responsible for Parks Canada and the Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding respecting the expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve. As a mechanism for implementing the MOU, Parks Canada and DFN created the Nahanni Expansion Working Group (NEWG) with two members appointed by each organization. This working group set research priorities, directed the feasibility studies and reviewed the results. The feasibility studies included research on conservation values, including studies of wildlife and landscape, and mineral and oil and gas potential. The working group also managed the extensive public consultation program with several community meetings and two formal rounds of public consultations.

The Greater Nahanni Ecosystem is a wilderness area with relatively little human induced change evident. The proposed expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve will do little to change that status. The areas that have been developed for mining, that is the Prairie Creek and Tungsten areas, have been left out of the proposed expansion. The expansion will change the legal status of the area, but it will do little to change the environmental and socio-economic status. The intent, and the expected result, of the park reserve expansion is the continuation of natural processes and the ongoing wild nature of the area to be preserved. If the park reserve were not expanded, it is possible that in the future mining and other development pressures would have detracted from the wilderness character and water quality of the area.

The expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve will bring a dramatically larger area into the protection of the Canada National Parks Act (CNPA). The CNPA requires that the maintenance of ecological integrity is the highest priority of managing the national park reserve. A park management plan will be required within five years. It is expected that the management plan will mandate that the expanded park reserve be managed with special emphasis on the protection of the wilderness values of the region. Cultural resources will also be managed in a manner that ensures a high level of protection, consistent with the CNPA and the Parks Canada Cultural Resource Management Policy. Natural and cultural resources will be monitored to ensure that the management actions are effective.

Park management may require some facility development. The requirement for park facilities will be assessed during park management planning. The park management plans will be subject to strategic environmental assessment. Any construction projects will be subject to project environmental assessment under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. The Exemption List Regulations of the environmental assessment section of the MVRMA allow for a more stringent assessment regime within national parks in the Mackenzie Valley, so that more development proposals will be subject to environmental screening or assessment than would be the case outside a national park or national park reserve.

It is not likely that the new air access and activities relating to tourism will be significantly greater than the present level of air access and activities that include mineral exploration, big game hunting, and tourism. Park Management Plans will assess the potential for impacts from such activities and will prescribe mitigation.

Some positive impacts from the expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve are likely. Improvements to the existing situation could result from better ecosystem management due to Parks Canada's mandate and funding. There will be increased monitoring of the larger ecosystem, particularly regarding water quality and wildlife. Park expansion will reduce the levels of air access and activity relating to mineral exploration. In addition, hunting pressure on some wildlife will be reduced with the elimination of commercial big-game hunting.

The expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve will not result in important negative environmental effects. On the contrary, the expansion of the national park reserve will ensure that a large area of the Greater Nahanni Ecosystem will be protected from negative environmental effects for the future.