Establishment of a National Park Reserve in Mealy Mountains Region of Labrador.

Public Statement - August 17, 2015

National parks and national park reserves are established to protect and present outstanding examples of natural landscapes and natural phenomena, representing 39 natural regions defined by 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 is working to create a national park reserve in the Mealy Mountains region to represent of the East Coast Boreal Region (Natural Region 21). The establishment of this park will add approximately 10,700 km2 to Canada’s system of national parks and national park reserves.

This strategic environmental assessment (SEA) was conducted in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals: Guidelines for Implementing the Cabinet Directive (2010), wherein all policy, plan and program proposals of federal departments and agencies will consider, when appropriate, the potential important positive and negative environmental effects associated with their implementation. This SEA has taken into consideration the goals and targets of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (2013), specifically Theme III: Protecting Nature; Goal 4 – which aims to: “manage, enhance, and expand Canada’s network of protected areas, including national parks, national wildlife areas, marine protected areas, national marine conservation areas, migratory bird sanctuaries and marine wildlife areas…”

Located in the south east part of central Labrador near Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the proposed Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve encompasses a stunning array of pristine landscapes, vegetation and wildlife. The proposed reserve will also protect cultural landscapes of importance to Innu, Inuit, NunatuKavut, Quebec Innu and other Labradorians. The area includes four of Labrador’s ten eco-regions, such as the Coastal Barrens (along the Labrador Sea), Paradise River, Eagle Plateau-Mealy Mountains, and Lake Melville as well as significant watersheds for the North, English and White Bear Rivers.

One of the focal points of the proposed reserve is the Mealy Mountains themselves - the rugged mountains which give the area its name. Their glacially-rounded and bare rock summits, which overlook Lake Melville, reach to 1,180 metres or 3,870 feet and are the highest mountains in southern Labrador. Easterly from the mountain tundra of the Mealy Mountains is a dramatic transition to a lush forested landscape, which gently descends toward the coast until it meets the frigid waters of the Labrador Sea. This is a landscape of undisturbed watersheds and pristine wild rivers with breath-taking rapids and waterfalls. The proposed reserve will provide superlative outdoor recreation opportunities and memorable visitor experiences, including hiking, canoeing, back country camping, and wildlife observation.
The eastern boundary borders the Labrador Sea and includes the 50 km Wunderstrand beach feature and adjacent islands. The western boundary abuts lands selected by the Innu Nation as part of the Labrador Innu Settlement Area. The southern boundary adjoins the proposed provincial waterway park along the Eagle River.

The concept of establishing a national park reserve in the Mealy Mountains region has existed since the mid-1970s. In March 2001, a study was launched to examine the feasibility of establishing a national park reserve. The feasibility study was a cooperative undertaking guided by a Steering Committee which included the Innu Nation, Labrador Inuit (Nunatsiavut), Combined Councils of Labrador, NunatuKavut Community Council Inc. (formerly Labrador Métis Nation), Central Labrador Economic Development Board, the Southeastern Aurora Development Corporation, the province and Parks Canada.

In the summer of 2003, the Steering Committee held its first round of public consultations in communities in the region. The two issues that emerged were the continuation of traditional land uses and the location of proposed park boundaries. Work was undertaken to better understand the traditional land uses and assess policy concerns. A second round of public consultations was held in the spring of 2006. Parks Canada also began consultations with the Quebec Innu.

In May 2008, the Steering Committee informed the federal Minister of Environment and the Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of Environment and Conservation that they had concluded that a national park reserve was feasible. The Steering Committee also reached consensus regarding a national park reserve boundary and a framework for the continuation of traditional land use activities in the national park reserve by Labradorians. More specifically, the Steering Committee proposed and the Ministers agreed that traditional land uses would be managed within a framework that emphasized ecological integrity, conservation measures and limits, best practices, monitoring and reporting, as well as eligibility to participate in traditional land uses. Traditional land uses would be managed by sound conservation principles that emphasize the fact that they are being carried out in a national park reserve, and that they are continuing as an expression of established practices and the Labrador way of life.

On February 5, 2010, the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador entered into a Memorandum of Understanding Respecting the Establishment of a National Park Reserve in the Mealy Mountains in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador that endorsed a conceptual boundary, and the two parties agreed to negotiate a land transfer agreement and a final boundary for a 10,700 km2 national park reserve. At the same time, Newfoundland and Labrador announced a commitment to establish a 3,000 km2 waterway park along the Eagle River adjacent to the proposed national park reserve.

Designation of the area as a national park reserve will enable the Government of Canada to use the full suite of legislation (i.e. CNPA, Species at Risk Act), regulations, policies, standards and guidelines that it has at its disposal for protection and management. Specifically, designation as national park reserve will bring 10,700 km2 under the protection of the CNPA, which requires that the maintenance of ecological integrity as the first priority in managing a national park. With the signing of the land transfer agreement the process to transfer the land can begin. There will be no logging, mining, hydro, oil or gas development and sport hunting allowed. The one mineral claim will be removed. The expected result of designation as a national park reserve is that ecological integrity is maintained, cultural resources are protected, opportunities for meaningful visitor experiences for present and future generations are provided either on or off-site, and engage Aboriginal people in cooperative management by integrating traditional knowledge.

Further analysis of the potential environmental effects of these ongoing uses will be required. Designation under the CNPA would provide the regulatory authority to better manage activities in the national park reserve and provide opportunities to build appreciation and understanding of the important natural and cultural resources of the area. Similarly the establishment of the Cooperative Management Board and a traditional activities advisory board will provide important vehicles for all parties in the region to work together and provide advice on the planning and management of all aspect of the proposed national park reserve.

The application of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to park lands means that there are increased tools for the protection and management of SARA-listed species such as the Mealy Mountains woodland caribou herd as well as increased expertise and attention to resource management issues.

The proposed bill to establish national park reserve in the Mealy Mountains region will: amend the CNPA to add the national park to Schedule II of the Act; and provide for the issuance of a lease and licences of occupation under the terms and conditions of the CNPA. The expected result of designation as a national park reserve is that ecological integrity is maintained, cultural resources are protected, and opportunities for meaningful visitor experiences for present and future generations are provided either on or off-site.

The establishment of a national park reserve in the Mealy Mountains region will lead to important positive environmental effects, most particularly the benefits of increased protection and restoration of the ecosystem, increased protection of cultural resources, improved opportunities for visitor experiences, and enhanced opportunities for collaborative management.

No important negative environmental effects are anticipated. Project-level impact assessment will be used to identify and mitigate adverse effects of specific management actions. The establishment of the national park reserve will also contribute to the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (2013), specifically Theme III: Protecting Nature; Goal 4. This park establishment initiative also contributes to the Government’s National Conservation Plan and the 2013 Speech from the Throne commitment to “Complete, by 2015, its work to protect wilderness lands … in the Mealy Mountains.”