Establishment of Nááts'ihch'oh National Park Reserve (2015)

National parks and national park reserves are established to protect and present outstanding examples of natural landscapes and 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 establish Nááts'ihch'oh National Park Reserve to improve the representation of greater South Nahanni ecosystem. Nááts'ihch'oh National Park Reserve will protect an area of 4,895 km2, adjacent to the Nahanni National Park Reserve.

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) was conducted pursuant to The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment on 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 2008, Parks Canada and the Sahtú Dene and Metis of the Tulita district signed a memorandum of understanding to negotiate an impact and benefit plan as required in the Sahtú Dene and Metis Comprehensive Agreement for the establishment of a national park within the agreement area. Feasibility studies were carried out to research conservation values including wildlife and landscapes and to evaluate mineral, oil and gas potential in the proposed park area. Extensive consultation was carried out through public open houses, meetings with leadership of Sahtú Dene and Metis, Dehcho First Nations and Kaska Dene First Nations. Meetings were also held with third party stakeholders including tourism operators, mining companies and industry representatives, and environmental non-governmental organizations. An impact and benefit agreement was signed in 2012 by the minister of the Environment and the Sahtú Dene Metis of the Tulita District.

Nááts’ihch’oh is an incredibly beautiful and ecologically important area in the Northwest Territories. The area around the headwaters of the South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories is considered one of the most spectacular sights in the world. The upper part of the watershed accounts for about one sixth of the Greater Nahanni Ecosystem, which despite development pressures, has remained a large, relatively intact wilderness area. The creation of the national park reserve will protect the ecosystem from future development pressure related to mining or other industrial activities. Further, the Canada National Parks Act (CNPA) stipulates that the maintenance of ecological integrity is the highest priority for the management of a national park reserve. The CNPA also requires the development of a park management plan within five years of the establishment of a park reserve. It is anticipated that the management plan will provide special emphasis for the protection of wilderness values. Cultural resources will be managed in accordance with the Parks Canada Cultural Resource Management Policy which offers a high level of protection to resources. Natural and cultural resources will be monitored to ensure that management actions are effective.

Modest infrastructure to support visitation, and park management may be developed within the park. The park management plan will evaluate the requirement for infrastructure in the park. The park management plan will undergo an SEA, to assess the potential development of adverse environmental effects and provide mitigations to reduce impacts resulting from the implementation of the plan. Individual projects will be assessed under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, which provides a comprehensive assessment regime for projects occurring within the boundaries of the national park. The Exemption List Regulations provide the requirement for a greater number of projects to be assessed than would be the case for similar projects outside the boundary of the national park.

Visitor use and park management will require aircraft access to the park, however these effects are not likely to be significant given the modest level of visitation that is likely to occur. Air access for park management purposes is anticipated to be infrequent. The park management plan will assess impacts related to increased tourism and identify potential aircraft landing locations.

Positive effects resulting from the creation on Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve include increased protection of cultural and natural resources. Ecosystem and cultural resource monitoring will be implemented to detect changes, and guide park management actions.

The establishment of Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve will not result in significant negative environmental effects. The establishment of the national park reserve will protect an important ecological and cultural area from adverse environmental effects for the future.