The future of Nahanni
Stakeholders come together to create an ecological vision

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 04/00) - A "vision for the health of the land" is how Chuck Blyth described, in layman's terms, the purpose of a weekend workshop held in Fort Simpson.

Members of the Deh Cho First Nations, biologists, government officials, parks staff and members of the public, including a few elders, gathered to discuss the elements of the park that are most important to keep it flourishing ecologically. Water quality, fire management and traditional use were among the top priorities, according to Blyth, superintendent of the Nahanni National Park Reserve.

"We saw traditional use as a part of the ecology of the park, not as a stressor on it," he explained. He added that people have been living off the land for thousands of years, and removing that element would be to eliminate an important component of the natural balance.

Workshop facilitator Herb Norwegian said local First Nations people believe they must play a fundamental role in designing the park's future. After all, it will take the settlement of the Deh Cho Process before the park reserve can change status to a full-fledged park.

"If a park management plan is to be developed, then a co-management arrangement between First Nations and parks officials needs to be addressed," Norwegian said.

The watershed area of the South Nahanni is affected by industrial activity at the headwaters, he added. Existing mines and other mineral claims in the area could possibly be bought out or addressed in other ways, he suggested.

Norwegian acknowledged an expansion of the park boundaries could also become a reality in the future.

"If a Deh Cho government is to take place, it has to be based on the premise of a good Deh Cho land-use plan. The park, naturally, will have to fit into that," he said. "The present park is kind of like a little sliver down the waterway."

The first draft of the ecological integrity statement will be completed over the next few months, Blyth said. It will then be incorporated into the park's management plan, which defines the actions that will be taken to achieve ecological integrity. The public will be kept in touch with the process, with the next forum to be held possibly in June, he added.