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Nahanni park reserve to expand

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Thursday, August 09, 2007

FORT SIMPSON - Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a massive expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve during a visit to Fort Simpson on Aug. 8.

The federal cabinet has approved an order in council to expand the boundaries of the park to cover approximately 28,000 square kilometres. The park currently covers 4,766 square kilometres.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve Wednesday at a gathering in Fort Simpson. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

"This is arguably the most important act of environmental protection in this country in a generation," said Harper.

With the expansion, the park will cover an area four times the size of Prince Edward Island, making it Canada's third largest national park, he said.

"Preserving the region's ecological treasures is a key part of our plan for Canada's North," said Harper.

"This is an important step in the process to ensure that all the wonders of the Nahanni will be protected so future generations can enjoy and appreciate them as we do today."

Harper made the announcement in front of a crowd of more than 100 people gathered outside of McPherson House on the banks of the Mackenzie River.

"We see this as a huge, gigantic step to protect this area," said Environment Minister John Baird who was also at the announcement.

The announcement of the expansion is good news, said Grand Chief Herb Norwegian of the Dehcho First Nations.

"It's a great day for the people of the North," Norwegian said.

The Dehcho First Nations have long argued for expansion of the boundaries to protect the entire South Nahanni watershed, which covers more than 30,000 square kilometres.

Although 28,000 square kilometres falls short of this amount, it's a good start, said Norwegian.

By committing the land to the park, the government of Canada is fulfilling an agreement that they'd previously made, he said.

"It's not like they're giving anything new," said Norwegian.

During his speech, Harper said that further consultations will determine a balance between the stakeholders in the area, which include First Nations, existing commercial developments and visitors. Members of the Dehcho First Nations won't lose any of their rights to hunt, fish or trap in the area, he said.

A number of residents from Nahanni Butte, the closest community to the park, travelled to Fort Simpson to attend the announcement.

George Betsaka, Peter Marcellais and George Tsetso, who are all members of the consensus team for the park expansion, said they were pleased with the announcement.

"It's been a long time coming," said Marcellais.

The Nahanni National Park Reserve was established in 1976 and currently protects one-seventh of the entire South Nahanni watershed.

Expansion of the park has long been a goal for Parks Canada, who have been on the record as wanting to expand the area since the first park management plan was prepared in 1987.