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Edehzhie given extension on protection

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Thursday, August 16, 2007

DEH CHO - The Edehzhie Working Group has been given more than a year to finish moving the Edehzhie, a culturally significant area, through the Protected Areas Strategy planning process and obtain permanent protection.

At the end of June the five-year interim land withdrawal - granted in 2002 at the request of the Dehcho and Tlicho First Nations to prevent development in the Edehzhie - drew to a close. An order-in-council from the federal cabinet has granted an additional 16 months of protection, until Oct. 31, 2008.

The time will be used to hopefully move Edehzhie through the final steps needed to gain permanent protection, said Shannon Haszard, the NWT manager of Ducks Unlimited Canada, a partner in the Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy (NWT PAS).

"There's still quite a few steps to take place," Haszard said.

Edehzhie is currently in the final stages of step five in the eight-step process.

Over the past few years a number of assessments have been done on the area's ecological, cultural and economic values. The working group is currently waiting for the results of the final non-renewable resources assessment, said Haszard.

The information from all the studies will be used to make decisions on a management plan for the area and a final boundary. The 14-member working group will be looking at that information over the next few months, she said.

"We really want to make sure the intentions of the communities to protect the area can be made true," she said.

A total of seven communities are represented in the working group including Wrigley, Willowlake River, Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River, Fort Providence, Whati and Behchoko. Other representatives are from the Dehcho First Nations, the Tlicho Government, Canadian Wildlife Service, the federal and territorial governments, environmental groups and industry.

Before permanent protection can be given through the Canada Wildlife Act a proposal will have to submitted to the minister of Environment Canada with all the details about Edehzhie and the plan for it. The final proposal is expected to be finished at the end of next summer, she said.

"We're on a tight timeline. It's a lot to do in one year," said Haszard.

An interim land withdrawal extension for a candidate protected area isn't common, said Haszard, but there haven't been many other areas to learn from in the NWT.

Edehzhie is only the second area to progress this far in the NWT PAS.

The other area, the Sahoyue-?ehdacho, or Grizzly Bear Mountain and Scented Grass Hills, also required an extension because the original five-year land withdrawal didn't allow enough time to move through all the steps needed by the federal government to obtain permanent protection, said Haszard.

Although the time extension is welcomed, 16 months isn't very long, said Jonas Antoine, the representative for the Dehcho First Nations on the working group.

"It's kind of short given the pace of the last few years," said Antoine.

Work on the process has been slow for a number of years while the studies have been completed, Antoine said.

Despite the short timeline, Antoine said he's confident the working group will make further headway because they have a vision of seeing the area protected.

"There's a feeling of great responsibility we have," he said.

Chief Stan Sanguez, who represents Jean Marie River on the working group, also sees the area meeting the deadline.

"The Protected Area Strategy is a slow process but it moves along," said Sanguez.

Edehzhie is a 25,000-square-kilometre plateau in the Mackenzie Valley that includes the Horn Plateau, Mills Lake and the Horn, Rabbitskin and Willowlake Rivers.

Protecting Edehzhie is important because there is an abundance of water on the plateau but all the water flows out and not into the system, said Sanguez. The area has also traditionally been used for survival when game is scarce.