TUESDAY: St. Helena
Canada, today, is seeing a campaign to make 43,000 square kilometers of Manitoba/Ontario boreal forest east of Lake Winnipeg, the largest intact boreal forest on Earth, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The land is currently home to the Bloodvein River First Nation, as well as Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park. The effort is being led by a group called Pimachiowin Aki, and is being backed by the province of Manitoba, as well as conservationist David Suzuki.
Suzuki stresses 'intact': "The important thing is the "intactness". If you drive a road through a part of a forest, if you put pipes in, or if you put electrical wires through, you don't have an intact forest left. And then degradation is inevitable."
This comes with opposition. Canada's Conservative Party, led in Manitoba by Hugh McFadyen, wants to put a hydro line through the forest, in the interest of supplying electricity to southern Manitoba, as well as exporting energy to Minnesota and Wisconsin. This fight has been going for several years now; when the New Democratic Party took power in 2007, they moved the proposed line west of Lake Winnipeg- still through boreal forest, but not through the forest in dispute. A provincial election in October, if won by the Conservatives, would see the line put back through the east side, effectively killing the World Heritage bid despite Conservative claims that it would not.
There is precedent for worry about UNESCO's opinion. One of the only two World Heritage sites ever to be delisted, Germany's Dresden Elbe Valley, was delisted in 2009 due to the construction of the Waldschlosschen Bridge, which cut through the valley.
Suzuki, for one, is incredulous, saying, "If the planet in which we live, the very things that keep us alive, become a political issue, we're screwed. We're absolutely screwed. We're talking about the life-support systems of the planet. How can that possibly be a political issue?"
Becoming a World Heritage site wouldn't completely block the area from development, but it would serve as a powerful deterrent. In addition to the prestige, World Heritage status allows the site to apply for a portion of a $4 million (US) annual fund allocated to sites in danger, as well as providing a boost to tourism.
Were the boreal forest to gain World Heritage Site status, it would be the first between Alberta and Ottawa. 15 Canadian sites currently enjoy World Heritage status:
Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, Alberta/British Columbia
Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alberta (yes, that is its name. They have a book on sale there, called 'Imagining Head-Smashed-In'.)
Historic District of Quebec, Quebec
Joggins Fossil Cliffs, Nova Scotia
Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek, Yukon/British Columbia/Alaska (shared with United States)
L'Ase aux Meadows National Historic Site, Newfoundland
Miguasha National Park, Quebec
Nahanni National Park, Northwest Territories
Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (you may actually know Lunenburg from those Cisco ads done by Ellen Page)
Rideau Canal, Ontario
SGang Gwaay, British Columbia
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Alberta/Montana (shares with United States)
Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta/Northwest Territories
The annual World Heritage Committee meeting is from June 19-29 in Paris. A majority of committee members must vote in favor for a site to be enshrined. They are currently Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Jordan, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.
42 sites are currently to be considered; the list can, as per Rule 13.4 of the Rules of Procedure, be revised until 48 hours prior to the meeting. No Canadian site is currently among them.