Dene stories, environmental protection focus of new Nahanni National Park action plan

·3 min read
Sunrise over the mountains in Nahanni National Park Reserve. (Anna Desmarais/CBC  - image credit)
Sunrise over the mountains in Nahanni National Park Reserve. (Anna Desmarais/CBC - image credit)

Nahanni National Park Reserve has a new management plan for the first time in a decade.

The plan, tabled in the House of Commons last Friday, includes a long list of recommendations for how to include Dene people in all aspects of park stewardship, with the goal of protecting the park from ongoing climate change-related threats.

Parks Canada, along with the Dehcho First Nations and Nahanni Butte, N.W.T., worked together on the plan.

The 30,050-square-kilometre park extends down the South Nahanni River along the N.W.T.-Yukon border, and ends at the river's confluence with the Liard River near Nahanni Butte, N.W.T.

The original park reserve boundary received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1978 — among the first areas in the world to get the designation — because it's an example of "major stages in the earth's evolutionary history."

Sharing Dene stories, knowledge in effort to boost tourism

The plan's first priority is to share the stories, history and culture of the Dene so visitors who leave it will have a "greater understanding and appreciation" for those who have rights on the land.

The plan sets aside at least one river outfitting license for a Dehcho-owned and operated eco-tourism business, commits to hosting cultural learning experiences in the Dene Zhatie language, and to creating at least two Dene-centric tourism products before 2030.

In the next decade, park managers are hoping to increase tourism by 10 per cent in the spring and fall. They'll do that by improving pre-trip planning information for tourists and targeting travellers in the 25-to-44 age group.

They will also open two new Parks Canada offices in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., and Nahanni Butte.

Roughly 920 people visited Nahanni National Park every year in the last decade, the report said.

Protecting park from fluctuating climate patterns

There are three resource development projects within the park's boundaries. The largest is the Prairie Creek mine — a site set up in the 1980s that, according to the report, never "reached full potential" and is in a "state of reactivation."

The mine is estimated to pull in $12 billion over its 15-year lifespan and create 330 jobs in the region, once operational.

Upstream activities from the mine, along with the construction of an all-access road to the mine site, have the potential to hurt the "ecological integrity" of the park while "exacerbating" illegal poaching that's already happening in the park, the plan said.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

To fight these risks, the plan commits to developing a community-led guardian program by 2025 and teaching monitoring workshops at least every two years.

Part of this work will include the in-depth study fish and caribou populations.

Greater inclusion of rights holders in park management

So far, Parks Canada has been working with Dehcho land claim groups in the stewardship of the park. The updated plan cites a "renewed interest" in getting other rights holders involved.

One of these groups is the Acho Dene Koe First Nation, outside Fort Liard, N.W.T.

In 2008, the nation broke off from the Dehcho process to create its own community-based land claim with the federal government.

CBC reached out to Acho Dene Koe First Nation but didn't immediately receive a reply.

The management plan also commits to including the Kaska Dene of Liard First Nation, Ross River Dena Council, Kwadacha Nation and Dease River First Nation in future management decisions regarding the park.

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