Canada's Alberta province has designated four new 'protected park' sites in the northeastern region, according to a CBC report.
The combined areas of the new parks form the largest stretch of protected boreal forests in the world. The area spans more than 67,700 square kilometers or twice the size of Belgium, StarMetro Edmonton reported. Over half of the North American country's landmass comprises boreal forests – a tree-filled wetland, mainly bogs and fens.
Canada’s boreal forest contributes significantly to the environment providing clean air by being a 'carbon sink' (absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases), water, and a home to migratory birds and other species – including threatened animals such as the peregrine falcon, wood bison and woodland caribou.
The parks were initially announced in the 2012 Lower Athabasca Regional Plan, but was only formalized this week, through an unprecedented collaborative effort involving conservationists, Indigenous communities, government groups and oil company Syncrude Canada.
"It’s encouraging to see governments, Indigenous peoples, industry and conservation groups working together to protect this significant part of Alberta’s boreal forest as an important natural legacy for Albertans, Canadians, the world and future generations,” Catherine McKenna, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said.
The groups have come together in an attempt to preserve the highly threatened region.
The Tallcree First Nation significantly contributed to the preservation of the region by forgoing a timber quota or share of harvesting – purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Canada for $2.8 million – which was then gifted to the Alberta government for the creation of the Birch River park.
“I believe there should be a balance between developing economic opportunities and protecting our land, so that it is not depleted of all the resources that it gives, allowing us to live our traditional lives of hunting, fishing, trapping and harvesting medicine,” Chief Rupert Meneen of the Tallcree tribal government said at a press conference, also adding "the quiet enjoyment of our treaty rights."
The Alberta government plans to establish an Indigenous Guardian Program, which will appoint First Nations and Metis people to maintain the new parks and offer education to visitors.
“The environment and the economy go together — that’s why our government is investing in protecting nature and wildlife habitat," McKenna established.
The majority of the funding for the parks was provided by the oil company.
Logging, oil sands development and other industrial activities will be prohibited at the new sites – Kazan, Richardson, Dillon River and Birch River parks.
“Canada’s boreal forest is unique in the world," president and chief executive officer of the Nature Conservancy of Canada John Lounds said in a statement. "The ecological value of this region cannot be overstated — this is a conservation achievement of global significance.”
Three of the four parks – Kazan, Richardson, and Birch River – border the Wood Buffalo National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site which hosts the largest wild bison population on the North American continent.