Correction to This Article
The subheadline on earlier versions of this story incorrectly said that the 25 million acres being preserved includes the boreal forest. The preserved area is just part of the much larger boreal forest. This version has been corrected.

Canada Sets Aside Vast Northern Wilderness

A 3.7 million-acre wildlife area will be created in region called the Ramparts.
A 3.7 million-acre wildlife area will be created in region called the Ramparts. (Ducks Unlimited Of Canada)

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By Doug Struck
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 22, 2007

Canada's government yesterday set aside 25 million acres of wilderness -- 11 times the size of Yellowstone National Park -- for conservation, a move that environmentalists called one of North America's most important acts of nature preservation.

The land in Canada's Northwest Territories is in three huge tracts that will be used to create a national park, a national wilderness area and a conservation area administered by native groups under treaty rights.

The areas are wild, scenic and remote. They have been eyed with increasing interest by diamond, uranium, and oil and gas developers, and the action yesterday by Canada's ministries of environment and Indian affairs will prevent mining, drilling and most timber-cutting in the areas.

"We are withdrawing massive areas from industrial development to protect some of the most impressive ecological and cultural wonders in the north for generations to come," Environment Minister John Baird said in an announcement from Ottawa.

Environmentalists hailed the action as adding protection to parts of the sensitive boreal forest, the broad swath of green that circles a northern tier of the globe from Canada to Siberia. The boreal forest is said to be the largest land-based store of carbon on the planet. If released by development, the carbon could exacerbate global warming. The forest also is the summer home to millions of North America's migrating songbirds.

"We're very happy with this," said Chief Adeline Jonasson, who leads a small community of the Lutsel K'e Dene native tribe on part of the proposed national park. "This area is the one our ancestors chose for us to live in. This will preserve it for generations to come."

Native groups, environmentalists and others have been working to designate the land for years. They reached a tentative deal on the national park in 2006, but yesterday's action formally withdraws the land from development.

People working to set aside parts of Canada's vast wilderness from the encroaching oil wells and growing diamond and uranium mining had initially considered the conservative government of Stephen Harper to be hostile.

But now, "the government is actually delivering on their promises, and delivering much more quickly than we are used to," said Larry Innes, head of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, which works to preserve the forest. "They are doing some very surprising things."

The 6.5 million-acre national park will be created on the eastern edge of Great Slave Lake, a pristine, glacier-carved body of water that is prowled by grizzlies and caribou and remains frozen eight months a year. About 400 members of the Lutsel K'e Dene tribe live there.

Farther west, a 3.7 million-acre national wildlife area will be created in a region called the Ramparts, where towering stone cliffs line the Mackenzie River and key wetlands border the Ramparts River. Buffering Great Slave Park will be a 15 million-acre conservation area administered by the Akaitcho native tribe.

"The whole scale of the boreal landscape is staggering for an American," Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, which helped shepherd the projects, said by telephone from Philadelphia. "We have a lot of what we consider vast landscapes in the West, but nothing like the boreal. You really have to fly over it -- it just goes on and on."

Yellowstone National Park, which includes land in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, is about 2.2 million acres.

The land designated yesterday "isn't just Canada. This is a global resource and a worldwide treasure," said Steven Kallick, the Seattle-based manager of the International Boreal Conservation Campaign for the Pew Environment Group. "It's the largest largely intact forest left in the planet. It rivals the Amazon and Siberia in size. It's one of the few places left in the world like it."


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