Wood Buffalo National Park
Situated on the plains in the north-central region of Canada, the park (which covers 44,807 km2) is home to North America's largest population of wild bison. It is also the natural nesting place of the whooping crane. Another of the park's attractions is the world's largest inland delta, located at the mouth of the Peace and Athabasca rivers.
2017 Conservation Outlook
Current state and trend of VALUES
Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT
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Description of values
Irreplaceable example of a large Great Plains-Boreal Grasslands Ecosystem
Extraordinary concentrations of migratory waterfowl and other wildlife
Only summer range and breeding ground of wild Whooping Crane (Grus americana)
Massive and complex inland delta
Unique salt plains and gypsum karst landscape
Mosaic of mostly intact ecosystems permitting processes with a high degree of naturalness at a large scale
Globally largest population of free-ranging Wood Bison
(i) Tailings water ponds and contaminants causing risks of direct exposure to fish and wildlife, both leaks and spills convey contaminants into rivers that can affect aquatic organisms and be transported downstream towards the delta.
(ii) Water withdrawals by oil sands operators from the Athabasca River that may be affecting in-stream flows towards the delta;
(iii) Atmospheric deposition of particles containing contaminants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitrogen oxides, and sulphate;
(iv) Avoidance of this highly industrialized region by migratory birds en route to WBNP or on their way south, including the endangered Whooping Crane;
(v) Encroachment into the documented habitat of the Ronald Lake Bison Herd of Wood bison placing the actively mined oil sands region ever closer to the southern boundary of WBNP.
First Nations and Métis are major beneficiaries who traditionally relied on the benefits of what is today the national park for literally all aspects of their livelihoods and cultural and spiritual life.
|№||Organization/ individuals||Project duration||Brief description of Active Projects|
|1||Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park||Wood Bison Population Monitoring Objective: to provide an estimate of the number of wood bison in the park. How: every 5 years an aerial survey is conducted in late winter.|
|2||Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park||Peace-Athabasca Delta Vegetation Monitoring Objective: to monitor the change in vegetation species composition in the delta. How: every 5 years vegetation transects and macro-plots are monitored.|
|3||Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park||Moose Population Monitoring Objective: to provide an estimate of the number of moose in the park. How: every 10 years aerial surveys are conducted in early winter.|
|4||Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park, Government of the NWT, Government of Alberta||Bison Disease Containment Strategy Objective: to reduce the potential for disease transmission from the greater Wood Buffalo National Park bison population to neighboring disease-free wood bison herds and domestic cattle herds. How: bison free zones are established in an area adjacent to the park and bison found in these areas are removed.|
|5||Parks Canada, Environment Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, NWT, British Columbia, Manitoba||National Wood Bison Recovery Strategy Objective: to ensure the recovery of Wood Bison, a threatened species in Canada How: cooperation across jurisdictions to address threats and limiting factors to wood bison recovery.|
|6||Parks Canada, Environment Canada. NWT, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba||Recovery Strategy for the Whooping Crane in Canada Objective: to ensure the recovery of whooping cranes, an endangered species in Canada How: cooperation across jurisdictions to address threats and limiting factors whooping crane recovery.|
|7||Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park||Flood Monitoring and Water Extent in the Peace-Athabasca Delta Objectives: to provide annual measurement of wetlands in the delta; to determine areas covered by open water, emergent vegetation and dry land. How: Remote sensing images are used to detect the three classes of ground cover (open water, flooded vegetation and dry ground) within the delta. Park staff visit numerous sites in the delta at roughly the same time as the satellite images are collected to report what is seen on the ground.|
|8||Environment Canada and Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park||Suspended sediment sampling on the Athabasca River downstream of the oil sands region in Alberta Objectives: to assess contaminant levels in suspended sediments from the Athabasca River downstream of the Alberta oilsands; to compare results from two methodologies for collecting the suspended sediments (use of continuous flow centrifuges vs. passive collection) How: Sediments will be collected using a continuous flow centrifuge and a passive sediment tube.|
|9||Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park||Snowshoe hare monitoring Objective: to provide an indication of relative abundance of snowshoe hare in the park. How: every year the abundance of snowshoe hare pellets is monitored along permanent transects.|
|10||Envrionment Canada and Parks Canada||Whooping Crane Monitoring Objective: to document the number of nesting pairs and the number of fledged chicks each year. How: survey flights take place each year in May and in early August.|
|11||Environment Canada and Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park.||Water Quality Monitoring on the Athabasca and Peace Rivers Objectives: To monitor water quality along the lower reaches of the Athabasca and Peace Rivers. How: Since 1989, water sampling for monitoring of basic water quality parameters (such as pH, conductivity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and nutrient levels) has been occuring on a regular basis. In 2012, automated water quality monitoring stations were set up on floating platforms on the Athabasca and Peace Rivers. The stations are designed to continuously monitor basic water quality parameters such as pH, conductivity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature, as well as additional parameters that may be linked to industrial activities in the region. The automated stations include passive water quality samplers which are suspended from the platforms for the collection of monthly water samples. These samples will be sent to a lab for analysis of levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, metals and napthenic acids.|
|12||Environment Canada – Water-Climate Impacts Research Centre, and Parks Canada||Peace-Athabasca Delta Hydro-Ecology Objective: To develop a science-based framework for the monitoring and assessment of deltaic wetland ecosystems, with a focus on the Peace-Athabasca Delta. This will include the development of diagnostic tools that can be used to interpret hydrological and ecological change in deltaic environments. How: A suite of climatic, hydrometric, water chemistry and biological data will be collected and analyzed. A water balance model will be developed.|
|13||Environment Canada / Parks Canada / Mikisew Cree Community-Based Monitoring Program||Assessing impacts of oil sands development on fish eating birds Objectives: to assess the state of the environment, with a focus on identifying pathways of toxic chemical transfer to wildlife and possible impacts;to measure contaminant levels in fish-eating bird eggs and determine spatial and temporal trends How: Freshly-laid gull and tern eggs are collected and sent to a lab for chemical analysis of oil sands-related chemicals such as mercury, arsenic, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon are measured to provide an indication of bird diet. Numbers of nests are also counted at colony sites.|
|14||Keyano College, Environment Canada and Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park||Health of Amphibian Populations Objectives: to address concerns about the potential impacts of industrial development, including oil sands mining activities, in the Peace-Athabasca Delta and elsewhere in northern Alberta and the NWT; to assess the health of frog populations at varying distances from disturbances including oil sands operations. The health of frogs can serve as an indication of the larger ecosystem; to monitor the level of contaminants such as mercury in frog tissues and pond water because contaminants may enter the food chain through frogs How: We are examining relationships between the health of frog populations and distance to different kinds of disturbance, especially oil sands mining and upgrading activities. Wood frogs are a good species to study because they are widely distributed in the boreal forest and are sensitive to changes in the environment. Tissue samples are collected from frogs to test for disease, and to test for levels of contaminants. Frogs are examined for physical deformities and other indications of poor health. Water samples are collected to test for general water quality, and to test for the presence of contaminants.|
|15||Environment Canada||Acid Lakes Survey Objectives: To obtain contemporary water chemistry data from a randomly-selected subset of lakes in the region potentially affected by acidifying emissions from the oil sands industry. How: Approximately 350 lakes have been sampled for water chemistry.|
|16||Environment Canada and Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park||Air Quality Monitoring – CAPMoN Objective: to monitor the long-range transport and trans-boundary transport of air-borne contaminants, including those emitted from the oil sands development area. How: By developing a Canadian Air and Precipitation Monitoring Network (CAPMoN) site in WBNP. Measurements will include daily integrated samples for the determination of concentrations of major ions and tracer metals in aerosols as well as precipitation. Additional high priority measurements could include NO, NO2, NOy, NH3, SO2, and VOCs as well as weekly composite samples for metals in precipitation and composite PM2.5 samples. Consideration will be given to atmospheric Hg sampling, PACS, O3, CO and H2S.|
|17||Environment Canada, Parks Canada, Aurora Research Institute, Ontario Genomics Institute, and other partners.||Biomonitoring 2.0 Objectives: to identify and quantify species richness (biodiversity) at a site using genetic material gathered from pitfall trapping, soil, water and benthic sampling. To obtain biodiversity sample sets from wetland sites in Wood Buffalo National Park for DNA sequencing analysis; to obtain local habitat information associated with the biodiversity samples collected – including historical trend information, GIS data, and local physico-chemical analysis. How: This project will utilize DNA barcoding which is a genomics tool used to identify individual species from only a short segment of DNA whose sequence is unique to that species. Aquatic and terrestrial microhabitats will be sampled for both macro-organisms (such as benthic macroinvertebrates) and micro-organisms using standard collection techniques. Water and soil samples, along with other field survey information, will be collected to provide relevant physico-chemical data for interpretation of biodiversity patterns resolved by DNA sequencing.|
|18||Peace-Athabasca Delta Ecological Monitoring Program (PADEMP)||Muskrat Monitoring Objectives: To determine: the trend in relative abundance of muskrats within the Peace-Athabasca Delta over time; whether there is a difference in muskrat abundance between basins receiving water from the Athabasca and Birch Rivers; whether there is a difference in water quality between productive and unproductive basins;how long it takes for muskrats to re-establish after average to above-average snowfall years, or after flood events. How: muskrat push-ups and houses are counted and measured within 15 basins. At each basin, habitat measurements (snow depth, ice thickness, water depth, physical water quality parameters) are recorded and water quality samples are taken.|
|19||Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park||Fire Frequency and Extent Monitoring Objective: to monitor the annual area of forest burned in the park. How: Every year. each fire that burns in the park is mapped and the total area burned calculated.|
|20||Parks Canada – Wood Buffalo National Park||Monitoring Water Quality in Lakes Objective: to monitor the water quality of Pine Lake and Rainbow Lakes as representative lake ecosystems in the park. How: monthly water samples are taken from each lake during the open water season|
|21||Mikisew Cree First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation||Community-based Monitoring Program Objective: To track changes to the water and land in the traditional areas of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations. How: The program relies on both scientific and Indigenous Knowledge monitoring methods to allow ACFN and MCFN members to better understand the environmental changes they see at both local and regional scales.|
|22||Parks Canada - Wood Buffalo National Park||
|Strategic Environmental Assessment: to assess the cumulative impacts of all industrial developments on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property for completion by the end of March 2018 as requested by the World Heritage Committee in 2015. This will include a full and effective involvement of First Nations in the process.|
|№||Site need title||Brief description of potential site needs||Support needed for following years|
|1||Caribou population recovery plan||Recovery plan for caribou population in and around WBNP|
|2||Parks Canada, federal, provinical and territorial wildlife authorities, research institutions and First Nations||Better understanding of the population dynamics of the wood bison as a basis to enhance management.|
|3||Understanding the Ronald Lake bison herd||Confirming longstanding indigenous claims, the Ronald Lake bison herd appears to be disease-free and genetically distinct from the main Wood Buffalo National Park herd despite its proximity. This relatively new discovery is of high conservation significance and needs to be addressed at a time when the proposed Teck Frontier oil sands project calls the future of the herd into question.|
|4||Policy development to establish a more meaningful involvement of and role for First Nations and Métis||The current Canadian government has made unprecedented commitments to reconciliation with First Nations and Métis, including concretely in the mandate letters for federal ministers. Efforts are needed to translate this commitment into real change, including as regards the management and governance of national parks.|
|5||Environmental flows assessment||The W.A.C. Bennett Dam on the upper Peace River is a fact. It is also a fact that the dam has generated ongoing consequences for the entire river system. Flow regulation has been repeatedly discussed and it is clear that it would have the potential to enhance the balance between power generation and other legitimate societal objectives. State of the art environmental flows assessments would provide the basis for informed and responsible decision-making beyond the narrow perspective of a single actor and perspective.|
|6||Systematic risk assessment of the tailings ponds of the Alberta oil sands region||The large tailings ponds of the oil sands constitute severe risks to the property, namely the to the Peace-Athabasca Delta. Leakages and breaches could have devastating effects as they have had in many regions of the world, including in Spain's renowned Doñana National Park, likewise a World Heritage property.|
|7||Towards a functional buffer zone||Wood Buffalo National Park is lacking an effective buffer zone, today a World Heritage expectation. While acceptable in the past due to the scale and remoteness, the development frontier has since been moving ever closer to the property. Commercial forestry operations and increasing road access require a re-evaluation of the national park and its interlinkages with its surroundings. A systematic assessment would shed light on the options, which may include a better integration of conservation into land use planning schemes, the establishment of a formal buffer zone or better coordination with adjacent or nearby subnational or community-based protected area efforts.|
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