1.         Wood Buffalo National Park (Canada) (N 256)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1983

Criteria  (vii)(ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/256/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/256/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds


Previous monitoring missions


Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/256/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2002

IUCN received information in November 2001 on a CPAWS appeal against a 16October 2001 decision by the Federal Court of Canada to allow a winter road to be built through the heart of Wood Buffalo National Park and World Heritage site.  The initial legal challenge was based on concern for the impact on ecological integrity of the Park, as well as the precedent such an approval would set for other Protected Areas in Canada. The proposed 118 km winter road will cut the Park in two and join an existing all-weather highway (#58) on the west of the Park with a winter road/all-weather highway already running in a north-south direction through the Park.  CPAWS and the Mikisew Cree First Nation have launched separate legal challenges against the road.


With respect to the Mikisew Cree First Nation legal challenge, IUCN was informed that on 20 December 2001 the Federal Court set aside the decision by the Minister to authorize the construction of the road on the grounds that the treaty rights of the Mikisew Cree First Nation to hunt, trap and fish would be infringed by the construction of the road, that the Mikisew Cree had not been adequately consulted, and the road had been approved without sufficient knowledge of its environmental impact.  With respect to the Park’s World Heritage status, CPAWS’s concerns with the road relate to the lack of a full Environmental Impact Assessment, given the significant impacts identified in the environmental assessment screening process.  The screening identified several information gaps:


Bison: The summer reconnaissance survey component of the screening concluded that “bison movements and distribution along the right-of-way should be further investigated to more accurately assess the probability of movement out of the Park along the proposed winter road during snow-free periods of the year.” This was not done and the impact of the road remains uncertain on bison movements.


Woodland caribou: The boreal population of woodland caribou is classified as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and the Province of Alberta.  The screening report concluded that: “overall, insufficient information on caribou populations and habitat use in the vicinity of the road corridor is available to accurately determine the impacts of road construction and operation on this threatened species”. 


Gypsum karst: The road would be constructed through an area of gypsum karst.  Sinkholes, and collapse channels were observed along the road right-of-way. The summer reconnaissance concluded that “although there is evidence that dissolution of subsurface gypsum presently occurs through areas of karst terrain, no comments regarding the appropriate right-of-way placement to avoid future collapse can be made without detailed geotechnical investigations”.


CPAWS believes that allowing a road to be built for non-park management purposes through a vast boreal wilderness will inevitably fragment this wilderness and disturb ecological exchange.  If the project were to proceed, there would be an added risk of an eventual upgrade to an all-season road, which would further magnify the ecological impacts. The State Party informed IUCN on 8 February 2002 that the CPAWS injunction in 2001, as well as citing irreparable environmental and ecological harm and deficiencies in environmental assessment, also focused on the lack of analysis of the expected traffic volume, the lack of a regional transportation study, and lack of assessment of the need for the project or any alternatives.  The State Party also informed IUCN that the Mikisew Cree decision has been appealed by the Government of Canada.  Both appeals are proceeding through the Federal Court of Appeal and will be heard in the second half of 2002.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN


Decision Adopted: 26 COM 21B.4

The World Heritage Committee,

Requests the State Party to provide by 1 February 2003, information on the status of the proposal to build a winter road and, specifically, the outcome of the appeals submitted to the Federal Court to be heard in the second half of 2002 for examination by the Committee at its 27th session in June/July 2003.