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Case Study: Assessment of cumulative impacts of multiple developments near a World Heritage property

Wood Buffalo National Park

In 2016, the World Heritage Committee requested Canada prepare a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the World Heritage property of Wood Buffalo National Park to assess the cumulative impacts of all existing and reasonably foreseeable developments, such as:

  • hydroelectric development;
  • oil sands development;
  • pulp and paper facilities;
  • industrial mines;
  • forestry activities; and
  • municipal developments.
© Ko Hon Chiu Vincent

State Party:

World Heritage property:
Wood Buffalo National Park


Year of inscription:

Brief description:
Situated on the plains in the north-central region of Canada, the park 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.

See further details at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/256

The State Party of Canada was requested to report on Wood Buffalo’s state of conservation to the World Heritage Committee in 2015 after receipt of a petition submitted to the World Heritage Centre by the Mikisew Cree First Nation. The Indigenous First Nation government had expressed concerns about potential threats to the OUV of the Wood Buffalo National Park due to multiple industrial developments.

The image below tracks the time and steps between the decisions of the World Heritage Committee.

Impact assessment carried out for this project

The SEA was commissioned by Parks Canada in late 2016 and after an initial scoping report was completed in 2017 the final SEA report was delivered in 2018.

The SEA was conducted based on the broad set of data and information that was already available and included both scientific information and Indigenous knowledge. Furthermore, the assessment considered foreseen climate change impacts.

The SEA is based on the understanding that the protection of the OUV of the property and its World Heritage status are of high importance. Furthermore, the assessment has been carried out based on a clear and systematic analysis of the property’s OUV and its breakdown into attributes, which in the report are called ‘valued components’.

Challenges identified during the project proposal/impact assessment process

The State party encountered two challenges in particular:

  1. a full value-attributes analysis had to be developed as a basis for the SEA (See Annex);
  2. Wood Buffalo National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1983. The World Heritage site nomination was not written with the values of Indigenous people as a priority. However, by collaborating closely with the Indigenous people of the Wood Buffalo National Park area during the development of the SEA, their perspectives were included in the interpretation of the OUV for the purposes of this work.

Summary on the outcome of the impact assessment

The SEA’s results were integrated into an Action Plan, which was submitted with the 2018 State of Conservation report to the World Heritage Committee. At its 2019 session, the World Heritage Committee commended Canada on the development of the SEA and the Action Plan. The World Heritage Committee also requested the SEA be used in future impact assessments (cf. Decision 43 COM 7B.15 and working documents WHC/19/43.COM/7B.Add).

Information on the SEA is available at: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nt/woodbuffalo/info/action/strategie-env-assessment and the Executive Summary of the SEA at: https://www.mightypeacewatershedalliance.org/app/download/10239153871/Executive+Summary+WBNP+SEA+30May2018.pdf?t=1549048400

Important lessons learned from the project

Collaboration with the Indigenous people of the Wood Buffalo National Park area was critical to facilitating a report that comprehensively relied on Indigenous knowledge as well as science.

To learn more about Indigenous relations at Parks Canada visit: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/agence-agency/aa-ia

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