The Northwest Territories include some of the largest, most intact stretches of Boreal Forest. But these lands are facing unprecedented development pressure — including a proposed 800-mile-long natural gas pipeline that would create new, year-round access to places that are currently roadless and wild. In some ways, this moment is similar to the opening of the American West, in which the first act of development opened the door to further development and settlements across indigenous lands and virtually untouched natural landscapes.
In the face of this challenge, the Conservancy is providing science expertise for the Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy, a First Nations-lead initiative to create a network of ecologically — and culturally — significant protected areas across ancestral lands. Within a decade, this endeavor could preserve more than 75 million acres of the Boreal Forest — an area larger than the state of Arizona.
The Protected Areas Strategy will protect diverse land and freshwater habitats across the Northwest Territories. From the south to the north, through one of the largest, most intact stretches of forest in the world, these areas provide some of Earth’s last remaining intact landscapes for wide-ranging mammals such as caribou, wolves and grizzly bears. They are also the ancestral lands of First Nations who have made this landscape their home for hundreds of years.
A string of court rulings has prompted government efforts across Canada to settle disputed land claims with First Nations, empowering indigenous communities to help determine how millions of acres of their traditional, resource-rich lands will be used.
In the Northwest Territories, indigenous peoples are creating a vision for the future based on their own traditions, hopes and values. The Conservancy respects the independence, culture and economic needs of these First Nations and recognizes that much can be accomplished by working together toward common goals.
The coalition in the Northwest Territories is weaving cutting-edge conservation science with traditional knowledge to identify lands and waters that must be protected so that regional ecosystems and local communities can remain healthy and resilient.
By marrying modern science, such as the Conservancy’s mapping and planning expertise, with indigenous knowledge of migration patterns, species distribution and unique ecological features, this partnership is developing a protected areas network informed by knowledge from across centuries.
At the same time, industry and government are seeking to establish ongoing resource extraction leases across these same lands. These stakeholders are participating with First Nations in creating the protected areas network as a critical step in moving resource development forward. If the area’s ecological treasures are not protected now, they could be legally included within resource extraction leases or otherwise affected by development — placing countless species and millions of acres at risk.
With your help, the Conservancy can support First Nation communities in protecting their ecologically and culturally rich ancestral lands. Critical, large-scale land-use decisions are being made on a rapid timeline. This is a chance to turn away from the exploitation and neglect of North America’s past and act proactively to ensure that this verdant landscape continues to sustain the plants, animals and humans that call it home.April 19, 2012