Debate over Wood Buffalo UNESCO site politicized: scientists

Wood Buffalo
Whooping cranes and a chick appear in this June 2008 file photo, taken in Wood Buffalo National Park. Supplied Image/J. McKinnon/

Two prominent water scientists say a debate over Canada’s largest national park has become politicized and industrial development is being blamed for changes it didn’t cause.

Brent Wolfe of Wilfrid Laurier University and Roland Hall from the University of Waterloo say B.C. Hydro’s Bennett Dam on the Peace River has had only a marginal effect on northern Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park.

After 20 years of research and nearly two dozen published papers, they conclude climate change has been drying out the world’s second-largest freshwater delta for more than a century.

And that there may be nothing anyone can do about it.

“What our research shows is that this landscape is overwhelmingly influenced by natural processes,” says Hall. “You’re going to end up wasting a lot of effort.”

Their conclusions are disputed by the author of a report done for the federal government, as well as by another leading researcher.

Wolfe and Hall criticize the 561-page study that was done in response to concerns the park’s environment has deteriorated, which potentially threatens its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The study concluded that 15 out of 17 measures of environmental health are declining in the area, mostly because of lower river levels and fewer floods to replenish lakes. It said industry and dams, as well as climate change and natural cycles, are behind the problem.

Wolfe and Hall say sediment cores in area lakes show that the Wood Buffalo region has been drying out since the early 1900s.

“All of our evidence suggests that drying began in the early 20th century,” Wolfe says. “We also have evidence that the flood frequency has been declining.”

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