boreal forest manitoba

Manitoba-Ontario boreal forest closer to gaining status as World Heritage Site

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A large region of boreal forest along the Manitoba-Ontario border is one step closer to gaining international recognition.

On Friday, two UNESCO advisory bodies recommended the Pimachiowin Aki—an Ojibwa phrase that translates to “the land that gives life”—be deemed a World Heritage Site, which can be any place of special cultural or physical significance. If approved, the forest would be recognized alongside 900 other sites around the world, including East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Working alongside the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation, the federal government and Ontario and Manitoba provincial governments have spent millions in attempt to secure the designation for the forest. The decade-long effort was set back in 2013, when two UNESCO advisory groups said it was unclear whether the area was unique.

The dense boreal forest covers 33,400-square-kilometres of land, which is about half the size of New Brunswick. Its indigenous people have been taking care of the land for thousands of years, and according to the group behind the proposal, it has the potential to be one of the few sites recognized for both cultural and natural values.

After 2013, the bid was reworked to highlight this, providing more details about the cultural traditions of the Anishinaabeg indigenous peoples and their harmonious relationship with the landscape, which was enough to convince the very same advisory groups.

“In spite of being subject to significant social disturbances as a result of European colonization, such as being placed on reserves and children being separated from their families by residential schooling, the Anishinaabeg have been able to retain their traditional culture,” states one of the advisory group reports. With this, they recommended the bid be given final approval in July, when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meets in Turkey.

Gaining this designation will provide the region with more than just status. According to former Manitoba premier Greg Selinger, it will also boost tourism and make it easier to protect the forest from development. Heritage status can be withdrawn if sites aren’t properly protected or undergo too much development. Currently, there are 48 properties “in danger.”

Although it’s not on the list of threatened sites, according to reports, UNESCO recently raised concerns about potential oil and gas drilling near Gros Morne National Park, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1987. The World Heritage Committee recently recommended a “buffer zone” to protect its dramatic flat-top mountains, valleys, glacier-carved fjords, and thus, its status.

“When a world heritage site is designated, it means we are responsible for it on behalf of the world and we have to do everything we can to protect it,” Alison Woodley, national parks director for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said in reference to Gros Morne, and the same would go for Pimachiowin Aki.

Photo credit: Ryan Morgan/Shutterstock.com

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