WINNIPEG, MB — The top executives of major Canadian environmental groups will present Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Pimachiowin Aki Corporation with the groups’ inaugural Environmental Leadership Award at a reception Monday evening, in recognition of their efforts to secure UNESCO World Heritage status for the Pimachiowin Aki site.
The project site spans more than 40,000 square kilometers of largely intact boreal forest from the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg into northern Ontario. The area encompasses the traditional lands of five First Nations, as well as two large wilderness provincial parks. The forest, rivers, lakes and wetlands within the borders of the Pimachiowin Aki site offer critical habitat for many species, including the threatened woodland caribou, and provide the equivalent benefit of roughly $130 million each year in “ecosystem services” such as fishing and water filtration.
“We applaud Pimachiowin Aki Corporation and Premier Selinger for their outstanding leadership and vision in protecting this critical ecosystem network and First Nations cultural heritage,” said Dr. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence. “This is an extremely important venture and we’re proud to see such forward-looking environmental protection taking place in Canada, and on behalf of all Canadians.”
The UNESCO World Heritage bid could be compromised by a proposal to cut a hydro transmission corridor through the forested Pimachiowin Aki site, rather than along the official preferred route west of Lake Winnipeg. Canada’s leading environmental organizations are joining concerned Manitobans who recognize the importance of preserving the natural and cultural heritage in the boreal region.
“The east side of Lake Winnipeg is part of the world’s largest intact section of boreal forest,” said Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “As this area presents one of Earth’s last opportunities for preserving a huge and unbroken wilderness, keeping Bipole III away is wise move based on long-term thinking.”  
“Manitobans have a rare opportunity to create a lasting legacy by choosing to prevent industrial development — such as the proposed hydro transmission corridor — in this ecologically sensitive and significant region,” said Marlo Raynolds, executive director of the Pembina Institute. “There are other options that would allow both the protection of this area, and the new transmission line to be built.”
“One-third of the world’s boreal forest is rooted in Canada, but less than ten per cent of this area is protected from development,” said Gerald Butts, CEO of WWF Canada. “This world heritage project offers a critical opportunity to show the world that Manitobans recognize the value of this life-giving land, and are determined to preserve it for the benefit of future generations.”
“The boreal is a place of diverse life and immense beauty,” said Peter Robinson, CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation. “It is one of the few truly wild places remaining in Canada, and protecting this area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site would keep it that way — not just for Canadians, but for the world.”
The award will be introduced at a news conference in Winnipeg at the Fort Garry Hotel (Salon A) at 1 p.m. Members of the news media are also invited to attend the evening reception in the formal dining room of the Legislative Building (450 Broadway) at 6:30 p.m., with award presentation beginning at 7 p.m.
For details or to RSVP, please contact Julia Kilpatrick.
Julia Kilpatrick
Media Manager, the Pembina Institute
About the Environmental Leadership Award
The Environmental Leadership Award recognizes outstanding vision, initiative and action to protect Canadian natural heritage and ecosystem health, prevent environmental degradation, or promote progressive, clean energy solutions. It will be awarded on an annual or semi-annual basis by Canada’s leading environmental organizations. Recipients may include governments at all levels, companies and individuals.
The Environmental Leadership Award will be presented on behalf of: Bob Oliver, Pollution Probe; Bruce Cox, Greenpeace; Eric Hebert-Daly, CPAWS; Gerald Butts, WWF Canada; Ian Davidson, Nature Canada; John Bennett, Sierra Club of Canada; Marlo Raynolds, The Pembina Institute; Peter Robinson, David Suzuki Foundation; Rick Smith, Environmental Defence; Sidney Ribaux, Equiterre; and Devon Page, Ecojustice.
About the Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project
First Nations in Manitoba and Ontario, with the support of both provincial governments, have proposed creating an internationally recognized network of protected areas and managed landscapes on 40,147 km2 of their ancestral lands and to seek UNESCO designation of the area as a World Heritage Site. The non-profit Pimachiowin Aki Inc. is led by Poplar River, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi and Bloodvein First Nations on the Manitoba side and Pikangikum First Nation in Ontario. The province of Manitoba continues to provide funding on an ongoing basis to Pimachiowin Aki Inc. for traditional land use planning, a fundamental component necessary for a successful UNESCO bid.
The majority of the project area is comprised of the First Nations’ Traditional Land Areas, which have been recognized under Manitoba’s East Side Traditional Lands Planning and Special Protected Areas Act. This legislation, introduced in 2008, gives First Nations on the east side of Lake Winnipeg the legislative ability to better manage, plan, control and protect the natural resources within their traditional territories.
The parklands within the borders of the proposed World Heritage Site include Atikaki and South Atikaki Provincial Parks in Manitoba and Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, four proposed park additions and the Eagle — Snowshoe Conservation Reserve in Ontario. The First Nations’ traditional lands and provincially designated lands together form part of the continuous coniferous boreal forest that extends for 1.3 billion acres across northern Canada.
In November 2008, Winnipeg’s International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) published an ecosystems services analysis for the Pimachiowin Aki project, calculating the strictly economic value of the services provided by the land (not taking into account spiritual, aesthetic, cultural values) to be worth between $121 million and $130 million each year (fishing = $35M/yr, water treatment = $32M/yr, water supply for hydro power = $20M/yr). Their estimate is considered conservative, because it did not take into account water supply from the major rivers ($0.27 to $5.55 B/yr), air filtration provided by trees ($0.35 to $0.60 B/yr), and flood prevention provided by wetlands ($0.38 B/yr) — these amounts were excluded because they were based on studies for an area larger than the Pimachiowin Aki site, however they indicate that the economic value of the land’s services is likely to be much higher than the official estimate.