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Boreal landscapes added to Canada’s parks

National and provincial parks larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined are to be created in the boreal forests of Labrador’s Mealy Mountains, Canadian government authorities announced Friday. Map courtesy of Parks Canada Canada’s Environment Minister and minister responsible for Parks Canada, Jim Prentice, and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Environment and Conservation, Charlene Johnson, said...

National and provincial parks larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined are to be created in the boreal forests of Labrador’s Mealy Mountains, Canadian government authorities announced Friday.


Map courtesy of Parks Canada

Canada’s Environment Minister and minister responsible for Parks Canada, Jim Prentice, and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Environment and Conservation, Charlene Johnson, said in a news release that they had agreed to establish a new national park reserve in the Mealy Mountains area of eastern Canada.

The park reserve will protect 4,100 square miles (10,700 square kilometers), which will make it the largest national park in eastern Canada.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Government will establish a waterway provincial park to protect the Eagle River, adjacent to the proposed national park reserve. The waterway park in the river watershed will encompass 1,200 square miles (3,000 square kilometers) of wilderness and include almost the entire length of the Eagle River from the headwaters to the sea.

Together these areas will protect over 5,000 square miles (13,000 square kilometers) of boreal forest.


Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

Consultations with aboriginal groups will continue throughout the national park reserve establishment process, the ministers added. “Traditional land-use activities by Labradorians will be permitted to continue within the national park reserve, managed to emphasize ecological integrity and conservation measures,” they said in their statement.

“As we enter into the International Year of Biodiversity, it is fitting that we are working to establish a national park reserve to protect this spectacular boreal landscape for all time, for all Canadians,” Prentice said. “This part of Labrador is not only of ecological significance, it is also of great cultural importance and we are committed to moving forward in a way that recognizes and respects the traditional connections people have with the land.”

“The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is pleased to dedicate an area of Labrador rich in natural and cultural heritage to the people of the province, the country, and indeed the world, to protect these special places for all time,” Johnson said. “This initiative demonstrates our understanding of the importance of our ecosystems and our commitment to biodiversity conservation.”

The ministers unveiled the boundary for the national park reserve along with a conceptual boundary for an adjacent waterway provincial park. They also signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the next steps the two governments will take to establish the national park reserve, including the negotiation of a federal-provincial land transfer agreement.


Jim Prentice, Canada’s Environment Minister and minister responsible for Parks Canada, announces the creation of a national park reserve in the Mealy Mountains area of Labrador, Friday, February 5, 2010.

Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

“These parks in the Mealy Mountains, when established, will protect a stunning array of boreal ecosystems and wildlife, along with landscapes of great cultural significance,” Prentice and Johnson said.

Conservation organizations greeted the news of the proposed new parks with loud applause.

“The Mealy Mountains rise dramatically from the shores of Lake Melville in southeastern Labrador. Reaching heights of more than one kilometre above sea level, they are an island of arctic tundra surrounded by boreal forests and coastal seascapes,” said Nature Canada, a conservation charity representing 350 naturalist organizations.

“The parks will serve as a large anchor of protected boreal forest, wetland and tundra along the Atlantic Flyway, an important breeding ground and migration route for many arctic bird species heading to wintering grounds in the south–some as far as South America,” Nature Canada says on its Web site. “Species breeding in or migrating through the park include peregrine falcon (nationally Threatened), least sandpiper, rusty blackbird (Special Concern), blackpoll warbler, olive-sided flycatcher (provincially Threatened) and Arctic tern.

“The nationally at-risk eastern population of harlequin duck nests along wild rivers throughout the region,” said Alex MacDonald, Nature Canada’s protected areas campaign manager. “Creating a national park will protect important river ecosystems and limit human activities around nesting sites, which can help this species to rebound throughout its breeding range.”

The Mealy Mountain herd of the Threatened boreal forest population of woodland caribou, estimated at just 2,000 remaining, will gain urgently needed protection of its habitat within the national park’s boundaries, Nature Canada continued. “Caribou need large areas of undisturbed old growth woodland, as these forests not only provide a necessary food source, but protection from predators such as wolves and bears.”

Establishing a national park will also help mitigate the effects of global warming, Nature Canada said. “The soils of the Mealy Mountains region are rich in organic carbon, which makes them an important storehouse for greenhouse gases that can accelerate global climate change. Leaving these soils and extensive wetlands undisturbed will help to reduce potential carbon emissions that could impact climate change.”

The federal Mealy Mountains National Park and the provincial Eagle River waterway park will be one of the largest protected areas in eastern North America, about equal in size to the protected lands in New York’s Adirondack State Park, the Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI) said in reaction to the official announcement.

CBI works with governments, conservation organizations, resource companies, aboriginal peoples, and scientists to preserve the Canada’s boreal forest. 

The proposed new protected areas are a major step towards completing the Canadian National Park system, and will nearly double the total area protected within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, CBI said in a statement.

“Labrador’s Mealy Mountains region offers exceptional opportunities for tourism, recreation, and exploration of Canada’s heritage; continued traditional uses by Aboriginal and local people, and protection of significant areas of habitat for the threatened Mealy Mountains woodland caribou herd,” CBI said.

“This protected area covers Labrador’s critical wetlands and salmon and brook trout habitat. They provide a haven for a threatened woodland caribou herd, along with moose, black bear, osprey, bald eagles and a species of special concern, the eastern population of the harlequin duck,” CBI said.

“This is an outstanding boreal landscape with a rich and diverse ecological and cultural history. These parks represent an exceptional legacy for present and future generations,” said Larry Innes, executive director of CBI. “We are very pleased to recognize the achievement of the governments, the aboriginal peoples and local organizations who came together to advance a common vision for the protection of this important region.”

The announcement set an important precedent for parks in Canada, Innes continued. “This is not a remote, off-limits park; this is a new approach to conservation, that incorporates traditional uses and celebrates Labrador’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, while securing ecological values.”

“This is a great leap forward in efforts to complete the Canadian National Park system,” said Steve Kallick, director of Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign, of the announcement to create a Mealy Mountains park reserve.

“These new parks will draw tourists from around the world, conserve lands important to aboriginal Canadians and safeguard the habitat of the Mealy Mountains woodland caribou herd.

“Bigger than the United States’ Yellowstone and Yosemite parks combined, the scale of this new protected area is remarkable. It will rival the largest protected areas in eastern North America, equal in size to New York’s Adirondack State Park, twice the size of Everglades National Park and six times the size of Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” Kallick said.

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