Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province praised for proposed polar bear park

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Canada's parks are under even more threat, but Manitoba at least gets higher marks for launching a process to create a huge new park to protect polar bears and other species on the Hudson Bay coastline.

The findings are in the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's (CPAWS) sixth annual review of the state of Canada's parks released Monday.

The annual review also said Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh's recent announcement consultations will soon begin for protection of the massive Seal River ecosystem are a bright note for the province.

"Manitoba's north presents an opportunity that most places in the world have lost," Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Manitoba chapter of CPAWS, said in a news release.

CPAWS said the province's proposed Polar Bear Provincial Park could be as large as 29,000 square kilometres, comparable to the size of Vancouver Island.

The Seal River ecosystem is 50,000 square kilometres, close to the size of Nova Scotia, and is one of the few large intact watersheds in the world. The Seal is also northern Manitoba's largest free-flowing river, CPAWS said. Manitoba Hydro has said it has no development plans for the Seal River.

CPAWS said in many parts of Canada, there's a growing trend by governments to prioritize industrial and commercial interests over ecological, social and economic benefits.

For example, CPAWS said with little public notice or debate, the B.C. government amended its Park Act in March to allow boundary adjustments for pipeline and other industrial developments.

In Jasper National Park, CPAWS said the federal government is considering a proposal for a hotel at Maligne Lake that would violate a park policy designed specifically to limit commercial development, and could put a highly endangered caribou herd in the park at greater risk.

In the Yukon, First Nations and conservation groups, including CPAWS, were in court earlier this month challenging the territory's plan to open up more than 70 per cent of the spectacular Peel watershed to mineral, oil and gas staking.

A report released this year by the Canadian Parks Council shows protecting nature in parks provides strong health and economic benefits. And a 2011 report found Canada's parks support more than 64,000 full-time jobs, generate nearly $3 billion in labour income and $337 million in government tax revenues.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2014 A11

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Updated on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at 7:51 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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