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Pimachiowin Aki is exceptional heritage

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Jim Collinson's commentary Was east side misled by NDP government? (June 15) has a number of facts that I believe need correction. First, the idea of World Heritage listing of Pimachiowin Aki originated with a 2003 global assessment of potential World Heritage Boreal sites. I was involved in this global assessment aimed at identifying potential boreal sites around the world.

Among such potential sites Pimachiowin Aki was the only North American site identified as it was recognized as filling an important gap in representing the Canadian boreal shield ecozone.

Subsequently, in accordance with the World Heritage Committee requirements, Parks Canada as the state representative submitted it as one of the 10 sites on Canada's tentative list. As director general of National Parks at the time, I was involved in that process as well. The NDP government subsequently supported the development of the World Heritage bid, which we must recognize was led the Anishnaabek people in authoring the nomination.

A second inaccuracy in Collinson's treatise is his statement, which builds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature assessment, that Pimachiowin Aki is not an exceptional site. Indeed the IUCN evaluation report suggests such a conclusion. However, the IUCN evaluation report completely overlooks the comparative assessment submitted as part of the Pimachiowin Aki submission.

IUCN recommendations aside, it is the World Heritage Committee members, meeting in Cambodia this week, who will decide whether to list or not. I expect that they will have the opportunity to review the facts that IUCN and Collinson overlooked. Specifically, in comparing with 11 other sites in the boreal biome, including existing World Heritage sites, Pimachiowin Aki has the highest multi-level diversity within the North American boreal shield.

Further, the nomination compares Pimachiowin Aki with 132 sites within the global boreal biome, including 23 in the North American boreal shield. In this comparative analysis, Pimachiowin Aki clearly surpasses all other sites as an outstanding example of healthy, multi-level North American boreal shield ecosystems.

Third, Collinson suggests that the IUCN recommended deferral is an "unusual request" and then offers conjecture about "beer parlour decisions" and conspiracy theories about a "hidden agenda currying favour from powerful U.S. environmental activists."

In the five sessions of the World Heritage Committee prior to this coming one (the 37th), of the 190 sites nominated, 53 of them (more than 25 per cent) were recommended by these same advisory bodies for deferral. Sixty-two were inscribed, 26 were denied, and the rest received other or combinations of other recommendations. In fact, far from being in any way out of the ordinary, let alone "somewhat unusual," which is the jumping off point for the rest of Collinson's speculations, deferrals for more information are the second most common recommendation made by the advisers.

Collinson's is a false premise, and the resulting off-base speculations and suppositions could have been avoided had he actually referred to the reports themselves, which are pretty clear in their reasoning.

Nikita Lopoukhine is a retired National Parks director general and former chair for eight years of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2013 A9

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