Manitoba’s east side is in the heart of the Earth’s largest roadless and wild boreal forest region. Continuously inhabited by Indigenous communities for over 6000 years, the region supports a richness of cultural and biological diversity that are inextricably linked. The region is also home to some of the most robust herds of threatened woodland caribou.
Provincial legislation provides communities in the east side planning area (see map) with the option to establish legal protection for their traditional lands. The purpose is to support collaboration between First Nations and non-first nations communities, industry and environmental organizations to create plans for the region that emphasize both the values of the boreal and the needs of local people.Much of the region's intact boreal forest, lakes and rivers have already been permanently protected from industrial developments through the East Side Traditional Lands Planning and Special Protected Areas Act.
A sterling collaboration in the heart of the boreal, four First Nations in the region have come together, linking their traditional territories to develop and present a bid to designate thousands of square kilometres of the east side of Lake Winnipeg known as Pimachiowin Aki (‘’the land that gives life’’) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bid has been submitted in partnership with two provincial governments and heavily supported by environmental groups including CPAWS.
The decision on World Heritage Site status for both the area’s cultural and natural values looks highly promising. The site would be the only representation of Canadian Boreal Shield eco-zone within the UNESCO system. Further, it would join less than 3% of existing world heritage sites designated based on their combined cultural and ecological importance. The prestigious title for Pimachiowin Aki would help support local communities in protecting the lands and embracing sustainable economic opportunities such as eco-tourism. Designation could also set a precedent for the protection of other sites around the world that are defined by the incredible connections between culture and landscape.
Lake Winnipeg, the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world, though it supports a fishing industry valued at $25 million and a tourism and recreation industry, valued at over $110 million annually it is under threat by human activities (including agriculture and industrial developments) that result in problematic concentrations of nutrients in its waters. This negatively affects the life within it and the local economies that depend on its well-being. The Global Nature Fund recognized Lake Winnipeg with the distinction of "Threatened Lake of the Year" for 2013. Seachoice launched a “do not buy” fish from Lake Winnipeg campaign in 2015 due to concerns over unsustainable fisheries management practices. The majority of nutrient loading (nearly 70%) comes from outside the Boreal while roughly 75% of inflowing waters travel through the boreal before entering the lake. Healthy, intact forests and wetlands cleanse the waters by filtering out excess nutrients thus mitigating the levels that reach the lake itself. Protecting Boreal lands on the east side of Lake Winnipeg (and elsewhere watershed) will be critical to ensuring the health of Lake Winnipeg is not further exacerbated. The future sustainability of the commercial fishing industry, valued at $25 million, and a, is reliant on a healthy Lake Winnipeg.
Click on map to enlarge.
Click on map to enlarge.
World Heritage Site