New park near Fisher Bay?

June 17, 2008

An Indian band on the west side of Lake Winnipeg wants the province to create a new provincial park that would be four times the size of Winnipeg.

Fisher River Cree Nation says if the park is approved by the Doer government, it will permanently protect the area around Fisher Bay, about 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg, from all industrial developments, including logging and mining. That would also create a new tourist industry catering to people who like their wilderness unspoiled.

“Securing the area in its natural state will ensure that traditional activities can continue and will allow us to build our local economy with eco- and cultural-tourism ventures,” FRCN Chief David Crate said in a release. “It’s a good way to make sure our treaty rights are upheld and abundant wildlife populations remain strong.”

The Ochiwasahow (Cree for Fisher Bay) park reserve was first established in 1999. The province set aside 89,000 hectares to protect it from industrial development until 2010. FRCN wants to almost double that to 160,000 hectares and get the province to designate the area a provincial park.

“The province controls the agenda when you’re forming a provincial park,” said Manitoba Liberal Leader Dr. Jon Gerrard, who supports the bigger park. Also onside are the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the Wilderness Committee. They recently released a report recommending expansion of the park reserve boundaries, saying it’s the best marriage of ecological and cultural considerations. (cpawsmb.orgconservation/fisherbay1.php).

Gerrard and CPAWS Manitoba Executive Director Ron Thiessen said the next step in establishing the park is public consultation.

Thiessen said the area is home to moose, eagles and piping plovers—a shore bird designated by the province as endangered because its nests are vulnerable to predation and human disturbance.

A government spokesman said the province is aware of and studying the band’s plans. Under the provincial Parks Act, the province has a legal duty to hold public consultations before altering a park reserve boundary. Those consultations have begun.

In an report last year, Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said he and Crate would hold further discussions about the park reserve.

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>From park reserve to provincial park What is it?

Ochiwasahow (Fisher Bay) park reserve: On the southwest basin of Lake Winnipeg and home to wildlife such as bears, moose, fox, eagles and a variety of songbirds. The area is known for its treed shorelines, long sandy beaches and large islands covered with old-growth forests and reefs.

What’s been done?

The immediate area around Fisher Bay has been set aside by the provinces as park reserve. Fisher River Cree Nation, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Wilderness Committee want the Doer government to establish a new provincial park to permanently protect the entire area from destructive recreational and industrial encroachment.

What does the government say?

Politicians and officials are aware of the proposal to extend the area for a provincial park. They say nothing has been decided yet. Nothing will happen without a full public review that will take into account Fisher River Cree Nation’s position and the opinions of others who live in and use the area.

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