Near the oil sands, the world’s largest protected boreal forest is now even bigger

Mikisew Cree First Nation leads work with industry and government to expand wildland park

By Deborah Jaremko
Wood bison roam in the region of the Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildlife Park in northern Alberta. Photo courtesy Government of Alberta

The world’s largest protected boreal forest keeps getting bigger. In northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories, over 70,000 square kilometers – more than twice the size of Vancouver Island – is now set aside to be untouched by development.  

The latest additions to the protected area in Alberta are thanks to work by the Mikisew Cree First Nation, government, oil sands producers and forestry companies.   

“This is an area that matters deeply to us…The health of this area is directly tied to the health of our culture, of our way of life,” Mikisew Cree Chief Peter Powder said earlier this year as Alberta announced the doubling in size of the Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildlife Park. 

“The expansion of the park will protect large new areas that support iconic and threatened species like caribou and the wood bison. More than 100,000 hectares of caribou range is now protected,” Powder said. 

“We get to tell our elders and land users that we’re making progress on their vision [that] the key watersheds that support the Peace-Athabasca Delta be protected for generations. It’s not every day that we get to bring a message like that back to our people.” 

Kitaskino means “our land” in Cree, and Nuwenëné means “our land” in Dene. Originally created in 2019, the park’s size has been doubled, to approximately 314,000 hectares.  

Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildlife Park connects to Wood Buffalo National Park and the Birch River Wildland Provincial Park, which was created in 2018 through an effort by the Tallcree First Nation, the federal and provincial governments, Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Syncrude. 

Companies that relinquished leases to create the new expanded park include Athabasca Oil Corporation, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil, Teck Resources, Value Creation Inc., Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, and Northland Forest Products.  

“All of this happening is in the right way with a spirit of partnership and collaboration involving Indigenous peoples, government and industry,” Powder said.  

“The expansion of this park continues efforts across the country to protect more of Canada’s land base and protect biodiversity.” 

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