Committed to the wilderness

The landscape of northern Manitoba is both breathtaking and inspiring. The area around Fisher Bay is no exception. It is a large tract of pristine wilderness and many people are fighting to keep it that way.

Fisher Bay is part of the Fisher River Cree Nation’s traditional territory, and there is an ongoing fight to have the area permanently protected. This process has involved extensive negotiations with Manitoba’s provincial government over the past 10 years, negotiations which are currently at a standstill as the government is seeking to prolong the decision making process for five more years.

Contextualizing this situation, Paloma Corrin of Manitoba’s Wilderness Committee explains that since the creation of Manitoba’s park reserve system in 1997, not one of the areas nominated by First Nations has become permanently protected.

“Fisher Bay has been in a limbo of interim protection for a decade. Our government isn’t directing the necessary resources to increasing protected areas. Safeguarding Manitoba’s wilderness and wildlife for the future should be a priority,” said Corrin.

In the case of Fisher Bay, Corrin explains: “It was recently suggested that there wasn’t enough support [for the provincial park]. There in fact has been overwhelming support for the creation of this park — Fisher River Cree Nation, over 14,000 Manitobans, many communities and all political parties have shown they want this park. We need to get this done.”

Working in conjunction with Fisher River Cree Nation and the Canadian Parks and the Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Corrin explains the benefits to designating Fisher Bay as a provincial park: “It supports the protection of both natural and cultural heritage to share with all Manitobans as a provincial park. This park also protects a large swath of boreal forest; the clean air and water that this forest generates is invaluable to our province.” Corrin adds that there are currently no obvious drawbacks to the plan because those concerns are addressed in the planning and consultation process, which has already taken place.

In terms of how Manitoba’s wilderness protection efforts compare to other provinces, Corrin says: “In 1990, our government announced that it would increase protected area to 12 per cent, yet a decade later, we are still hovering around only 8 per cent. Scientists worldwide have agreed that protecting 50 per cent of the boreal forest is necessary for sustaining healthy ecosystems. Ontario has just passed Bill 191 which calls for the protection of 50 per cent of their northern boreal region. Quebec has also pledged to protect 50 per cent of its northern boreal region as well.”

These numbers are disappointing and show that the province of Manitoba still has much work to do. “The Wilderness Committee has repeatedly voiced our objections to the slow pace of protected area work in Manitoba,” says Corrin. “Manitoba has tremendous opportunity to protect large, intact ecosystems — in particular the east side of Lake Winnipeg — but has yet to take action.”