The Salt River First Nation (SRFN) has announced it will file an injunction to stop Wood Buffalo National Park’s (WBNP) new whooping crane tour program, citing a lack of consultation by the federal government agency with Aboriginal groups on the initiative.
SRFN Chief Frieda Martselos said the decision to put a halt to the ‘Wood Buffalo Whooping Crane Experience’ was made during a council meeting held May 21.
“Parks Canada has failed to consult Salt River First Nation in respect to Parks Canada’s guided whooping crane tours and tours of the whooping crane nesting areas in the Wood Buffalo National Park,” she said in an interview with The Journal. “Salt River First Nation is bringing the federal court action to stop the tours and to protect their Treaty 8 and their treaty land entitlement rights in our traditional territory, and to protect the 12-10 trapping area in accordance with section 35 of the Constitution of 1982.”
As of publication time, Martselos and SRFN had not heard a response from the park regarding the request for an injunction.
“We’re disappointed that they did not feel that they had an obligation to consult Salt River and we were surprised and very disappointed that they didn’t do their due diligence,” Martselos said. “The whooping cranes are an endangered species. The members of Salt River respect that and we want to ensure that when they are going to do anything this drastic to an endangered species, they have a duty to consult Salt River First Nation.”
The tours were set to start May 25, with several excursions taking place over the course of the summer. Different experiential packages range from $1,400 to $3,900 and include everything from flights over the birds’ nesting grounds to hikes into a blind, set up only a few hundred metres from the birds’ habitat.
“It’s sad when you think about it because there was definitely no consultation on putting their proposal together,” said Ken Hudson, president of the Fort Smith Métis Council, whose members also hold rights in the park. “I have since found out that the ceilings for the flying that they have proposed – 1,000 feet for fixed wing aircraft and 1,200 for helicopters – were unacceptable to Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and other groups that have concerns with the whooping cranes.”
The Journal reached out to CWS for confirmation, but did not receive a response before press time.
Hudson said he fears that the low-flying craft might scare off the whooping cranes, causing them to abandon their eggs. This would set back decades of conservation work to restore the population from less than 20 birds to more than 300.
The matter was first discussed at a cooperative management meeting held in Hay River this past April that included representatives from SRFN, the Métis and other Aboriginal groups in the area.
“That’s where Parks was going to present their proposal,” said Hudson. “We didn’t allow them to present the proposal because everybody was upset that they even had a proposal developed and bookings all ready for an event that we had no knowledge of and no participation in putting together.”
Members of Smith’s Landing First Nation, who also hold rights in WBNP, did not return calls from The Journal.
WBNP representatives declined to comment on the matter at this time.