Environmental groups back Dehcho land-use plan

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 4, 2007 | 6:07 PM CT

CBC News

Four major conservation groups have thrown their support behind the Dehcho's proposed land-use plan in the Northwest Territories  a plan that has become the main obstacle in land-claim talks between the Dehcho First Nation and the federal government.

World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Canadian Boreal Initiative, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and Ducks Unlimited Canada expressed their support for the First Nation's plan at a news conference in Calgary on Wednesday.

The WWF, which has worked with the Dehcho, the federal government and others on developing the plan for the past 10 years, is calling on Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice to live up to his government's "green" rhetoric of late.

"We kind of say, 'Gee, if you can't approve a plan like this, what can you approve?'" said Monte Hummel, president emeritus of WWF Canada.

"The position that Canada's taken, that this plan proposes to protect too much, we find rather breathtaking. Does Jim Prentice really believe that future generations are going to blame him or any of us for having protected too much of Canada? I don't think so."

The land-use plan, which the Dehco approved at its assembly in June, calls for 60 per cent of their lands to be protected, as well as a rigorous system for approving new development. In January, the federal government refused to accept the plan as is, saying it protects too much land from development.

The plan has since become the main sticking point in land-claim and self-government negotiations between the Dehcho and Ottawa. The latest round of talks were cancelled in March, with the next round scheduled later this month.

No plan, no pipeline: grand chief

The Dehcho First Nation, which represents 10 communities in the southwest region of the Northwest Territories, is the only aboriginal group without a land-claim agreement along the route of the proposed 1,200-kilometre Mackenzie Valley pipeline. About 40 per cent of the pipeline route falls within Dehcho territory.

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said if Ottawa does not agree to its land-use plan, it will block construction of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, which would carry northern natural gas to Alberta's oil sands.

"Our position is that without the land-use plan, there won't be a pipeline," Norwegian said in a release Wednesday.