By Earl Gordon
Former Park Warden and Technical Officer of Buffalo Management Wood Buffalo National Park
Try to envision what North America looked like when there were an estimated 80 to 100 million free ranging buffalo before the invasion of the first settlers that came to this country and destroyed most of them. The buffalo sadly disappeared like the Do-do bird.
In May of 1956 when I first arrived in Ft. Chipewyan, I was totally amazed at how industrious the Aboriginal people were.They built their own fishing boats for commercial fishing, trapped, worked in sawmills and also worked for Wood BuffaloPark. They built their own homes and dug their own wells by hand. The reason that they were successful was that they never lost their land to early settlers and homesteaders.
That, however, changed in the last 50 years when the W.A.C. Bennett dam was built at the head waters of the Peace River. It took years of holding the water back and there is now a reservoir 140 km long. This has a detrimental effect on the Athabasca Delta and Wood Buffalo National Park.
1956 – 1965: I spent nine years working for Parks Canada in several capacities; labourer, park patrolman, boat captain, park warden and buffalo management officer. Buffalo management was a huge undertaking: building holding corrals, testing facilities and a new camp. The buffalo were rounded up and tested for brucellosis and T.B. We also managed anthrax control with C.W.S., using a 90 percent work force of aboriginal workers.
2007: Parks Canada laid off over 400 career park wardens. (big mistake)
1983: UNESCO designated Athabasca as a World Heritage site.
1998: Indian chief challenges federal government over damages to Indian Reserve 201 which was turned into a mud flat from the water dropping 15 ft. Jim Prentice, Minister of Indian Affairs represented the government listening to the grievances.
It was determined that the federal government had a fiduciary responsibility to protect the treaty rights of the reserve. Also,the dam was built illegally without a permit and it was determined that it contravened the National Parks Act.
A fish study was undertaken at the delta to determine if the fish were contaminated. It was determined that mercury and other chemicals were found in the fish tissue. The government banned commercial fishing in Lake Athabasca and issued a warning that eating the fish could be harmful, therefore, one should be limited to one fish per week.
Which came first the ice age 10,000 years ago or the oil sands? The oil sands were laid out, possibly, 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs became extinct, then, came the ice age. When the ice melted, it carved out the Athabasca River, along with the bitumen deposits that now lay on the bottom of the delta. Therefore, environmental protesters have it wrong blaming the tar sands on the cancer deaths at Ft. Chipewyan.
Pulp Mills: Pulp mills have been dumping toxic waste including mercury and other cancer causing toxins into the river.
By lowering the water in the delta, sandbars were exposed causing numerous wildlife problems and health issues.
W.A.C. Bennett dam owned by BC hydro is not immune to lawsuits.
2013: State of California sues Powerex, a subsidiary of BC Hydro as well as Enron Energy and 60 utility companies for raising rates to the tune of seven billion dollars. They were accused of engineering blackouts. Powerex paid a settlement of750 million dollars.
I visited Ft. Chipewyan in March, 2015. I had a very interesting talk with a 78 year-old trapper. He advised me that there are no buffalo wintering at the delta. He attributes this to a major infestation of thistle. He does not know where the buffalo have gone. These buffalo carry brucellosis and T.B. and are a danger to ranchers to the west.
The W.A.C. Bennett dam needs to be decommissioned and no C-1 dam built. Let the “Mighty Peace” flow.