Third time may be the charm for Manitoba bid to get UNESCO title for forest

Third attempt at recognition for forest area

WINNIPEG — Two provincial governments and several First Nations communities are hoping the third time’s the charm in a multimillion-dollar effort to secure international recognition for a big stretch of boreal forest along the Manitoba-Ontario boundary.

Following two failed attempts, a revised bid package covering a smaller area has been put together and shipped to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for the area known as Pimachiowin Aki — an Ojibwa phrase that means ‘land that gives life.’

“We are confident that the site, with a small reduction in area, will still be seen very positively by the world heritage committee,” Gord Jones, project manager with the arm’s-length Pimachiowin Aki Corp., said in an interview.

The Manitoba government has spent or committed more than $15 million over the last 13 years to support the bid, while Ontario has put up about $1 million. The governments hope that international recognition as a World Heritage Site would boost tourism to the remote area and help ensure it remained protected from over-development.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee deferred the initial bid in 2013. It balked after two committee advisory groups said it was unclear what made the area unique and requested more information.

A second attempt was made last year. The bid was deferred again, this time because one of five First Nations communities involved in the project — Pikangikum in northwestern Ontario — pulled out. Pikangikum leaders were upset over the way their treaty rights were described.

A third bid has now been sent to UNESCO and is expected to be considered in the summer of 2018. Without Pikangikum’s involvement, the area has shrunk slightly from its original 33,400 square kilometres.

The ongoing effort to gain UNESCO recognition began under Manitoba’s former NDP government. The Progressive Conservatives  won last spring’s election and have promised to review all government spending with an eye to controlling costs, but continue at this point to support the bid.

“The Manitoba government continues to support the UNESCO nomination for Pimachiowin Aki as a World Heritage Site,” Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said in an emailed statement.

“We will continue to fund the operations of the corporation. Our level of support going forward is being reviewed based on the completed status of the bid.”

UNESCO’s committee already recognizes more than 1,000 spots around the globe as World Heritage Sites, including Canadian locations such as Red Bay Basque Whaling Station in Labrador and Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta.

Pimachiowin Aki’s bid points out the area is a vast intact stretch of boreal forest, relatively undisturbed by development, and where indigenous residents have maintained traditional ties to the land.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press

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