While the majority of North American media has been focused on a few high-profile stories over the past few weeks, an amazing and uplifting story has quietly emerged behind the scenes in Manitoba and Ontario.
It began with the joint announcement between the Bloodvein First Nation and the Government of Manitoba over a new land designation covering the Bloodvein First Nation’s traditional lands. Their traditional land—more than 3,900 square kilometres (almost 100,000 acres)—straddles the coastline of Lake Winnipeg and sprawls eastward along the Bloodvein River and surrounding pristine boreal forest. This remote and picturesque region will now become a traditional-use planning area, which will support and maintain the traditional ways of life these people have relied on for generations. It will also allow for sustainable development opportunities as the community sees fit. All in all, 60% of their lands will be off-limits to any non-traditional activities and the remainder will be carefully managed by the First Nation.
The news got even better when last Wednesday the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation—a group of five First Nations (including Bloodvein) and the governments of Manitoba and Ontario—announced their formal nomination to establish a UNESCO World Heritage Site on their traditional lands. Years of cooperation and planning between these entities paved the path toward this day, and we offer our deepest congratulations on this historic achievement.
Here’s a video about the announcement (including great shots of the area):
The more than 43,000 square kilometre area (more than 10 million acres) spans from the coasts of Lake Winnipeg all the way into the western part of Ontario. It is part of a unique type of southern boreal forest and is still highly intact. In fact, it makes up a good portion of the largest intact block of forest anywhere on earth. Vast networks of lakes, rivers, and wetlands span the area and provide a crucial safeguard for numerous species, including the increasingly-threatened woodland caribou. You can read more detailed posts we’ve written in the past about this project here and here.
Being an avid birder, I can highly appreciate this region’s importance for many North American migratory birds. Lying almost directly north of the Mississippi Flyway, enormous quantities of birds—both in terms of species and overall number—use this area for either summer breeding grounds or as stopover habitat along their northward routes, including some of our most threatened birds like the Canada Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Rusty Blackbird.
Here’s an Olive-sided Flycatcher I was able to film in the area:
I had the honor and privilege to be able to visit this sacred place this past summer and was able to tour some of the area that would be protected within this World Heritage Site, including a breathtaking flyover. In addition to meeting some amazing and inspiring people who have been working on this project for years, I was able to take some time outside to explore the area. Christian Artuso of Bird Studies Canada also took a trip up to the region this past year and wrote a terrific guest post on our blog about his experiences (including some great photos).
Here’s a video of one site within the region where you can hear some of the birds that I heard while on my trip (listen for: Chestnut-sided Warbler, Gray Jay, White-throated Sparrow, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet):
The proposed UNESCO Site, if eventually finalized, would become the first UNESCO Site designated under both natural and cultural heritage in Canada. The people who live there today have been living off that same land for thousands of years and, if finalized, will be able to for many years to come. And the nature speaks for itself.
A final decision should come from UNESCO by 2013.
Here are a couple additional videos I was able to take while on my trip to the region last summer…
Scenery during a boat ride up the Bloodvein River: