McClelland Lake Wetlands One Step Closer to Destruction

Alberta Wilderness Association

News Release: July 20, 2006

Thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex, a boreal treasure and potential candidate for World Heritage Site status, is one step closer to destruction. Today the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal of the Federal Court of Appeal's ruling in Prairie Acid Rain Coalition et al v. Canada (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans).

"Not only does this decision rubberstamp the destruction of much of McClelland fen and the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex but also it pulls virtually all of the teeth out of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act," says Dr. Ian Urquhart, a University of Alberta political scientist who works on boreal forest conservation issues for AWA.

"Frankly, it allows federal officials to turn their backs on Parliament's intent to promote sustainable development, an intent explicitly identified in the Act," says Urquhart. "This is a very dark day for anyone who believes the federal government has a duty to perform rigorous, comprehensive environmental assessments."

At issue in the case is the interpretation by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) of what aspects of the Fort Hills project required a federal environmental assessment. The Fort Hills open pit mine and bitumen processing facility will sprawl across roughly 180 square kilometres (70 square miles) and will disrupt and destroy fish habitat, valuable migratory bird habitat and the traditional lands of the area's aboriginal peoples. Rather than subject the whole project to an environmental assessment DFO officials used their discretion under the Act to confine their attention to the destruction of fish habitat in Fort Creek - a very small part of the whole project.

"Effectively fisheries officials turned a blind eye to the much more serious ecological damage the project will have on the McClelland fen and McClelland Lake Wetland Complex," says Urquhart. "Nor were they prepared to recognize that the project's obvious impacts on traditional aboriginal lands and on migratory bird habitat justified a comprehensive federal environmental assessment. For all intents and purposes, the federal government abdicated its clear constitutional responsibilities for these matters to the Province of Alberta."

The MLWC, located 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, is composed of a large shallow lake, beautiful ancient patterned fens, and a series of twelve sinkhole lakes, all of which are provincially significant. It offers a combination of aesthetic beauty and ecological complexity that makes this area a very rare find both in Alberta and in Canada's boreal forest.

For more than a decade AWA has been urging government to protect these wetlands. Dr. Diana Horton, a botanist at the University of Iowa, has described the fen as the most extraordinary and spectacular she has ever seen - a world-class site. Dr. Richard Thomas, author of the definitive ecological analysis of Alberta's boreal forest, believes this gem has the potential to be designated as a World Heritage Site.

For further information contact:
Dr. Ian Urquhart: 780-432-0562
Dr. Shirley Bray, AWA: 403-270-2736

Photos of the MLWC are available at