Buffer zone could help protect Gros Morne National Park, group says

Published on March 25, 2015

Gros Morne National Park has no buffer zone and is at risk of damage from petroleum development companies working near the park, says a national environmental group.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has sent representatives from St. John’s and Ottawa, along with Gros Morne community members, to meet with members of the Newfoundland and House of Assembly. Their meeting will involve whether or not the national park requires a buffer zone and the amount of space the buffer zone should have.

“As a starting point, we at CPAWS recommend the Government of Newfoundland and Labra­dor commit to implementing the world heritage committee 2014 recommendation to create a buffer zone around Gros Morne and to work with the federal government to initiate a collaborative process to determine what area the buffer zone should cover, what activities should be restricted and how it could be implemented,” said Suzanne Dooley, co-executive director at CPAWS.

In 2013, Shoal Point Energy lost a $1-million deposit related to its fracking proposal near Gros Morne National Park after attracting significant public criticism.

After the proposal, the government suspended the company’s activity until enough research could be done on how the work would affect Gros Morne National Park.

A buffer zone would keep the petroleum company and any other companies with extractive activity intentions from working the land within the park or the zone around the park.

“Right now, there’s no standard buffer zone or figuration of what it should look like, how big it should be. Every world heritage site is different because the design of the buffer zone depends on what we would call an outstanding universal value. Basically, (it’s) depending on what needs to be done and what it’s meant to protect. We need to communicate with all stakeholders to figure out what that would be,” said Dooley.

In the past two years, support for the buffer zone has gone beyond CPAWS. Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, more than 30 business owners from the Gros Morne area, 32 prominent Canadians and 3,500 individuals have written letters and signed petitions.

The CPAWS delegation is calling on the provincial governemnt to commit to implementing the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) recommendation for a buffer zone.

Protective buffer zones are now standard practice for World Heritage Sites.

Gros Morne National Park was created four decades ago. During that time, local communities have used the park’s natural beauty and wildlife to build a thriving tourism economy in the Gros Morne region.

CPAWS hopes for the successful implementation of the buffer zone in order to main the tourism economy and protect the communities, the land and the wildlife.

“We’re hoping Newfoundland and Labrador will move forward in the process and speak with the federal government to start the process of designing and talking about what direction a buffer zone should go,” said Dooley.

By Erich Engert

Special to The Telegram