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Feasibility study will determine the status of protecting Manitoba’s Seal River Watershed

The Seal River Watershed is one of the is one of the few large remaining intact watersheds in the world. Spanning thousands of kilometres of land in northern Manitoba, it could soon become protected land.

Leaders of several First Nations, the federal government, and the province of Manitoba agreed to a feasibility assessment study alongside the Seal River Watershed Alliance on Thursday. The study is expected to explore the possibility of designating the land as an Indigenous protected and conserved area, along with the possibility of including a national park reserve.

Portions of the watershed are already protected by three Manitoba wilderness parks and an ecological reserve.

In a release on Thursday, the government of Canada said that such a designation would aid its goal of protecting 30 per cent of lands and waters nationwide by 2030. More specifically, about 0.4 per cent or 42,808 kilometre square would go towards that goal — roughly the size of Denmark.

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The Seal River Watershed measures 50,000 square kilometres.

Steven Guilbeault, minister of environment and climate change, said this is a step towards the government’s goal. And it’s a step taken in “partnership with Indigenous nations and the provinces and territories.”

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“This secures one of the largest carbon sinks needed to fight climate change, critical habitat for a wide range of northern wildlife, and preserves the land on which Indigenous nations depend,” said Guilbeault. “We still have a number of steps to go, but this sets us on the path for the long-term protection of the incredible Seal River Watershed for current and future generations.”

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The federal government defines a carbon sink as being able to absorb carbon dioxide through trees, soils, mosses, and phytoplankton — tiny plants and plantlike organisms living in water.

The release also noted that the watershed flows into the Hudson Bay and is home to the beluga Wales and at risk species, including wolverines, polar bears and grizzly bears, barren-ground caribou, and olive-sided flycatchers. Harbour seals, the watershed’s namesake, can be found “as far as 200 kilometres inland” from the watershed, according to the release.

Manitoba premier Wab Kinew said that by working together, governments and Indigenous leadership are ensuring a “safer, cleaner, and healthier vision for Manitoba’s lands and waters for generations to come.” Echoing his statement, Stephane Thorassie, executive director of the Seal River Watershed Alliance, said that First Nations involved in the process are pushing for their right to care for the land and its waters.

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“…(I)n the process, we are strengthening our cultures, our languages, habitat for the caribou, the regional economy, and the commitments made by the province and federal governments. (The) agreement shows that Nation-to-Nation-to-Nation partnerships generate benefits for all,” said Thorassie.

The federal government noted that the feasibility study will include a public engagement process. It will also provide temporary protection for the area against mineral exploration.

The Seal River corridor from the junction at the North and South Seal Rivers, at Shethanei Lake, to Hudson Bay.

Click to play video: 'Indigenous-led study of Seal River Watershed important step towards preservation, executive director says'

Indigenous-led study of Seal River Watershed important step towards preservation, executive director says

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