Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (L) waves as arrives to board his plane with his wife Laureen before departing on his annual tour of northern Canada, in Ottawa August 20, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
NORMAN WELLS, N.W.T. - Canada is getting a new national park in the wilds of the Northwest territories.
But the park is smaller than originally envisioned and part of it the has been left open to mining exploration.
"Land protection is very important for our people - we would have preferred a bigger park for sure," said Sahtu region Grand Chief Frank Andrew. "But we get what we got."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially announced the establishment of the Naats'ihch'oh National Park Reserve on Wednesday after flying into the isolated area on a float plane with media in tow the day before for a tour.
This new park enlarges the protected region already expanded in 2007, when the government added land to the Nahanni National Park Reserve, which now spans 30,000 square kilometres.
Naats'ihch'oh was some six years in the making, with the government conducting a series of consultations with the public and the Sahtu Dene and Metis people in the region.
Eventually, the smallest of three options put forward by the government was chosen - just under 5,000 square kilometres - an amount that Parks Canada documents say offers "minimal" protection.
Harper brushed off the concerns.
"I know this continues to be an item of discussion and park boundaries are reviewed from time to time as we've done with Nahanni and I'm just going to leave it at that for today," he told reporters.
The land is a habitat for grizzly bear and caribou in the region and the park designation will protect some of their population. It will also protect part of the South Nahanni River watershed.
The prime minister spent just a day in the Northwest Territories, after two days in the Yukon for his annual Arctic summer tour.
In the Yukon, he focused on the natural resource rush in the isolated northern territories, boasting it would drive unprecedented economic development in the next five years.
Conservationists have raised concerns about the speed of development, warning it may damage the environment.
On Thursday, Harper will be in Cambridge Bay in Nunavut.