Yukon North Slope plan seeks to conserve northernmost region of the territory

·4 min read
Ivvavik National Park is included in the Yukon North Slope region. A wildlife conservation and management plan is in the works for the region. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC - image credit)
Ivvavik National Park is included in the Yukon North Slope region. A wildlife conservation and management plan is in the works for the region. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC - image credit)

There's a management plan in the works for the Yukon North Slope, a vast region in the upper reaches of the territory that boasts rugged tundra, mountains and ocean coastline.

Once complete, the plan will ensure the next generation of Inuvialuit continue to carry out their rights on the land, said Billy Storr, the acting chair of the Wildlife Management Advisory Council for the Yukon North Slope, the organization behind the plan.

"The wildlife there is going to be protected and we'll be able to continue our cultural use of the land," he said.

The draft wildlife conservation and management plan puts forward several recommendations that seek to ensure land and wildlife remain healthy.

Recommendations include habitat protection, the creation of Indigenous protected and conserved areas, implementing a regional economic strategy, strengthening transboundary arrangements and efforts to address climate change.

"What's important about this plan is an attempt to fill in the hole in the doughnut of, you know, conservation regimes," said Lindsay Staples, the former chair of the council (Staples recently retired.)

The process stems from the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, a preeminent land claim signed in 1984 that, in part, provides for Inuvialuit participation on several co-management boards in their settlement region.

"The most significant users of the area do not live in the Yukon. But the fact that they live in the N.W.T. does not in any way diminish the strength of their attachment to the area." - Lindsay Staples

The Yukon North Slope is part of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and measures more than 18,000 square kilometres. There's also a swath of coastline that stretches 343 kilometres along the Beaufort Sea.

If you look at a map of Yukon, the North Slope is wedged between the Old Crow Flats and the territory's coastal plain.

"[The plan] is really going to give kind of recognition to the area and the use of the area for people whom many people in the Yukon don't know," Staples said.

"I mean, the most significant users of the area do not live in the Yukon. But the fact that they live in the N.W.T. does not in any way diminish the strength of their attachment to the area."

'A climate change hotspot'

The plan also addresses climate change, the impacts of which, the plan states, should be monitored, researched and mitigated.

"The warming climate is already changing the suite of species found in the region," the report says.

According to the plan, muskox, grizzly bears, bowhead whales and the Porcupine caribou herd, among others, are found in the area.

"Caribou are a key ecosystem driver, modifying landscapes, supporting predators, and cycling nutrients," the plan states. "They are the most important of the Yukon North Slope's wildlife species for Inuvialuit harvest."

It also says that habitat belonging to the Porcupine caribou herd is being "transformed" by climate change.

The plan recommends their habitat secure additional protection, particularly in Aullaviat/Aunguniarvik — a region in the eastern portion of the North Slope that has been withdrawn from development since 1980 (the western part of the slope is home to Ivvavik National Park, which comes with its own federally mandated conservation measures.)

Mackenzie Scott/CBC
Mackenzie Scott/CBC

The plan recommends that measures to manage and minimize greenhouse gas emissions are "incorporated into ongoing and planned Yukon North Slope activities and into assessment of development proposals."

Examples include proposals for offshore oil and gas exploration and development, which could damage permafrost and wetlands, the plan states.

"Quite frankly, in terms of the Canadian North, it's probably about as hard as it gets in terms of being a climate change hotspot," Staples said. "The level of landscape change and the effect on wildlife is dramatic.

[The plan] really provides a framework, a set of recommended initiatives that organizations and governments could look at and pursue in an attempt to meet the requirements of the area — not just for wildlife, but for people as well," he added.

Next steps

Now that a public feedback period is closed, attention will turn to coming up with a final recommended plan, Staples said, adding one will likely be finished in the fall.

The plan has limitations, however, he said.

"At the end of the day, it really comes up to the political will of, you know, of Indigenous governments and their organizations and the territorial and federal governments to kind of make good on these requirements."

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