Canada Preserves Arctic Wilderness for Whales, Bears, Birds

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, September 4, 2008 (ENS) – The Canadian government has announced that it will protect more than 450,000 hectares (1,737 square miles) of Arctic wilderness in the Nunavut Territory, including a globally significant Important Bird Area, by establishing three new National Wildlife Areas.

Northern fulmar (Photo by Ryan Shaw)

The protected areas are Niginganiq (Isabella Bay), Qaqulluit (Cape Searle) and Akpait (Reid Bay). All three sites are located on the northeast side of Baffin Island.

“This is great news for Canada’s birds, biodiversity and the cause of wilderness preservation,” said Julie Gelfand, president of Nature Canada. “Two of Canada’s Important Bird Areas are found within the Qaqulluit and Akpait National Wildlife Areas. This means critical breeding and feeding grounds for millions of migratory birds will be preserved.”

Under the agreement, the Canadian government is committing $8.3 million.

“Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper and our government are delivering real results that will benefit not only our environment in the Arctic, but the people who live there,” said Environment Minister John Baird announcing the newly protected areas on August 22. “This is a real demonstration of our commitment to protect our species and their incredible habitat in the North.”

The Niginganiq (nee geen ga nik) National Wildlife Area protects key bowhead whale habitat, and the Akpait (ak pa eet) and Qaqulluit (ka koo loo eet) National Wildlife Areas near Broughton Island are inhabited by seabirds including one of Canada’s largest colonies of thick-billed murres and Canada’s largest colony of northern fulmars.

These areas also are inhabited by walruses, seals and polar bears.

Bowhead whale in Arctic waters (Photo
by Arctic Al)

“Inuit began negotiations for the three National Wildlife Areas in addition to the two already established, and eight Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in Nunavut in 2001. Today’s historic signing with Minister Baird brings that work, along with the efforts to create the Niginganiq Wildlife Area, an internationally recognized bowhead whale sanctuary near Clyde River, to an end, and makes our years of struggles worthwhile. This is a big day for Inuit,” said James Eetoolook, acting president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., one of the five Innuit organizations that signed the agreement with the government of Canada.

“The funding that comes along with this agreement will result in long-lasting economic benefits for Inuit in the affected areas,” he said.

“Protecting the bowhead whales of Niginganiq has been a 26 year marathon effort,” said Mike Russill, chief executive of WWF-Canada. “We are grateful to the people of Clyde River for their patience and persistence, and we thank the government of Canada and Minister Baird for their dedication and commitment in pushing this finally over the finish line.”

Environmentalists are grateful for the newly protected areas but warn that ongoing government funding will be needed to manage them and the entire system of National Wildlife Areas in Canada.

“Currently nearly 12 million hectares of wilderness are being managed on less than $4 million dollars annually, which is a tiny fraction of what is needed to properly address management concerns and protect wildlife populations,” said Gelfand.

Inukshuk Inuit stone welcoming sign on
Baffin Island (Photo by Steve Fenech)

Once a place has been designated as a National Wildlife Area, natural features integral to the site are protected from disturbance, and activities considered harmful to species or their habitats are prohibited. Management activities include monitoring wildlife, maintaining and improving wildlife habitat, conducting periodic inspections, enforcing regulations, maintaining facilities, and developing management plans. Wildlife research and interpretation may take place in these areas, but require a permit.

In another recent announcement, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, pledged to permanently protect 225,000 square kilometres (86,872 square miles) of boreal forest in the northern area of the province. Covering more than 20 percent of Ontario’s total land mass, the area to be protected is roughly the same size as the United Kingdom.

McGuinty also announced a sweeping mining reform package that is unprecedented in North America in recognizing the role of First Nations and the need to share resource benefits with local communities.

Scientists around the world have been calling on Canadian governments at all levels to protect the boreal forest, which is under increasing pressure from logging, mining and oil and gas exploration.

The vast boreal region in northern Ontario represents 43 percent of the province’s land mass and has been identified as one of the world’s most significant and largest intact forest and wetland ecosystems.

Boreal forest is the world’s single-largest terrestrial carbon storehouse. The Canadian boreal forest alone stores 186 billion tons of carbon – equivalent to 27 years of the world’s carbon dioxide fossil fuel emissions.

It also contains the majority of North America’s fresh, unfrozen water and provides nesting grounds for billions of migratory songbirds and waterfowl. Half of North America’s birds are dependent on Canada’s boreal forest for their survival.

In May, the Quebec government announced that it will protect more than 18,000 square kilometres (6,949 square miles) of forest and wetlands in 23 new conservation areas. Fifteen of these new conservation areas are in the boreal zone.

The move will bring the province closer to its pledge to protect eight percent of its natural spaces from development by the end of 2008. The new conservation areas amount to more than one percent of Quebec’s total area and was the largest area of land protected in the province for more than 100 years.

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