Peary caribou in Nunavut’s Qausuittuq National Park now have a healthier habitat thanks to the ongoing work of Parks Canada last summer. The Agency has now successfully completed the first phase to restore Peary caribou habitat damaged by drums and other waste left by exploration activities prior to the Park’s creation in 2015. Nearly 200 barrels were removed from the park resulting in restoration of the tundra for vital species-at-risk.

The Tidy Tundra: Healthy Herd project was part of Parks Canada’s Conservation and Restoration Program. As a recognized leader in conservation, and through its Conservation and Restoration Program, Parks Canada takes actions to preserve national parks and contribute to the recovery of species-at-risk.

Leah Pengelly works with students in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, to learn how they can help protect Peary Caribou. © Parks Canada – Jovan Simic

Located near Resolute Bay in Nunavut, Qausuittuq National Park protects approximately 11,000 square kilometres of Arctic glaciers, lands and water, including most of the northern part of Bathurst Island and the Governor General Islands to the west. With its rolling hills, marshy wetlands, low level plateaus and rich marine areas, the Park is also bordered to the north by the Nauyavaat (Seymour Island) Migratory Bird Sanctuary and the Nanuit Itillinga (Polar Bear Pass) National Wildlife Area to the south. Nauyavaat (Seymour Island) Migratory Bird Sanctuary and Nanuit Itillinga (Polar Bear Pass) National Wildlife Area are Environment and Climate Change Canada sites.

This ecologically rich zone of Canada’s Arctic is critical both to Inuit culture and the survival of the endangered Peary caribou, identified by the community of Resolute Bay as one of the most important reasons for establishing the national park. Other animals found in Qausuittuq National Park include: polar bear, Arctic wolf, Arctic fox, muskox and numerous bird species.

The Peary caribou population is listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, and an Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement signed between Parks Canada and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association prioritizes protection for the herd within Qausuittuq National Park.

By protecting these species and their habitat, Qausuittuq National Park supports Inuit who hold deep connections to the area through traditional harvesting and culture.

During the establishment of Qausuittuq National Park and the creation of its Draft Recovery Strategy for Peary Caribou, Inuit from Resolute Bay said they were concerned about pollution and waste left by earlier development, and its ongoing impact on the land and wildlife. Parks Canada shared these same concerns and acted to protect this important species and its habitat.

Removal of 194 barrels from the Park during the summer of 2017 is the initial phase of clean-up efforts, or Phase 1 of the Park’s Draft Recovery Strategy. The drums were slung by helicopter from the Park to the nearest landing strip, where they were collected by Twin Otter aircraft and flown to Resolute Bay for cleaning, crushing and eventual removal to Southern Canada.

All known barrels were removed by the end of the summer season. Parks Canada and stakeholders celebrated this important milestone with a community feast held in Resolute Bay earlier this year.

During that time, Parks Canada and Inuit elders from the community visited a local school and shared the importance of conservation efforts in Qausuittuq National Park with local youth.

Inuit knowledge, or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, continues to hold a central role in the protection and management of Qausuittuq National Park. Decisions on park management are jointly achieved with the advice and guidance provided by the Qausuittuq Park Management Committee, comprised of community members from Resolute Bay, appointed by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Government of Canada.

Parks Canada maintains strong ties in Resolute Bay through consultations with the hamlet’s local Hunters and Trappers Organization, elected Hamlet Council and members of the public.

Consultations with the community will continue to plan for the longer term clean-up, Phase II, under the leadership of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, with the aim of removing all the waste and remediating those sites.

Through establishment and management of Qausuittuq National Park, Inuit and Parks Canada continue to work together to ensure the protection of traditional Inuit lands and its use for current and future generations.