Three New National Wildlife Areas in Nunavut!

I just came back from an event here in Ottawa where Environment Minister John Baird announced that three new national wildlife areas will be established in Nunavut!

More than 450,000 hectares of Arctic wilderness in Nunavut, including one globally significant Important Bird Area, will be protected at three sites located on the northeast side of Baffin Island: Niginganiq (Isabella Bay); Qaqulluit (Cape Searle); and Akpait (Reid Bay).

This is great news for Canada’s birds, biodiversity and the cause of wilderness preservation. Two of Canada’s Important Bird Areas are found within the Qaqulluit and Akpait NWAs announced today. This means critical breeding and feeding grounds for millions of migratory birds will be preserved.

The Inuit people are to be congratulated for pushing to have these sites protected. All the Inuit speakers at the announcement referred to the need to protect the birds and other species of wildlife. Their ancestors were conservationists thousands of years before the term was ever invented. They were clear that they wanted to pass this legacy onto future generations. It was inspiring.

Akpait National Wildlife Area is the home to over one percent of the world population of Thick-billed Murre (about 200,000) as well as large numbers of Northern Fulmar and Black-legged Kittiwakes. It is unusual for the eastern arctic, in that it is one of only two locations where Thick-billed Murres, Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes breed together.

At Qaqulluit National Wildlife Area, the two rock towers of Cape Searle support approximately 100,000 pairs of nesting Northern Fulmar, the largest colony in Canada and 33% of the Canadian population. Fulmars arrive at the colonies by mid-April and leave by early October.

While Niginganiq NWA on Baffin Island isn’t identified as an Important Bird Area, it does contain critical summer habitat for the eastern Arctic population of Bowhead Whales.

Established and protected under the Federal Canada Wildlife Act, each NWA is nationally significant for migratory birds, wildlife, or ecosystems at risk, or represents rare or unusual wildlife habitat. Every one of them protects water resources, filters the air, and provides ecological services that benefit all forms of life, including ourselves.

Nature Canada has long argued that National Wildlife Areas are an essential tool for protecting Canada’s migratory birds and endangered species. And while we are extremely pleased to see the Government take the all important first step of officially designating three new wildlife areas, there must also be a commitment to provide the ongoing funding required to properly manage the entire system of National Wildlife Areas in Canada well into the future.

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.

As our staff ecologist Ted Cheskey recently wrote in an open letter published in several newspapers across Canada:

Canada’s network of National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries contains about half as much land as our national parks system, but operates on less than one percent of the budget. Because of this neglect and lack of resources all NWAs face pressure from development, harmful public uses, pollution, poaching and invasive species. With an election looming in the not-so-distant future, now is the time to ask the politicians and the candidates the hard questions about this important part of Canada’s natural heritage.

Are our representatives in Ottawa ready to ante-up the required resources to get our national wildlife areas off life-support? Estimates from inside sources suggest $35 million per year are needed to sustain the system. Challenge your candidates to take a position!