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Why We Should Protect The Fraser River Estuary
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Why We Should Protect The Fraser River Estuary

Written by Nature Canada’s writing intern, Gabriel Planas The Fraser River Estuary is a large area of interconnected marine, estuarine, freshwater and agricultural habitats, near Vancouver. With almost 17,000 hectares of wetland, the estuary supports a variety of  habitats such as  salt and  estuarine marshes, mudflats, and deep tidal waters. These habitats are crucial to the 560 species found in the Fraser River Estuary. Killer Whales, Townsend Moles, and even Sockeye Salmon depend on this area for migration and residential purposes. Some species, such as the Western Sandpiper, depend on the region so heavily that roughly 500,000 Western Sandpipers visit the mud flats of Roberts Bank every day. Sockeye Salmon is  the most important commercial species among the hundreds found in the Fraser River Estuary. An estimated 10 million salmon make their way back to the Fraser Estuary every year. While this may seem impressive, due to warming waters, pollution, overfishing and the spread of farmed fish parasites, these numbers are dropping. Image of sockeye salmonUnfortunately, the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of  Fraser River Estuary habitats impact more than just the populations of salmon. Being home to Canada’s third largest urban center that functions on the largest port in the region poses a clear danger to the Estuary, as human populations are estimated to grow to 1.4 million by 2040. This growth in population has influenced current and proposed urban and industrial developments to use land formerly inhabited by local wildlife. Additionally, the conversion of open agricultural fields to berry crops, greenhouses and other intensive uses has reduced farmland habitats used by waterfowl, shorebirds and owls. The push to build the Kinder-Morgan pipeline and increase the volume of crude oil and the amount of Diluted Bitumen being transported through the region  also creates risk for the health of the Estuary. The amount of tanker traffic in the Salish Sea near the Estuary  is expected to rise dramatically, driving up the risk of oil spills drastically. Additionally, Diluted Bitumen extracted from tar sands and transported through the pipeline is considered more toxic and far more destructive to the environment than crude oil, which makes the  prospect of a pipeline or tanker spill even more worrisome. Difficulties for the Fraser River Estuary are not limited to systemic issues, the introduction of foreign species to habitats and recreational disturbances contribute to the loss of habitats within the Fraser River Estuary. It is important for us, as humans, to understand the kinds of consequences our actions can cause. Nature Canada is dedicated to spreading the word about  these at-risk areas and advocating for their protection. Check out our proposed protected areas page to learn more about these unique habitats and what we are doing to ensure a future for them.

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Proposed National Wildlife Area: Lac St. Pierre
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Proposed National Wildlife Area: Lac St. Pierre

Written by intern Gabriel Planas. What is it? Lac St.-Pierre is a widening of the St. Lawrence River 75 Km downstream from Montreal and about 120 km from Quebec City.  Lac St. Pierre is considered the furthest inland where there is still a distinct tidal effect. The lake is shallow, rarely reaching depths greater than 3m.  Aquatic plants are abundant with many species such as Water Celery. These factors make Lac St. Pierre excellent habitat for fish species at risk such as Lake Sturgeon, Copper Red Horse and Striped Bass. Lac St. Pierre has four IBAs that provide habitat for tremendous numbers of waterfowl and other species.  Between 500,000 and one million Greater Snow Geese annually migrate over lac St. Pierre, most of them stopping for many days. [caption id="attachment_37178" align="alignright" width="470"] Great Blue Heron[/caption] On an island on the west side of the Lac is one of the largest heronries in North America, with over one thousand pairs of Great Blue Herons, as well as populations of Black-crowned Night Heron and Great Egret. The wetland contain significant numbers of the at-risk Least Bittern, and the lake also supports continentally significant numbers of waterfowl such as Black Scoter. Some of the lake’s wetlands are also believed to be a significant roost site for swallow species prior to their fall migrations to the south. Issues: There are a number of issues facing Lac St. Pierre that have affected water quality and wildlife habitat. Oil or chemical spills from ships using the St. Lawrence Seaway which passes directly through Lac St. Pierre, is a constant threat due to the high volume of shipping. Dredging of sediments in Lac St. Pierre to keep the lanes open has damaged and destroyed fish and mollusk habitat and released chemicals and heavy metals into the water, exceeding safety limits. Surface water tests often find high amounts of metals such as aluminum, chromium, copper and Iron. Intensive agricultural operations around Lac St. Pierre release fertilizers and other chemicals into the numerous tributaries emptying into Lac St. Pierre resulting in serious pollution issues. Extensive wetlands around the lake have been drained for conversion to agricultural resulting in loss of wetland habitat, impacting migratory bird and fish; populations of Pickerel and yellow perch. What is being done? On the bright side, the importance of Lac St. Pierre to nature conservation is recognized. The area has four IBAs (Important Bird Area). The area is also part of the Lac St.-Pierre Biosphere Reserve, as designated by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The Biosphere Reserve is aimed at engaging people in environmental and educational activities to help in its conservation. Additionally, the RAMSAR Convention, which aims to help the conservation and management of wetlands, has recognized this area as a wetland of international importance.  The Quebec and Federal governments recognize Lac St. Pierre as a high priority conservation area.   Despite the best of intentions, protection of this area primarily only extends to bird populations or limited wetland conservation projects. Nature Canada supports efforts to protect Lac St. Pierre as a National Wildlife Area.

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St. Raphael Signature Site
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St. Raphael Signature Site

This blog is written by Eric Davidson. In the late 1990s, the Ontario government designated the St. Raphael Signature Site located near Sioux Lookout in northern Ontario under Ontario’s Living Legacy. The Signature Site includes both the 89,000 ha St. Raphael Provincial Park and the 63,000 ha Miniss Enhanced Management Area, where logging continues to be authorized. [caption id="attachment_26414" align="alignright" width="234"]caribou bull Wayne Sawchuck Photo of a Woodland Caribou[/caption] The Signature Site is home to many wildlife species, including:

  • Woodland Caribou, Moose, Wolf, Wolverine, Black Bear, Pine Marten and Lynx.
  • Bald Eagle, Osprey and a variety of waterfowl.
  • Yellow Pickerel (Walleye), Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, Whitefish and Lake Trout.
Several varieties of pine, spruce, birch and aspen occur in upland areas; wetter areas include black spruce swamps, fens and marshes. A strand of red pine near the shores of Hooker Lake include trees of provincial significance on account of their age and location. They are further north than what is usual for this species. The park contains routes for canoeing, swimming, and snowmobiling, as well as six tourist outpost camps. There is also a resort operating near De Lesseps Lake, with an abutting airstrip. The Miniss Enhanced Management Area (EMA) is divided into three parcels that are separated by portions of St. Raphael Provincial Park. Surveys from 2000 to 2004 show that caribou uses the EMA in winter. However, the caribou also makes use of lands outside the Signature Site, indicating that further measures may be needed to protect these additional habitats. The Woodland Caribou Woodland Caribou occurs in Canada’s boreal region from Newfoundland to Yukon. Woodland Caribou need space—the median area taken up by a herd of Woodland Caribou is around 9,000 km2. The thin distribution of caribou is an important factor in helping them to avoid predators. Caribou are the only large mammal that survives by eating lichens, which can make up between 60 and 70 percent of their diet. To learn more about the Woodland Caribou, be sure to check out our Species Spotlight here. You can learn about the other areas in Canada that we propose to be protected here! 
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Why the Suffield National Wildlife Area Matters
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Why the Suffield National Wildlife Area Matters

[caption id="attachment_29148" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Asma Hassan Asma Hassan, Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog is written by Asma Hassan. The Suffield National Wildlife Area (NWA) was created in 2003 as a sanctuary for endangered prairie wildlife. Located in Alberta, the area is approximately 458 km2 and consists of several types of habitats including grasslands and sand dunes. The site has been the topic of debate in the recent past due to proposals to drill for oil and gas in the NWA. Nature Canada proposes that this NWA should be expanded to protect 410 km2  of adjacent community pastures that also include important grasslands habitat. What is so special about the Suffield NWA? The Suffield NWA is a unique protected area in terms of its management, the diverse habitats it provides and the wildlife that resides there. Some of the species living in the Suffield NWA are either endangered or threatened in the prairies generally, but are present at Suffield on account of its various habitats, some of which are rare. There are currently 20 at-risk wildlife species such as  Ord's Kangaroo Rat, Western Harvest Mouse and Burrowing Owl living in this particular NWA. In addition to being an important habitat for at-risk wildlife, the Suffield NWA is also home to at-risk plant species.Image of ord's kangaroo rat Who manages this NWA? This is where it gets a bit unusual. The management of the Suffield NWA has been delegated to the Department of National Defence by Environment and Climate Change Canada. To further explain this, we will need to go back in time a little bit. The land has been under environmental protection since the Canadian Forces Base Suffield was established in 1971. Apart from authorized research, the public are not permitted to visit this NWA. This measure has been taken to ensure that this fragile ecosystem is not disturbed. What are all the debates about? Development may be authorized in the Suffield NWA under the Canada Wildlife Act despite its status as a protected area. In 2009, EnCana proposed the construction of 1,275 natural gas wells in the area. The project was turned down by then-Environment Minister Jim Prentice in accordance with the recommendations of a Joint Review Panel due to the adverse effects the project would have had on wildlife, The Panel’s recommendations still allow for proposals of a similar nature to be brought forward in future. Why does this matter? Due to its size, the Suffield NWA is able to support numerous at-risk prairie species and potentially aid in their recovery. The expansion of this area is imperative because it would further benefit these species on a scale that is both impressive and rare. Conversely, any action to build potentially harmful infrastructures could have a significant negative impact on Canada’s increasingly threatened grasslands ecosystems. To learn more about the areas that are proposed to be protected, click here.

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Scott Islands Marine Area proposed for protection
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Scott Islands Marine Area proposed for protection

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] The federal government has published a notice of intent and proposed regulations to protect the Scott Islands and surrounding waters just north of Vancouver Island as a Marine National Wildlife Area. These islands and waters are one of the most productive and biodiverse marine ecosystems on Canada’s west coast with the highest concentration of breeding seabirds. The area is an internationally recognized Important Bird Area, hosting over one million nesting seabirds annually, and providing important habitat for 40% of BC’s seabirds, including 90% of Canada’s Tufted Puffins, 95% of Pacific Canada’s Common Murres, 50% of the world’s Cassin’s Auklets, and 7% of the global population of Rhinoceros Auklets. The Marine National Wildlife Area would include 11,546 km² of marine area, but not the provincially protected lands of the Scott Islands. Public comments received during a 30-day period following December 31, 2016 will be considered in finalizing the regulations.

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A Truly Green Proposal
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A Truly Green Proposal

[caption id="attachment_26918" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Blair Scott Blair Scott,
Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog is written by Guest Blogger, Blair Scott.  Prince Edward County has been described as Ontario’s go-to ecotourism destination. Its distinctive soils give life to renowned and award-winning wines! Its high proportion of globally-rare alvar habitat supports an abundance of specially-adapted plants and wildflowers, such as the endangered Four-leaved Milkweed. It is home to a globally-recognized Important Bird Area (IBA), and its Prince Edward Point site has seen a recorded 298 bird species over the years! Furthermore, the south shore contains at least 30 of Ontario’s listed species-at-risk. In sum, it is an excellent candidate for protective environmental status! Located about two hours east from Toronto, ON, Prince Edward County’s south shore is one of few Lake Ontario patches to remain free from disturbance – and this freedom has been the pivotal factor keeping its flourishing biodiversity in-tact. Nestled within its 279.31 square kilometre territory are several sites of integral ecological value:

Click here for a full gallery of critical species-at-risk on Prince Edward County’s south shore!Image of species at risk near PRince Edward County Nature Canada is looking to initiate either a National Wildlife Area (NWA) or a National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) on the south shore of Prince Edward County. It is understood that the region’s current IBA-designation does not serve as sufficient protection against industrial developments. Prince Edward County residents were expressly concerned about the detrimental impacts wind turbine development would have on the county’s ecosystem. Specifically, they cited the risks it would pose to the threatened Blanding’s Turtle and the thousands of migratory birds that pass through the area. Their environmentally-conscious determination gave rise to Save the South Shore – a local movement against wind turbine construction on the south shore. Luckily, the concerted efforts of the Board of the Prince Edward County South Shore Conservancy, along with the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, led to a halt on the project in the spring of 2015. After learning about the Save the South Shore movement, I was left with the content feeling of knowing that there are people out there who care more about preserving what’s left than furthering human development. These residents were not opposed to renewable energy; they simply saw biodiversity and conservation as a more important and necessary priority. Ultimately, they felt that Prince Edward County – with all of its tourist attractions and treasures – was the wrong place for this scale of a project. Nature Canada is adamant that a more official conservation status be made to protect the south shore of Prince Edward County. In doing so, it is hoped that industries will not look to places of high ecological significance to construct their projects – even if alternative, more sustainable endeavours, like green energy, are on their agendas. In the arena of strategic interpretation, vague environmental statuses, like “Important Bird Area,” afford too much wiggle-room. Therefore, it is imperative that Canada ensures land designations match the real value at stake.
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Baie de L’Île-Verte & the Cacouna Marsh
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Baie de L’Île-Verte & the Cacouna Marsh

[caption id="attachment_26918" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Blair Scott Blair Scott,
Professional Writing Intern[/caption] This blog was written by Writing Intern Blair Scott. In 1980, Environment Canada declared Quebec’s Baie de L’Île-Verte a National Wildlife Area (NWA). The designated area comprises roughly 322-406 hectares of marsh wetlands (les zones humides des marais) that serve as a critical habitat for many endangered species and unique, life-supporting flora. While Environment Canada leads the management of this NWA, several other organizations have endowed the region with their own terms of ecological significance. In 1987, the Ramsar Convention designated Baie de L’Île-Verte a Wetland of International Significance,” and in 1986, L’Île-Verte Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) was officially recognized; consequently, the region has been listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Baie de L’Île-Verte is located on “the south shore of the Upper Estuary of the St. Lawrence River 30km northeast of Rivière-du-Loup” (Environment Canada, 2015). It is home to southern Quebec’s largest sprawl of Spartina marshes, which provides crucial habitat for the American Black Duck. This critical link of dependence catalyzed the need for protective action and special wetland status. The importance of this area is not exclusive to any one species, however; over 130 bird species take refuge in its hybrid terrestrial-aquatic habitat, with approximately 35,000 birds migrating through its territory every spring, and 10,000 passing through in the fall. Over thirteen species listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act are found here, including Peregrine Falcon, Short-eared Owl and Bobolink. [caption id="attachment_24471" align="alignright" width="253"]Image of a female Bobolink on a branch Photo of a female Bobolink by Kelly Colgan Azar[/caption] The stringent protection and monitoring of Baie de L’Île-Verte has ensured that public access to this location will not compromise conservational priorities. But the hard work of environmental stewardship is seldom complete, and human development seems to encroach upon every ostensibly-pristine paradise. Unlike its NWA-protected neighbour, Marais de Gros-Cacouna (Cacouna Marsh) has not been granted the conservation exemptions afforded by such status. This is unfortunate as this region of the St. Lawrence is invaluable to Canada’s threatened Beluga whale population – providing the only known breeding grounds for this beautiful marine mammal. While hunting during the 19th and 20th centuries was the impetus driving the mass decline of this species, modern-day pollution – in the form of chemical pollution and oil spills, especially – poses a great threat if adequate protections are not put into place. According to IBA statistics, the Cacouna Marsh is one of the three most vital shorebird sites on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. It, too, has been designated as an Important Bird Area, but has yet to gain the conservation justice it deserves. Notable bird species observed here include the Black-bellied Plover, Nelson’s Sparrow, Wilson’s Phalarope and Marsh Wren. Key fish species include the American Eel, American Shad, Atlantic Herring, Atlantic Sturgeon, Capelin, Rainbow Smelt and Stickleback. In light of these facts, Nature Canada is proposing a westward expansion of the current NWA safeguarding Baie de L’Île-Verte, so that it includes the Cacouna Marsh Important Bird Area site. You can learn about more areas that are proposed to be protected here

Wetland Facts:

What do wetlands have to do with water? These amazing ecosystems have adapted to low oxygen levels that would be unfit for a large number of species, and in spite of this, act as intermediary sinks that filter our water. Wetlands are also factory powerhouses pumping out gazillions of insects! These, in turn, feed hundreds of thousands of animals who are all intricately connected in a complex web of trophic levels. In addition, wetlands are often connected to oceans, lakes and rivers, serving as canals for anadromous fish (i.e. fish who migrate between saltwater and freshwater locations: living most of their lives in saline waters, but preferring to spawn in freshwaters). Wetlands come in many shapes and sizes: marshes, bogs, fens, swamps, wet meadows and vernal pools – to name a few! For more information on the ecological services that wetlands provide, or the St. Lawrence wetlands network, click here!
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What You Didn’t Know About Manawagonish Island
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What You Didn’t Know About Manawagonish Island

[caption id="attachment_29148" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Asma Hassan Asma Hassan, Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog was written by guest blogger Asma Hassan.  Manawagonish Island is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area or 'IBA' located just southeast of New Brunswick. The island has a rich history with regards to the species that inhabit it and the habitat it provides. The Nature Trust of New Brunswick has owned the island since 1992 when the original owners donated the land to the organization. So what is so interesting about the history of Manawagonish Island? It is a significant research site for scientists. Scientists have been tracking seabirds on the island since as far back as 1940. One particular area of their study is the effect of pesticides on the seabird population of the island. The Canadian Wildlife Service, scientists at the New Brunswick Museum and a dedicated bird enthusiast named William Astle have made significant contributions to this topic. In addition to their research on pesticides, they have also studied the movement patterns of seabirds such as Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants. This specific study was conducted in 1984 using a banding method to track the movement of the seabirds. The results of the study suggest that both the Great Black-backed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants move northward into the Northumberland Strait after the breeding season. The research conducted by these researchers is available online for interested academics and fellow bird enthusiasts.Image of a Gadwall The island has undergone significant ecological changes in the past few decades. Once upon a time, Manawagonish Island was covered in beautiful spruce and fir trees, but changes in vegetation led to a significant decline in these trees. In order to create a hospitable environment for the island’s avian inhabitants, the Nature Trust actually constructed poles to substitute as trees for the purpose of nesting in 2007. There have been substantial changes in the island’s sea bird population. In 1948, two pairs of Great Blue Herons were recorded on Manawagonish Island and by 1979 there were at least 44 active nests. The number of Gadwall birds in Manawagonish Island has also been increasing since the early 1900s, though the population is still very small. The really interesting thing here is that the island was not even a known nesting place for Gadwall until the 1930s. Reports prepared by Astle and Donald McAlpine of the New Brunswick Museum also indicate a large increase in Great Black-backed Gulls since 1940. Manawagonish Island has a long history of providing a haven to the birds that have made the island their home. Though people are permitted to visit the island, they should take all necessary precautions so as not to disturb this sanctuary. It is an area that Nature Canada wants to see designated as a National Wildlife Area to provide federal protection to all species and habitats on the island. You can also learn about other proposed protected areas here.

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Brier Island and Offshore National Marine Conservation Area
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Brier Island and Offshore National Marine Conservation Area

This blog was written by guest blogger Claire Smith.  Image of Red-necked PhalaropeBrier Island and its offshore waters have long been distinguished for their seasonal role in hosting migrating birds. As one of the most significant Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in the Maritimes, it is considered a must-see attraction for many bird lovers. More than 100,000 birds are hosted on and around the island annually, belonging to over 331 different bird species. The island hosts the migrations of raptors, waterbirds and landbirds, and as well as an important segment of the North American population of Red and Red-necked Phalaropes. These two species of Phalaropes feed on zooplankton that concentrates in tidal streaks, which are caused by upwelling around underwater ledges. The birds are fortunate enough to find these tidal features at anywhere from six to sixteen kilometers off the shore of the island. Other important at-risk species found in the area are the North Atlantic Right Whale, Fin Whale and the Peregrine Falcon. These species would benefit greatly from the proposed National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA), a designation under Parks Canada’s protected areas system, which would run up to 15 km offshore. The survival of the Endangered Eastern Mountain Avens flower would also be greatly encouraged by the whole island’s status as a conservation area – one in which most human activities could continue without interruption. The entire Canadian population of the flower is found on Brier Island and the neighboring East Ferry Area of Digby Neck. It is estimated its total population is limited to 3200 plants, 95% of which are found on Brier Island. For unknown reasons, the only other place in the entire world that this beautiful wildflower can be found is in high altitude, wet areas of New Hampshire. Protecting this precious endangered species should be a priority for Canadians. [caption id="attachment_28890" align="alignleft" width="274"]Image of the Brier Island Lighthouse Brier Island Lighthouse by Dennis Jarvis (CC BY-SA 2.0)[/caption] Currently, the wildlife of the island is the focal point of several whale-watching and seabird-watching boat enterprises that are stationed in the island’s only community, Westport. Though these wildlife watching industries are regulated, there is some concern that too many boats doing too many trips per day throughout the summer months could begin to have a negative impact on the marine mammals and birds. A local fishery also exists on the island but it has decreased in size over time. The fishery may have impacted the colonial seabirds, as it supported a large seagull population. It may have also threatened the endangered Avens flower as large gull populations encourage the invasion of weeds and shrubs. The island, the bird species it hosts, and its surrounding aquatic life certainly qualify for, and would benefit from, official protection as an NMCA. Its conservation area status would help ensure its place as a natural marvel and thriving community of the Maritimes for years to come.  

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The Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary
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The Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary

[caption id="attachment_23655" align="alignleft" width="150"]Ellen Jakubowski, Guest Blogger Ellen Jakubowski,
Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog is written by guest blogger, Ellen Jakubowski.  This remote 52,000-square kilometre sanctuary, rich in natural and cultural history, remains a relatively undisturbed wilderness. Archaeological artifacts reveal its tundra and river valley were inhabited by Archaic humans as early as 6000 BC and later by Inuit and Dene peoples. The area was designated as a game sanctuary in 1927 in order to conserve its population of muskoxen. This protection has allowed the hairy ungulates and many other species to thrive in the area ever since. [caption id="attachment_28266" align="alignright" width="275"]Image of Thelon River Photo of the Thelon River. Photo taken by Cameron Hayne. (CC BY-SA 3.0)[/caption] The Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary’s landscape is unique in terms of what it offers wildlife. While its tundra, featuring heath, low shrubs and over 120 species of lichen, is typical to the Low Arctic ecoregion, it also boasts a surprising number of trees. The spruces, willows, and other trees nestled in the Thelon River valley and extending into the tundra serve as a northward expansion of the boreal forest. They support populations of beaver, moose and boreal-breeding birds like Northern Shrike and Yellow-rumped Warbler, which otherwise do not occur so far north of the tree line. The sanctuary is of special importance to certain large mammals: Barren-ground Caribou, who rely on it as a calving ground, muskoxen, who are year-round residents, and grizzly bears, who depend on its denning sites and food sources. The sanctuary is an alluring destination for outdoor adventurers seeking an untamed Arctic experience. Humans and wildlife alike should be able to enjoy its natural bounty into the future as long as disturbance continues to be minimized. Mining exploration and development were prohibited in the sanctuary in 1930 and have remained so ever since, even though deposits of uranium and other valuable minerals could be present. A current proposal would see the sanctuary expand into the Thelon River Important Bird Area, bringing this favoured breeding site under increased protection.

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