October 29, 2004

Ambitious plan proposed for Quttinirpaaq National Park

High Arctic communities to join in effort to boost tourism, preserve Inuit culture

GREG YOUNGER-LEWIS

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A small group of Peary caribou graze in the southern part of the park. This small perky breed is highlighted several times in Parks Canada's draft management plan, which says that park officials need to keep monitoring the caribou's faltering numbers. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA AGENCY)

Parks Canada is joining forces with communities in the High Arctic to boost tourism, protect caribou, preserve qammaqs and fishing spots that are thousands of years old and investigate a mysterious species of Arctic char that appears to be land locked.

Last week, parks officials released a draft of their comprehensive parks management plan for Quttinirpaaq National Park on the tip of Ellesmere Island.

The plan, which is a first for Nunavut, is an obligation under federal law and the Nunavut land claims agreement, which asks for a 15-year strategy on running the park.

The 82-page blueprint comes after more than 15 years of on-again, off-again planning, since the park was created as a federal reserve in 1988.

Normally, a federal park would have a management plan five years after the area was declared a national park. In this case, officials say they had to postpone consultation with Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay until after the Nunavut land claim negotiations and Inuit Impact Benefits Agreements were finished.

However, some of the still-unofficial recommendations are already underway.

This summer, parks officials worked with Inuit students and the government of Nunavut in excavating two Thule qammaqs, and other artifacts left along the Ruggles River near Lake Hazen.

Rising water levels were eroding the site. The park warden and others suspect that global warming is the root cause.

Frances Gerstch, Quttinirpaaq's management planner, said the move to salvage the artifacts reflects Parks Canada's commitment to preserving Inuit culture in the region before it disappears.

But it also underlines the need for help from others.

"It's just so far away and so big that we can't protect this place on our own, and we can promote this place on our own," she said.

According to the draft plan, park workers will also increase their efforts to gather Inuit stories about the park, including Inuktitut names for various locations.

Gerstch warned that they won't be able to turn Quttinirpaaq into a beacon for tourists, similar to parks elsewhere in the country.

But she said they will continue doing surveys of visitors to see what could be improved, and will help promote the high Arctic communities in their orientation material.

Currently, the park gets about 135 tourists per year, mostly on a cruise ship, which doesn't necessarily stop in Resolute or Grise Fiord.

Park officials will focus on monitoring the health of the environment and animals living in the region, especially the Peary caribou, which many scientists consider to be an endangered species. A survey done this summer found only 26 caribou in a few days, in an area of the park where they normally graze.

Park employees will also start protecting a special kind of char in Lake Hazen that seem to behave like a land-locked fish, even though they could swim down a nearby river to go to the ocean.

To help their research, park officials will ban sport fishing in the park. They emphasized that the change will not affect any Inuit harvesting rights.

The sport fishing ban affects up to 44 people who apply for licences in the park every year.

Gerstch admitted the ban contradicts the advice of some Inuit, who say that fishing a lake improves the health of the fish.

The draft plan, assembled by two Parks Canada officials and three Inuit volunteers, now needs approval from the park's management committee, composed of six Inuit volunteers.

The plan, expected to be finalized by spring 2005, also needs the approval of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and the federal government.

 

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