Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut March 07, 2012 - 2:16 pm

Nunavut government serious about protecting the fossil forest: minister

“We do really want to protect that site"

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
Nunavut wants to protect the ancient fossil forest on Axel Heiberg Island, where you can see the remnants of trees which once grew in the polar regions, Nunavut's environment minister James Arreak said March 6 in the territorial legislature. (FILE PHOTO)
Nunavut wants to protect the ancient fossil forest on Axel Heiberg Island, where you can see the remnants of trees which once grew in the polar regions, Nunavut's environment minister James Arreak said March 6 in the territorial legislature. (FILE PHOTO)

Protection is on the way, slowly, to the unique and ancient fossil forest on Nunavut’s Axel Heiberg Island.

That can’t come too soon to many people in Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord, who are worried about uncontrolled visits from cruise ships, said Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott in the Nunavut legislature March 6.

And they’re also concerned about lack of monitoring and enforcement by the Nunavut government during these visits, said Elliott, asking James Arreak, Nunavut’s environment minister, how his department plans to ensure the protection of the forest which grew there millions of years ago.

Arreak acknowledged that area, known as the fossil forest, due to its hundreds of mummified, fossilized tree trunks, is “of great national importance.”

Some 50 million years ago, a forest of towering trees thrived on Axel Heiberg, then died back and was buried under the sandy soil of the Geodetic Hills.

Although the Greely expedition found fossil forests on Ellesmere Island in the late 1880s, the fossil forest on Axel Heiberg was only spotted 25 years ago.

Since then, it’s been studied by several research teams, dug up by a group of American scientists in 1999, and left unprotected.

But Arreak said Nunavut continues to study how best to protect the fossil forest, which lies outside the borders of Quttinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere Island — possibly by setting up a territorial park.

The park even has a Inuktitut name: Napaaqtulik, where there are trees.

“Apparently passengers were starting to grab artifacts and souvenirs and a lot of the ancient forests and leaves were taken by these passengers. As they’re working towards a process of making it into a park, once it attains that status, then the protection will apply,” Arreak told the assembly March 6 in response to Elliott’s questioning.

A GN-commissioned report on fossil sites on Axel Heiberg Island and Ellesmere Island has been completed, Arreak said, promising to table this report in the legislature.

“We do really want to protect that site [the fossil forest], and it is a subject of interest for many people worldwide. At this point in time, we will be looking to try to ensure it has protection status prior to any development proposals in that area,” he said.

But Daniel Shewchuk, Nunavut’s previous environment minister, warned that it could take at least 10 more years before the fossil forest becomes a territorial park.

About $300,000 has already gone into various studies on the park.

But the Nunavut government intends to protect the fossil forest, Arreak said.

“We are currently doing a review of the process, and it has been completed in December. Once we have the details of the final report, we will table them in the House,” he said.

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