Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut November 02, 2012 - 11:08 am

Nunavut moves closer to protecting Axel Heiberg’s ancient fossil forest

"We need to protect that island because people have been collecting petrified trees"

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
Scoured by wind and subject to melt, the fragile remnants of a 45-million-year-old fossil forest on Axel Heiberg Island are completely unprotected from the elements and curious visitors. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
Scoured by wind and subject to melt, the fragile remnants of a 45-million-year-old fossil forest on Axel Heiberg Island are completely unprotected from the elements and curious visitors. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Within three years, a new territorial park may protect the fossil forest on Axel Heiberg Island in Nunavut’s High Arctic.

That was the update from Nunavut’s culture and language minister, James Arreak, on Nov. 1 to MLAs meeting in the Nunavut legislature’s committee of the whole.

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

This name recognizes the rare remnants of the ancient forest which grew 45 million years ago on Axel Heiberg, which Arreak said last March are “of great national importance.”

There, you can still see the trunks and wood from the towering trees which grew and then died back before they were 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 1999visited by many tourists and left unprotected.

“There are already tourists going up to the Napaaqtulik Park and we need to protect that island because people have been collecting petrified trees from that island. Once it becomes a park and if everyone is aware of it being a park, there will be tourists going up there and not just Nunavummiut will be visiting the park,” said Arreak responding to a question from Amittuq MLA Louis Tapardjuk who said wanted to know who would visit the part.

Among the next steps: to negotiate and impact and benefits agreement for the future park.

The community’s MLA, Ron Elliott, said “I think, especially my constituents in Grise Fiord are extremely happy that the Government of Nunavut has taken the time and energy to look at the park, make sure that the boundaries are in the right place.

“The community definitely would like to see preservation of that area,” he said.

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