Yukon Watershed Eyed For New National Park

The northern lights are shown over the confluence of the Peel River and Snake River in the Peel Watershed in the Yukon Territories/Tayu Hayward

Canada is exploring the feasibility of establishing a new national park in the Peel Watershed in the Yukon and in the traditional territories of the Gwich’in and the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun.

The watershed holds great cultural significance and is central to the traditions, cultures and ways of life for both the Gwich’in and the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun who have been caring for these lands and waters since time immemorial.

It is the habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd boasting a diverse landscape with free-flowing rivers, untouched boreal forest and deep river canyons. The forests are essential for sustaining boreal caribou as well as other iconic Canadian species including grizzly bears, peregrine falcons and moose. The canyons attract waterfowl, birds of prey and other migratory birds each spring, and the Peel River and its tributaries hold important spawning areas for whitefish and other fish species.

The area being considered includes the Peel River corridor, Turner Lake Wetlands and Caribou River which are identified for permanent protection under the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan.

A new national park in the Peel Watershed would permanently protect a portion of the Northern Boreal Plains Natural Region which is currently under-represented in the National Parks System Plan. It would permanently protect 3,000 square kilometres of land (an area more than half the size of Prince Edward Island), help sustain biodiversity, help fight the effects of climate change, and complement Canada’s commitment to conserving 30 per cent of lands and waters by 2030.

A national park — potentially the fourth in the Yukon — in the Peel Watershed would only be created with the full support the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun. It would be co-developed and co-managed with both nations as Parks Canada is committed to a system of national heritage places that recognizes and honors the historic and contemporary contributions of Indigenous peoples, their histories and cultures, as well as the special relationships Indigenous peoples have with ancestral lands and waters.

“The Gwich’in have lived in these areas for thousands of years and we continue to exercise our traditional ways of subsistence and living out on these lands,” Ken Kyikavichik, Grand Chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, said in a news release. “As we work to reconnect our future generations to this vital landscape, it is our intention that a national park can assist in reconciling our relationship with Canada by sharing this unique ecosystem to Canada and abroad through preservation and the creation of a land-based economy in our traditional territory.”

Steven Guilbeault — Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada — noted that “the impacts of climate change are felt around the world but are even more pronounced in the north.”

Yukon’s Minister of Environment Nils Clarke said “climate change, biodiversity loss, and human impacts on the environment require bold action to safeguard the Yukon’s diverse ecosystems, culture, and traditions.”

The Peel Watershed covers 74,000 square kilometres, from its headwaters in the Yukon to its confluence with the Mackenzie River near Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories.

The Government of Yukon, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and the Gwich’in Tribal Council are co-leading the implementation of the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan that was approved in 2019.

During implementation of the plan, a northern portion of the Peel Watershed was identified by the Gwich’in Tribal Council as a potential candidate for a new national park.

The Canada-Yukon Nature Agreement took effect in April 2023. Through this agreement, the Government of Canada is supporting the Government of Yukon and Indigenous governments to work towards initiatives related to conservation, protected areas and biodiversity.

The Yukon is home to Ivvavik National Park, Vuntut National Park and Kluane National Park and Reserve.

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