North of the 60th parallel in Northwest Territories and Nunavut Territory, the boreal forests become sparser and grade into tundra vegetation. This post describes four ecoregions located between the 60th and 70th parallels in this region. Muskwa-Slave Lake forests ecoregion was described last month. The Great Slave Lake, the deepest lake in North America at 600 m and the 10th largest in the world (500 km by 225 km), is named after a First Nations people, known as the Slave or Dene. The largest river flowing into the lake is the Slave River, from the south, and the lake drains from its west side by the Mackenzie River, an Arctic Ocean tributary. On the north side of the lake is Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories.
Low Arctic Tundra
This ecoregion in Nunavut Territory and Northwest Territories consists of shrubby tundra vegetation including willow and heath. It includes much of the area south of Coronation Gulf and Queen Maud Gulf in Nunavut.
Ramsar Site in Low Arctic Tundra
Ahiak Migratory Bird Sanctuary (formerly Queen Maud Gulf MBS) is 6,292,818 ha; this makes it the world’s second largest Ramsar site. The site is managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service, part of Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the Ahiak Co-Management Committee (settlements of Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, and Umingmaktok). The vast flat expanse of tundra meadows and marshes is the nesting ground for 450,000 Ross’s geese, 90 percent of the world’s population. Also 8% of the Canadian population of snow geese nest here. There are about 60 goose colonies, the largest of which is at Karrak Lake, where there is a research station (N67o14’ W100o16’). In addition to research on lesser snow and Ross’s geese, there is also research on Arctic fox (http://www.usask.ca/biology/fox/). Access to the sanctuary requires a permit. Other animals are barren ground caribou (calving ground), musk oxen, wolves, grizzly, and wolverine. Habitats are web meadow, marsh tundra, dry tundra, rock and boulder fields.
National Sites in the Low Arctic Tundra
Bloody Falls National Historic Site and Kugluk/Bloody Falls Territorial Park (N67o45’ W115o22’) is an archaeological site on Coppermine River terraces which records pre-contact hunting and fishing sites. The falls was also the site of the 1771 Bloody Falls Massacre, where Inuit were killed by Chipewayans while on a survey of the Coppermine River.
Thelon River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River between Eyeberry Lake (N63o10’ W104o40’) and Baker Lake (N64o16’ W96o8’). The Thelon is the largest river flowing into Hudson’s Bay, at 900 km in length, and is an unaltered drainage basin. Much of the Heritage River flows through the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary. The Thelon is an important bird area for Canada geese, greater white-fronted geese, and snow geese.
Territorial and Other Sites in the Low Arctic Tundra
The Back River Volcanic complex is a 2.7-billion-year-old stratovolcanic complex including the Heywood Range (N64o47’W107o50’) and Peacock Hills, roughly bounded by the Back and Contwoyto Rivers, Keish Lake (N65o2’ W108o21’), Regan Lake (N65o5’ W107o48’), Gold Lake (N64o50’ W107o42’), and Jim Magrum Lake (N64o44’ W108o2’) (Villenueve et al., 2001). To the east, the Back River Gold District is a proposed mine complex south of Bathurst Inlet. Open-pit mining would take place near Goose Lake (N65o33’ W106o26’) and George Lake (N65o55’ W107o28’) (Rescan Environmental Services Ltd., 2012). An open-pit diamond mine is located at Lac de Gras (N64o31’ W110o34’) northeast of Yellowknife.
Bathurst Inlet (N67o35’ W108o10’) hosts the Bathurst caribou herd, which was made up of 500,000 individuals in the 1980s, has declined to less than 10,000 today. The cause of the decline and whether it is a natural fluctuation are debated, but the drastic loss in a few years is cause for concern (Government of Northwest Territories, 2019). The topography around the inlet includes sea cliffs used by raptors.
Daring Lake Tundra Ecosystem Research Station (N64o52’ W111o36’) is operated by the government of Northwest Territories to conduct long-term research on the tundra ecosystem, including global change and caribou grazing.
Middle Back River Important Bird Area extends from Pelly Lake (N65o58’ W101o40’) to Lower Garry Lake (N65o53’ W100o0’). It provides nesting habitat for Canada goose, lesser snow goose, and other waterfowl. Molting Canada geese are observed in shoreline grass and sedge habitats. Snow geese breed at Pelly Lake. The Back River was formerly known as Back’s Great Fish River.
Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary is 52,000 km2 in both Nunavut Territory and Northwest Territories and was established in 1927 to protect muskoxen. It is also the calving grounds for the Beverly caribou herd. It extends from Moraine Lake on the Baillie River (N64o10’ W105o55’) on the west to Wharton Lake in the east (N64o4’ W100o0’) and from Dubawnt Lake in the south (N63o10’ W102o5’) to the Back River-Consul River confluence in the north (N65o41’ W102o2’).
Wilburforce Falls on the Hood River (N67o6’ W108o48’) at 49 m is the highest cataract north of the Arctic Circle.
Middle Arctic Tundra
To the north of the Low Arctic Tundra, this ecoregion includes Victoria island and parts of the Kent Peninsula in the Coronation Gulf. Vegetation includes Arctic willow, herbs, and lichens. The Dolphin and Union caribou herd migrate across the straight between Victoria Island and mainland Nunavut. They spend time on Victoria Island for summer grazing and the shoreline from Bathhurst Inlet west to Northwest Territories for winter use (NWT Species at Risk, 2019; Torney et al., 2018).
Territorial and Other Sites in the Middle Arctic Tundra
Ovayok Territorial Park (N69o10’ W104o43’) includes a prominent esker rising to 210 m east of Cambridge Bay. The park is known for sitings of muskox.
Jenny Lind Island (Qikiqtaryuaq Island) (N68o42’ W102o0’) is a low-lying island with low lying wetlands, and is an Important Bird Area for nesting snow geese and Ross’ geese.
Walker Bay Research Station (N68o21’ W108o6’) is on the Kent Peninsula south of the Augustus River. Research on lemmings, a keystone prey for Arctic fox, snowy owl, weasel, and jaegers is conducted here. The longest record of lemming dynamics and habitat use in the Canadian Arctic has been compiled here (Dupuch et al. 2014).
Northern Canadian Shield Taiga
This area is mostly in the Northwest Territories south of the limits of tree growth. It is east of Great Bear Lake and north and east of Great Slave Lake. Vegetation is stunted black spruce and tamarack, with a ground cover of dwarf birch and ericaceous shrubs. Sedges and sphagnum moss are also common.
National Sites in the Northern Canadian Shield Taiga
Kazan River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River from Ennadai Lake (N61o15’ W100o57’) to Baker Lake (N64o2’ W95o29’). Three waterfalls are present between Angikuni Lake (N62o15’ W100o0’) and Yathkyed Lake (N62o43’ W97o55’). Further downstream is Kazan Falls and gorge. Muskoxen are commonly seen by canoeists.
Fort Reliance National Historic Site (N62o47’ W108o56’) is at the northeastern end of Great Slave Lake at the mouth of the Lockhart River. This was a Hudson’s Bay Company Fort and trading post dating to 1855. The remains of 4 fireplaces and chimneys are at the site.
Thelon River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River between Eyeberry Lake (N63o10’ W104o40’) and Baker Lake (N64o16’ W96o8’). The Thelon is the largest river flowing into Hudson’s Bay, at 900 km in length, and is an unaltered drainage basin. The Thelon is an important bird area for Canada geese, greater white-fronted geese, and snow geese.
Territorial and Other Sites in the Northern Canadian Shield Taiga
Fort Confidence (N66o53’ W119o3’) was a Hudson’s Bay Company post at Dease Arm of Great Bear Lake from 1837 to 1848. The remains of stone and clay chimneys are still present.
Nicholson Lake Impact Crater (N62o40’ W102o41’) is 12 km in diameter, on the Dubawnt River, and dates to 400 million years ago. It contains a large island in its center.
North Arm, Great Slave Lake, Important Bird Area (N62o34’ W115o14) is a staging area for spring-migrating waterfowl, including Canada geese, scaup, pintail, tundra swan, gulls and terns.
Pilot Lake Impact Crater (N60o17’ W111o1’) is 6 km in diameter and dates to 445 million years ago. It is northeast of Fort Smith and stands out prominently as a circular lake in an area where most are irregularly shaped.
Old Fort Providence (N62o17’ W114o6’) is on Wool Bay on Great Slave Lake, southeast of Yellowknife. This was the site of an early trading post on the lake, dating to 1786, established by the North West Company. The remains of 4 buildings are spread over 1 ha.
Port Radium (N66o5’ W118o2’), on Great Bear Lake, was the site of a mine producing uranium, pitchblende, and silver from 1930-1982. Radioactive mine tailings were cleaned up in 2007.
Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary is 52,000 km2 and was established in 1927 to protect muskoxen. It is also the calving grounds for the Beverly caribou herd. It extends from Moraine Lake on the Baillie River (N64o10’ W105o55’) on the west to Wharton Lake in the east (N64o4’ W100o0’) and from Dubawnt Lake in the south (N63o10’ W102o5’) to the Back River-Consul River confluence in the north (N65o41’ W102o2’).
Park on Route 3 (Yellowknife Highway)
Fred Henne Territorial Park (N62o28’ W114o25’) is at km 335 on Route 3 adjacent to Yellowknife. It includes the 4-km Prospector’s Trail.
Parks on Route 4 (Ingraham Trail)
Yellowknife River Territorial Park (N62o31’ W114o19’) is east of Yellowknife at km 8 on Route 4.
Prosperous Lake Territorial Park (N62o32’ W114o9’) is at km 20 on Route 4.
Madeline Lake Territorial Park (N62o33’ W114o4’) is on Route 4 at km 24. There is a canoe launch on the lake.
Pontoon Lake Territorial Park (N62o33’ W114o2’) is at km 26 on Route 4.
Prelude Lake Territorial Park (N62o34’ W113o59’) is at km 28 on Route 4.
Powder Point Territorial Park (N62o31’ W113o44’) is at km 44 on Route 4, overlooking Prelude Lake.
Hidden Lake Territorial Park (N62o33’ W113o39’) is a 3,000-ha park on Route 4 at km 46. It includes Cameron Falls.
Cameron River Crossing Territorial Park (N62o30’ W113o33’) is on Route 4 at km 55. It includes Ramparts Waterfall.
Reid Lake Territorial Park (N62o29’ W113o28’) is on Route 4 at km 59 near the Cameron River.
Northwest Territories Taiga
This ecoregion is west of Great Slave Lake, extending north to Great Bear Lake, and includes open stunted black spruce with dwarf birch, Labrador tea, and willow.
National Sites in the Northwest Territories Taiga
Edehzhie Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area (N62o W118o) is 1,425,000 ha, including the Horn Plateau west of Great Slave Lake and Mills Lake area along the Mackenzie River. The expansive area of boreal forests and wetlands is jointly managed by the Dehcho First Nations and the Canadian Wildlife Service, part of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Wildlife includes caribou, moose, and wolves.
Territorial Sites in the Northwest Territories Taiga
Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary is bordered by Great Slave Lake on the east and Route 3 (Frontier Highway) on the west for 50 miles; it is on the north side of the Mackenzie River ferry. On Frontier Highway, km 24 is Mackenzie River and km 26 is the bison sanctuary boundary. The Mackenzie population of wood bison descended from a population of 18 individuals released north of Fort Providence in 1963. Numbers currently fluctuate between 500 and 2,000. In recent years the population has suffered from anthrax outbreaks. In addition, lakes are expanding in area due to climate change. The resulting landscape flooding is reducing their habitat (Korosi et al., 2017). Chan Lake Territorial Park (N61o54’ W116o32’) is at km 124 on Route 3 at the north end of the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary.
Martin Lake (Lac La Martre) (N63o21’ W117o58’) is the third largest lake in the Northwest Territories and is noted as a migratory bird staging area.
North Arm Territorial Park (N62o43’ W116o5’) is on Route 3, km 232, at Great Slave Lake.
Dupuch, Angelique et al. 2014. Landscapes of fear or competition? Predation did not alter habitat choice by Arctic rodents. Oecologia 174:403-412 (DOI:10.1007/s00442-013-2792-7).
Korisi, Jennifer B. et al. 2017. Broad-scale lake expansion and flooding inundates essential wood bison habitat. Nature Communications 8:14510 (10.1038/ncomms14510).
Northwest Territories Government, Environment and Natural Resources. 2019. Barren-Ground Caribou. https://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/en/services/barren-ground-caribou (accessed February 23, 2019).
NWT Species at Risk. Dolphin and Union Caribou. https://www.nwtspeciesatrisk.ca/species/dolphin-and-union-caribou (accessed February 23, 2019).
Rescan Environmental Services, Ltd. 2012. The Back River Project, Project Description. Prepared forSabina Gold and SilverCorporation. Accessed February 10, 2019, at https://backriverproject.com/about/.
Torney, Collin J. et al. 2018. Inferring the rules of social interaction in migrating caribou. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 373:20170385 (DOI: 10.1098/rsstb.2017.0385)
Villenueve, Mike, et al. 2001. Geochronology of the Back River volcanic complex, Nunavut-Northwest Territories. Geological Survey of Canada Current Research 2001-F2. Accessed February 10, 2019 at http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/M44-2001-F2E.pdf.