New Nunavik park may not protect rare inland seals
Freshwater seal habitat may be left out
Quebec Premier Jean Charest is set to formally announce the creation of Tursujuq, the new Quebec park located between Umiujaq and Kuujjuaraapik.
But the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says the proposed boundaries of Tursujuq will not adequately protect the tiny population of freshwater seals that live in and around the park’s boundaries.
Quebec should designate this species as threatened so that it protects the seals’ habitat and, at the same time, enlarge Tursujuq’s borders, says the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society in its review of Canadian wilderness parks, released a week before Canada’s July 17 Parks Day and entitled “How is wildlife faring in Canada’s parks.”
Tursujuq covers an area of more than 15,500 square kilometres, which means it will become the largest park in eastern Canada.
But Tursujuq still does not include the majority of the seals’ habitat because it excludes the watershed of lakes and smaller rivers which feed into the Nastapoka River, the group’s review said.
“Many stakeholders, including the local Inuit community, have expressed their support for the inclusion of the watershed within the park,” says the review.
The seals, already listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, make their home in a string of lakes 150 km inland from the eastern Hudson Bay coast.
These lakes east of Umiujaq and north of Kuujjuaraapik are known in Inuttitut as “kasigiaksiovik,” in English as the Upper and Lower Seal Lakes, and in French as Les lacs des loups marins.
The seals form the only known population of harbour seals in the world that spend the entire year in lakes and rivers, without spending any time in the ocean.
Researchers say the seals separated from ocean-dwelling harbour seals between 3,000 and 8,000 years ago.
Since then, they’ve developed into a unique sub-species that reproduce earlier in the spring than harbour seals that live year-round in the ocean.
As for their population, the freshwater seals number between 100 and 600 today, although records from the 19th century suggest the existence of a larger population before hunters began using rifles.
But some of the lakes and rivers where these seals live are likely to be excluded from Tursujuq after Charest authorizes the park’s creation.
In its decision on the park, the Kativik Environmental Quality Commission said nine conditions were to be met before Quebec gave the final authorization for Tursujuq.
The commission asked for the park to include the entire Nastapoka River watershed, but did not require the park to include all waterways where inland seals are found.
KEQC members said they were in favour of including the entire Nastapoka watershed in the park project, but they said they couldn’t make a decision on this until the signatories of the Sanarrutik Agreement— Quebec, Makivik Corp. and the Kativik Regional Government— made a decision about “the abandonment or continued interest in the hydroelectric potential associated with this river.”
The Nastapoka River, whose development is mentioned in the 2002 Sanarrutik deal signed between Quebec and Nunavik, could produce up to 1,000 megawatts of power, enough to meet the daily needs of about 250,000 homes.
Quebec’s “plan nord,” now being promoted by Charest, will exclude all industrial activities, such as forestry, mining, energy production, from 50 per cent of northern Quebec, and set aside 12 per cent of the territory as protected areas.
But if Quebec doesn’t completely protect the Nastapoka River watershed, there’s cause for worry about this plan, says the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
“If that is the direction envisaged by Quebec on our public lands, development associated with the Northern Plan may be anything but “sustainable,” says the organization’s Quebec chapter.