Animal advocate seeks preservation strategy for Nunavut

WWF president says Nunavut has potential to be conservation pioneer



The head of Canada’s World Wildlife Fund wants a wildlife management plan for the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary approved by March.

The Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary overlaps the border of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, and covers a piece of land about the size of Nova Scotia. It is home to musk oxen, wolves, caribou and a number of bird species. The heritage Thelon River flows for about 1,000 kilometres from Whitefish Lake, NWT, to Baker Lake, Nunavut.

Monte Hummel, president of the conservation organization, said the plan, which requires agreement between the Inuit and Dene, would be a national and international accomplishment.

The WWF has been working with the two groups, Hummel said, and the plan is close to fruition.

“Both communities are impatient and would like to see this done,” he said.

“They’ve written to their respective ministers and said, ‘Let’s go.’ I think this has been approved in principle on the Nunavut side; everybody’s waiting to hear from the Dene.”

The Dene have a band council meeting this month, he said, and the group’s wildlife, lands and environment committee has recommended to the council that the management plan be approved.

Positive Relationship

Hummel strolled into the lounge of an Iqaluit hotel last

week, rolled up paper under one arm and parka in tow. He had just come from a meeting with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Iqaluit and was preparing for a meeting with Premier Paul Okalik the following day.

“I’d like Okalik to know what we’re doing and explore more things that we can do together,” he said. “We’re interested in spending more money here, doing more work here. We have, I think, a good reputation in the communities we work out of. We’re not an animal rights, anti-hunting outfit.”

He characterizes the organization’s relationship with aboriginal communities

as very positive, a feat he says has been accomplished simply by listening.

“We don’t come to town to recruit support from them for what we want, we come to town with a capability and put it at their disposal. We are supporting projects that are being championed by the community,” he said.

However, Hummel isn’t satisfied with the time it has taken Canada’s youngest territory to create parks within its borders. “I’m paid to be impatient and I am,” Hummel said, smiling. “Nunavut is the one jurisdiction in Canada that doesn’t really have a protected areas strategy, even though this is addressed specifically in the settlement agreement.”

There are lengthy sections on national parks and conservation areas in the Nunavut land claim agreement, he said, and there is work being done now in the territory to prepare a strategy.

Some of the most outstanding protected areas in Canada are found within Nunavut, Hummel said, so there is a lot of potential for the territory to establish itself as a pioneer in conservation.

“To the extent that the people of Nunavut want it to be recognized nationally and internationally we can help them,” he said.

Whale sanctuary stalled

Hummel said there has been little movement on a proposed bowhead whale sanctuary in Isabella Bay, or Igluktuk, a project the WWF has been involved with since the mid-1980s. The nearest community, Clyde River, supports the idea, too, but progress has been slow.

“It got caught up in benefits agreement negotiations,” he said. “The feds are talking with the designated Inuit organization about that. It’s at the table.”

Hummel remains optimistic, though, and hopes he and his organization will have some reasons to celebrate when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visit Nunavut in October.

When Prince Philip was president of the WWF, he spent a third of his time working for the WWF in Canada. He was in Nunavut last fall speaking about protecting marine areas, one of them Isabella Bay.

“I think the royal visit would make an excellent time for some conservation announcements,” Hummel said, smiling broadly. “Don’t you?”

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