Nunavik welcomes protected status for river watershed

New designation to protect 4,000 square kilometres around Kovik River

This map shows the boundaries of the new Kovik River Aquatic Reserve in the northwest part of Nunavik. (IMAGE COURTESY OF GOVERNMENT OF QUEBEC)

By Sarah Rogers

A view over the Kovik River, which flows into Hudson Bay midway between Akulivik and Ivujivik. (FILE PHOTO)

Inuit and environmental protection groups alike have welcomed the long-awaited designation of Nunavik’s Kovik River basin as a protected area.

After years of negotiations, the Quebec government finally confirmed the river’s aquatic reserve status Dec. 3, which means the watershed is now protected from mining claims and industrial development.

The newly named Kovik River Aquatic Reserve covers a 4,000-square-kilometre area in the northwest region of Nunavik.

The river, which starts at Vanasse Lake roughly 40 kilometres south of Salluit, flows south and then west until it meets Hudson Bay, between the communities of Ivujivik and Akulivik.

The river’s watershed is an important wildlife habitat, harvested by nearby communities. The new protected area status will preserve an Arctic char habitat and part of the migratory route of the Leaf River caribou herd.

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The reserve is also home to some 20 identified archeological sites.

In a Jan. 1 release, Makivik Corp. said that news of the new protected status was met with celebration by Nunavimmiut in the region, with one community member declaring it “the best day of his life.”

The Kovik River’s new designation helped, in part, to bring the total of Nunavik’s protected land mass up to over 20 per cent, as the Kativik Regional Government announced last month.

It’s a goal that both Quebec and Nunavik officials have been working on for roughly a decade, which recently came to fruition when the province temporarily suspended mining claims in nine different areas around the region.

In a Dec. 19 release, the Canada Parks and Wilderness Society said the Quebec government still has work to do to reach its target of protecting 17 per cent of the province.

“[But] this announcement shows that the new Quebec government recognizes protected areas at their fair value and sends a positive signal for achieving these conservation targets,” the organization said.

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