New protected area planned near Churchill | Polarjournal
The Caribou, which lives in North America, is the slightly larger relative of the European reindeer and is the only representative of the deer family, in which both sexes wear antlers. (Photo: Arctic Focus)

A large area in the north of Manitoba and south of Arviat has taken another step to becoming an indigenous protected area, as announced by Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson on August 26. The area, known as the Seal River watershed, covers about 50,000 square kilometers, nearly the size of Nova Scotia.

The short-eared owl hunts by flying just above the ground, often hovering, before rushing for prey. It can also hunt during the day, especially in the far north, but is usually active at dawn and dusk.

The centerpiece is the 260-kilometer-long Seal River, which flows north of Churchill and south of Arviat into the Hudson Bay. Many seals live up to 200 kilometres upstream. The Seal River’s indigenous protected area would protect their habitat. The area is home to several endangered species, including polar bears, short-eared owls, olive-sided fly-catchers and caribou. The Seal River is still the ‘last really wild river’ in Manitoba. A very important presence in the landscape are the 400,000 caribou that move south from Nunavut and visit their winter camp near the Seal River.

In the northernmost part of Manitoba there is an untouched expanse of tundra, wetlands and forests as large as Nova Scotia. (Photo: Seal River Watershed)

Five indigenous communities with three different cultures are working together with a common goal to preserve the Seal River watershed as an indigenous protected area. The aim of this project is to protect the watershed from industrial development in order to preserve it for future generations in its original state. It is also a unique opportunity to pass on traditional knowledge, history and culture to young people in the region, while at the same time strengthening opportunities for culture and ecotourism. The project is supported by two nonprofits: the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Indigenous Leadership Inititive.

Jonathan Wilkinson is a Canadian politician. He has been Minister for Environment and Climate Change in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet since 2019. Previously, he was Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. (Photo: Powder Canada)

Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has announced a contribution of USD 3.2 million to the Seal River Watershed Alliance. He said that once completed, the protected area would help the Liberal government achieve its goal of creating protected areas within a quarter of Canada. “By working with partners on projects like this, we are making progress in protecting and improving biodiversity by preserving a quarter of Canada’s land and a quarter of the oceans by 2025,” Wilkinson said in a press release.

In Canada, the olive-sided fly-catcher colonizes the area through the south of Yukon and the Northwest Territories, and the Prairie Pothole Region through the southern provinces to Newfoundland. (Photo: Jeremiah Trimble)

“Our ancestors have always respected wildlife, especially the caribou, as it is our main food. As a result, inthe inuit elders have continued to protect the wintering and calving grounds of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou herds in recent centuries and will continue to do so for future generations,” Thomasie Alikaswa, president of the Arviat Hunters and Trappers Organization,said in a letter of support.

An Indigenous Protected Area is a special protection zone where indigenous governments play an important role in the management of the area, according to the Environment and Climate Change Canadawebsite. To fund the establishment of indigenous protected areas across Canada, the federal government has set up a 500-million-dollar fund called the Canadian Nature Fund in 2018.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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