North

Ottawa declares 3 wildlife heritage areas around Baffin Island

The federal government has designated 4,500 square kilometres of land and sea around Baffin Island as national wildlife heritage areas.

The federal government has designated 4,500 square kilometres of land and sea around Baffin Island as national wildlife heritage areas, protecting parts of the Arctic island that are home to bowhead whales, migratory birds and other animals.

Environment Minister John Baird signed the agreement for the wildlife areas Friday in Ottawa, along with representatives from Inuit organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and four regional Inuit associations.

"I'm pleased to announce that the Inuit impact and benefit agreement … will result in the creation of three new natonal wildlife heritage areas that will protect key habitat on and around Nunavut's Baffin Island," Baird told reporters at a news conference Friday.

The agreement means Isabella Bay, near the hamlet of Clyde River, will become a sanctuary for bowhead whales. The hamlet has been asking for the area — the whales' feeding grounds — to be protected since 1998.

The agreement also designates two national wildlife areas near the community of Qikiqtarjuaq. One area, Qaqulluit, will protect a colony of about 200,000 northern fulmars, a species of seabird.

Meanwhile, the Akpait area will cover the nesting areas of more than 250,000 thick-billed murres.

Baird also committed $8.3 million in federal funding to implement the agreement, covering oral history projects, archeaological work, and the development of Inuit-owned tourism businesses.

Ended 7 years of talks

"We're putting out money where our mouth is in today's action for the environment," he said.

"We're talking about protecting polar bears, walruses, and a variety of seal and migratory bird species, as well as a significant population of bowhead whales, which for centuries have played such an important role in the traditional Inuit way of life.

The deal ended seven years of negotiations between the federal government and Nunavut's Inuit over protecting the territory's unique wildlife.

"This agreement is a positive step in working with the government," said James Eetoolook, acting president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., at Friday's news conference.

"This application, now completed, is something that both Inuit and Canada can both be proud of and celebrate."

Baird said Inuit can continue to hold hunting and fishing privileges in the newly-protected areas — something that Inuit negotiators said recognizes their long history of conservation.