Rebuild of N.W.T. climate research station ramps up

Dieter Cazon, the director of lands and resources for Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation, expects May and June will be big construction months at Scotty Creek Research Station. The station was almost completely destroyed by an unusually late-season wildfire in October.

LKFN hopes station devastated by wildfire will reopen in August

An aerial photo of a group of men standing in front of a tracked vehicle carrying a trailer worth of burned material. The landscape is wintery and forested.
A small crew recently used a tracked vehicle to haul equipment to the Scotty Creek Research Station and to haul burned material out. From left to right is William Quinton, Mason Dominico, William Alger, Laurent, William Landry and Scott Gordon. (Mason Dominico)

Efforts to rebuild a research station burned down in a late-season wildfire last year are coming together quickly, according to the director of lands and resources for the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation (LKFN). 

"It's like a train going 1,000 miles an hour," said Dieter Cazon, describing how things have been moving since the Scotty Creek Research Station was all but burned to the ground in mid-October. 

The wildfire gutted five of nine buildings at the remote site 50 kilometers south of Fort Simpson, N.W.T., destroying research equipment, lab space, sleeping accommodations and solar arrays, LKFN said at the time.

William Quinton, who founded the station back in the 90s, now pegs the damage to be worth about $2 million. 

Quinton, director of the Cold Regions Research Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., formally handed LKFN the keys to Scotty Creek just months before the fire — making it one of the first Indigenous-led research stations in the world.

A pair of photos from a drone compare damage at Scotty Creek Research Station to what it looked like before.
Drone footage of the Scotty Creek Research Station after the wildfire passed through on the left, compared to what it looked like during the 2021 field season. (Submitted by Mason Dominico, Scotty Creek Research Facility)

William Alger, an LKFN member who works at the research station as a guardian to help monitor and protect the area, was recently at the site helping to rebuild.

"It's almost surreal in a way, seeing everything, how nature is trying to reclaim the damage from the forest fire," he said. 

Alger described the destruction as "a little daunting" but said "it's also kind of invigorating to see what kind of changes are going to come to the camp now that LKFN has a more permanent hand in the process of rebuilding."

The First Nation is in the process of rebuilding a one hectare plot at the station's core. It's where the sleeping accommodations, kitchen, labs, storage facilities, showers and toilets are located — and there's water and electricity too.

The cleanup started shortly after the fire. Cazon said in November, a crew of workers collected garbage and metal into piles. A tracked vehicle called a Hagglund made its first trip to Scotty Creek this month — hauling new equipment in and carrying garbage out. 

Cazon says May and June will be big construction months, with carpenters and electricians expected to travel to the remote site. He hopes the station will be ready for an opening in August. But, he said, Scotty Creek is going to stay closed to researchers all year. 

A wire structure stands amidst burned trees.
William Quinton, who founded the station back in the 90s, pegs wildfire damage to be about $2 million. (Submitted by Mason Dominico)

Carbon flux tower rebuild

Outside Scotty Creek's core camp lies a 5-kilometer network of ground protection matting that leads to pieces of research infrastructure. Quinton said that equipment is up to universities and research centres to replace, in a process that he acknowledged is moving more slowly than LKFN's central camp rebuild.

"I'm really pushing things along, trying to push things along here. You can only go so fast with the institution," said Quinton, referring to the process of making insurance claims and deciding what, exactly, will be replaced.

A metal tower stands above the tree line in the winter. It is surrounded by scaffolding upon which a couple of figures can be seen doing work.
A tower that monitors carbon flux was one of the pieces of research equipment damaged by a wildfire that tore through the Scotty Creek Research Station. It's the first piece of research equipment being repaired at the site. (Dominik Heilig)

Although Scotty Creek will be closed to researchers this year, one group pitched their case and was able to travel to the site last week to repair a damaged carbon flux tower — one of two at the site. 

Built in 2012 by Oliver Sonnentag, an associate professor at the University of Montreal, the towers are part of a network of others across North America that gather information about how greenhouse gasses flow from the ground to the atmosphere, and from the atmosphere back to the ground.

Sonnentag said he pushed hard to be able to repair the damaged tower as quickly as possible, because it can collect important information about what happens to carbon stored in wetlands and forests after there's been a fire. 

"It's the first time we have that opportunity," he said. 

Researchers have looked at post-fire carbon flux before, he said, but the study didn't happen until years after the fire because it takes time and money to set things up. In this case, he said, the equipment is in place already and there's data from before the fire to compare new information to. 

That is, if the repairs work.

Person in blue coat is working in an electrical box attached to a metal structure. In the background, a man can be seen looking into the same box.
Two people work on a carbon flux tower, one of the pieces of research equipment that surrounds the Scotty Creek Research Station. Dieter Cazon, a director with Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation, said they recognized the importance of having the tower up and running as soon as possible. (Dominik Heilig)

Sonnentag and his team have left the site now, and he said it'll take a couple of days to figure out whether everything is functioning properly. 

"Fingers crossed, I hope it works. But I don't know. I mean, it looked great when we left." 

Cazon said LKFN recognized the importance of getting the tower working again, and allowed Sonnentag and his team access to the research station. He said one of the First Nation's responsibilities is to make sure climate change research continues to happen at Scotty Creek so it can be shared with other communities and scientists.


Liny Lamberink


Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She moved to Yellowknife in March 2021, after working as a reporter and newscaster in Ontario for five years. She is a member of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network. You can reach her at