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Vegetation and Terrain Survey

Catherine Kennedy, Yukon Territorial Government Scott Smith, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada


Catherine Kennedy checking the vegetation map.
Catherine Kennedy checking the vegetation map.

The vegetation and terrain survey was conducted to determine if the dramatic changes to the vegetation and permafrost activity observed on Herschel Island are taking place on the coastal plain of Ivvavik National Park. Changes to the vegetation and permafrost activity on Herschel Island, off the coast of Ivvavik National Park, have been observed in the past 15 years. The vegetation on the island has changed from tundra dominated by forbs and shrubs to tundra dominated by grasses. One native species of grass, Arctagrostis latifolia, is aggressively invading areas all over Herschel Island. In addition, the rate at which soil is turned over by the permafrost has decreased. Frost boils, which are areas of bare ground kept open by an active permafrost layer, are no longer active and are being invaded by plants. The changes in vegetation and terrain on Herschel Island suggest the living and non-living environment is responding to a change in the climate. These changes may have serious implications for the island's ecosystem.


  • To collect data on the vegetation and terrain of the coastal plain of Ivvavik National Park.
  • To determine if there have been changes in the vegetation and terrain on the coastal plain in the past 15 years.

Methods and Information Collected

  • The survey was conducted along the coastal plain of Ivvavik National Park, from the Babbage River to the Canada/U.S. border.
  • The survey was conducted from July 11-14, 2001.
  • 32 sites were visited during the survey.
  • The survey crew was transported between sites by helicopter.
  • A description of each site was made. The description included the location of the site, depth to permafrost, elevation, aspect, slope, amount of bare soil, amount of invasion of bare soil by vegetation, the location of the slope with respect to the surrounding terrain and the soil characteristics.
  • The species and relative abundance of vegetation was recorded at each site.


  • Yukon Territorial Government (project lead)
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (project lead)


  • Ian McDonald recording data
    Ian McDonald recording data.
    It was clear when the sites were visited that certain types of terrain along the coastal plain in Ivvavik National Park are being invaded by Arctagrostis latifolia and other plant species such as arctic lupine. The most evident changes are taking place at sites with a large amount of bare soil.
  • Information collected in 2001 will be compared with information collected in 1986 to determine if significant changes to the vegetation cover have taken place.
  • Both Arctagrostis latifolia and arctic lupine are native to the Yukon coastal plain and may not be displacing other plant species, as the areas being invaded are mainly covered with bare soil. This change in vegetation may be a natural event or may be a reaction to climate change.
  • Additional research is required to understand how these changes will affect the environment of the Yukon North Slope.
Location of sites visited during the vegetation and terrain survey, Ivvavik National Park, 2001.
Location of sites visited during the vegetation and terrain survey, Ivvavik National Park, 2001.



Catherine Kennedy
Vegetation Specialist
Yukon Territorial Government
P.O. Box 2703
Whitehorse, YK
Phone: (867) 667-5407
Fax: (867) 393-6405

Scott Smith
Head, BC/Yukon Land Resource Unit
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada
Summerland, BC V0H 1Z0
Phone: (250) 494-6382
Fax: (250) 494-0755

Ian McDonald
Conservation Biologist
Parks Canada Agency
P.O. Box 1840
Inuvik, NT X0E 0T0
Phone: (867) 777-8807
Fax: (867) 777-8820