Establishment of Qausuittuq National Park

National parks and national park reserves are established to protect and present outstanding examples of natural landscapes and natural phenomena, representing 39 natural regions as defined by Parks Canada’s National Park System Plan. The goal is to protect for all time representative natural areas of Canadian significance in a system of national parks and to encourage public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of this natural heritage so as to leave it unimpaired for future generations.

Parks Canada is working to establish Qausuittuq National Park (QNP) on northern Bathurst Island, Nunavut, which will represent the Western High Arctic Natural Region of the national park system. This natural region includes the western Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Arctic Archipelago. It will be the fifth national park created in Nunavut with the collaboration and support of Inuit. The establishment of QNP under the Canada National Parks Act (CNPA) will add approximately 11,008 km2 to Canada’s system of national parks and national park reserves. It will also contribute to Canada’s Northern Strategy, primarily through protecting our environmental heritage, but also contributing to social and economic development. It will meet commitments to complete, by 2015, work to protect wilderness lands on Bathurst Island.

Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) are conducted in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally-sound decision making. The “Qausuittuq National Park Proposal” (the proposal) is considered equivalent to an SEA and was submitted to the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) for review. The NIRB approved the proposal and recommended project-specific terms and conditions to Parks Canada for consideration in its formal establishment of QNP.

The proposed national park was identified by Park Canada as the best site to capture the biophysical features of the Western High Arctic Natural Region. This area will encompass key wildlife habitat including, in particular, travel routes, calving grounds and wintering grounds for Peary caribou, which were listed as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2011. Archaeological studies in the Bathurst Island complex indicate occasional human use over the past 4500 years. Both Dorset and Thule Inuit cultures are known to have been present in the area. Human presence fluctuated with changes in climate, ice cover and the corresponding availability of wildlife for subsistence.

The NLCA requires that Parks Canada, in concert with other affected federal government agencies and the Designated Inuit Organization (DIO), negotiate an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement (IIBA) prior to the establishment of a national park in the Nunavut Settlement Area. The IIBA is to include any matter connected with the proposed park that would have a detrimental impact on Inuit, or that could reasonably confer a benefit on Inuit and also provides for the establishment of an Inuit/Government joint park planning and management committee (JPMC). The committee may provide its advice to the Minister responsible for Parks Canada on all matters related to the park management. The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) (the DIO) and Parks Canada entered into IIBA negotiations for the purpose of establishing a national park on northern Bathurst Island and establishing the associated JPMC. The IIBA is substantially complete.

A park management plan will be required within five years. It is expected that the management plan will mandate that the established park be managed with special emphasis on the protection of the wilderness values of the region. Cultural resources will also be managed in a manner that ensures a high level of protection, consistent with the CNPA and the Parks Canada Cultural Resource Management Policy. Natural and cultural resources will be monitored to ensure that the management actions are effective. The park management plan will be subject to SEA and is tabled in the House of Parliament. It guides every aspect of future park management.

Once a national park is added to the CNPA, the National Park Regulations apply. Public access will continue within the guidelines set in the national park management plan. All Inuit rights and privileges set out in the NLCA continue within the established national park. The jurisdiction of cooperative management bodies, such as the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB), the NIRB and the Nunavut Water Boards (NWB), established under the NLCA, is recognized within the national park as well. Any development projects will be subject to project screening by the NIRB as set out in the NLCA and eventually the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act (NuPPAA).

The establishment of QNP would produce incremental environmental benefits, most particularly the benefits of increased protection of the ecosystem, increased protection of cultural resources, improved opportunities for visitor experiences, and enhanced opportunities for collaborative management. The expected result of designation as a national park is to ensure that ecological integrity is maintained and cultural resources are protected while providing opportunities for meaningful visitor experiences. The designation as a national park would bring the majority of northern Bathurst Island under the protection of the CNPA, which requires that the maintenance of ecological integrity be the first priority in managing a national park.

The project will have no significant adverse effects on the ecosystem, wildlife habitat or Inuit harvesting activities; it will have no significant adverse socio-economic effects and will enhance and protect the existing and future well-being of the affected community (Resolute Bay).