Monday, September 14, 2009

Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary

Covering an area of approximately 26,000 sq. miles, the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary, straddling the boundary of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in Canada's mainland Arctic, is the largest and most remote wildlife refuge on the North America continent - and possibly the world. As there is little surrounding development in this region, the unusual forest oasis located far out on the tundra truly represents one of the last great, unaltered ecosystems on our planet. For those few fortunate enough to have ever visited this extreme remote region, the experience is like stepping back to a time when grizzly, wolves and musk-ox ruled the earth.

During the intense studies carried out by the International Biological Program (IBP) in the 1960's, the Thelon Sanctuary was identified as a 'Biological Site of Universal Importance'. This was primarily due to the extreme biological diversity found in the unusual boreal forest oasis that for nearly 100 miles follows the meandering Thelon River valley located 200 + km north of the tree-line. Many other important sites throughout the North identified by the IBP later became UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, accessible only with difficulty and high expense, the Thelon Sanctuary was all but a forgotten entity.

The Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary has always been a political enigma: control over this vast area has been passed from one government department to another - both federally and territorially - and subsequently there has never been a true management policy in effect - no department had the budget to police or even patrol such a vast, remote area. It remained closed to all development activity including native hunting since the 1920's; and was probably the only Sanctuary or Park in Canada that offered such full protection for wildlife. This anonymity of the Thelon Sanctuary was most probably its best protection during those times, as everyone seemingly left the Thelon alone.

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