DUC and the Akaitcho Treaty 8 Tribal Council undertake an impressive conservation effort in the boreal forest

A boreal wetland scene near Yellowknife, N.W.T. ©DUC

Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and the Akaitcho Treaty 8 Tribal Council have undertaken one of the largest, most innovative projects of its kind in Canadian history. Together, they’re mapping 77 million acres (31 million hectares) of boreal wetlands in Akaitcho Néné, NWT.

Located on the eastern half of Great Slave Lake and extending beyond the Nunavut border, Akaitcho Néné is home to four Dene First Nations communities. They share this landscape with waterfowl and wildlife, like the threatened woodland caribou. Described as the bellwether of the boreal, populations of this species are on the decline.

“By combining our collective knowledge, we’ll be able to show where important caribou and waterfowl habitats are,” says Kevin Smith, DUC’s national manager of boreal programs.

Maps are being created using satellite-generated images, reconnaissance flights, traditional knowledge of the landscape, and cutting-edge mapping software.

When complete, these maps will inform DUC conservation efforts and help Akaitcho First Nations make decisions around how to manage their territory for protected areas initiatives, recreation, and sustainable land use for industry.

“This won’t be a report that sits on a shelf,” says Smith.

The partnership between DUC and the Akaitcho Treaty 8 Tribal Council was brokered by Steven Nitah, a former Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation chief and current lead negotiator for his people.

“The land manages itself, but we have to find ways to manage each other,” says Nitah. “Conservation is one of those tools.”

DUC has set an ambitious goal to conserve 660 million acres of the best waterfowl habitat in Canada’s boreal forest. This habitat supports over 500 bird, fish and mammal species.

The Akaitcho mapping project is also supported by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Ducks Unlimited, Inc., the Hewlett Foundation and Environment and Climate Change Canada.