Fans of the Peel watershed won't be surprised to learn it's been singled out as one of the coolest hotspots for biodiversity in Canada's boreal forest.
The Peel is one of 10 wilderness areas recognized for their natural assets in a national report by Ducks Unlimited and the Boreal Songbird Initiative that was released on International Biodiversity Day.
The 10 Cool Canadian Biodiversity Hotspots: How a New Understanding of Biodiversity Underscores the Global Significance of Canada’s Boreal Forest report highlights the Peel's role as a biological refuge.
"Most of northern North America was once covered by an unimaginably vast ice sheet for thousands of years. But a few special islands of land in the North remained free of this life-stopping deep freeze. The 67,000-km² Peel River watershed was one of these wildlife refuges that allowed many species to survive the ice ages," the report says.
"Today, this ancient 'Noah’s Ark' is still virtually undisturbed by modern large-scale industrial activities and retains many of these relict rare and range-restricted species of mosses, vascular plants, and animals. Range-restricted mammals like the mountainous Dall’s Sheep, the singular singing vole, and the collared pika occur within the watershed while many other mammals show genetic footprints that indicate a distinct separate evolutionary history from their look-a-like cousins in the rest of Canada. Separate evolutionary lineages of otherwise widespread fish species can be found in many fish populations in the Peel River watershed.
"From rugged mountain peaks, high plateaus and deep canyons to sprawling river valleys and wetland networks, the Peel River watershed is among Canada’s most scenic and geographically diverse natural wonders. Six parallel tributaries emerge from the northern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and converge in the underlying valley to form the Peel River, which eventually drains into the Mackenzie River Delta and the Arctic Ocean.
"Fish such as broad whitefish, least cisco, arctic cisco and inconnu swim upstream from the Arctic Ocean to the Peel watershed to spawn. The region serves as the wintering grounds for the iconic Porcupine caribou herd - a transboundary herd of barrenground caribou that summers in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - and is the home of the Yukon’s only population of boreal woodland caribou. Healthy populations of grizzly bears, wolverines and wolves occur here as well. The Peel watershed provides important nesting habitat for raptors, including peregrine falcons (45 pairs as of the 1990s), gyrfalcons, bald eagles and golden eagles."
On the Peel's conservation status, the report has this to say:
"The region has become the focus of intense interest by the mining industry, as evidenced by the more than 8,000 active mining claims in the watershed. A portion of the region has also been identified as an area of interest for oil and gas development.
"The Yukon government set up a Peel Watershed Planning Commission, which worked over many years and with many public meetings to develop a series of recommendations for this remarkable region. In November 2011, the commission released its final recommendations, which called for protection of more than 52,600 km² of the watershed from mining and other industrial development.
"Unfortunately, the Yukon government has signaled its intention to protect only a small fraction of the region and keep large areas open for mining despite the commission’s recommendations."
Click here to read 10 Cool Canadian Biodiversity Hotspots report.