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Driving on the Beaufort

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By Sue Herbert

Last Saturday, we drove on the Beaufort Sea. It was quite amazing. One doesn’t often think about driving on a frozen sea, looking over vast expanses of ice on one side and low headlands on the other. We spotted fish drying racks left on the shingle beaches from the summer and fall fishing seasons, covered in snow and blowing forlornly in the wind.

The ice road to Tuktoyaktuk had recently reopened after a blizzard of massive proportions (at least from a southern perspective) hit the Delta the previous weekend, and left us stranded halfway up the Dempster highway waiting for it to reopen. After two nights in Dawson, we wended over the glorious Richardson Mountains in a long convoy of trucks, finally reaching Inuvik.

Vehicle's GPS - (C) Sue Herbert/WWF-CanadaVehicle's GPS - (C) Sue Herbert/WWF-Canada

Several days later, the ice road to Tuk cleared of snow, we ventured out again. It’s about a three hour drive to Tuk, situated on a point out in the Arctic Ocean. In the winter you drive on the East Channel of the Mackenzie River out onto the Sea itself. You can fly or boat there in the summer; residents of Tuk are eager for approval to create a permanent road from Inuvik, providing additional economic development opportunities. The Beaufort Sea’s proud and important town now relies on traditional harvesting, some tourism, and the provision of supplies and services to scientific researchers, mining exploration companies and oil and gas exploration activities.

Road to Tuk - (C) Sue Herbert/WWF-CanadaRoad to Tuk - (C) Sue Herbert/WWF-Canada

The Beluga whales migrate through here in the summer months, and further offshore, Bowheads. But, on this trip, we saw only ravens, snowy owls and sled dogs, not even an Arctic fox. The town was layered in fresh snow, evoking one of those postcards of wood smoke gently wafting from cabins – albeit with snow machines parked in the driveways.

This tension between economic opportunity and conservation values is not irreconcilable, and in fact, in some ways Tuk has balanced both for some time. With mounting pressure for industrial growth in Tuk, planning for the Beaufort Sea needs to be put in place.

We interviewed for our staff person for the Beaufort Sea Partnership this week. There were many good candidates and we are now in negotiations. In addition, we have continued to build relationships and support for our contribution to the planning here. Martin von Mirbach, Canada’s Arctic Program Director, and I recently presented to the Inuvialuit Game Council (who have co-management rights with the federal government for wild life, marine mammal and fish management), explaining WWF’s work here and in other parts of the Arctic. There is, for example, potential conflict between oil and gas leases and ecologically and biologically significant areas along the continental shelf of the Beaufort.

This is but one example of conflicting uses that needs to be reconciled. There will be others.

(C) Sue Herbert/WWF-Canada(C) Sue Herbert/WWF-Canada

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