Edéhzhíe Protected Area

The Edéhzhíe Protected Area is in the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories. It is home to many species. These include important species at risk such as woodland caribou.


Edéhzhíe covers 14,218 square kilometers (km), over twice the size of Banff National Park. Edéhzhíe is the result of a collaborative process between the Dehcho First Nations and the Government of Canada. Established in 2018, it is the first Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) since the inception of the Pathway to Canada Target 1 and the launch of the Canada Nature Fund. There is also a proposal to make Edéhzhíe a National Wildlife Area under the Canada Wildlife Act in 2020.
Edéhzhíe’s special characteristics include:

  • great ecological, cultural, and spiritual significance
    • culturally significant area for the Dehcho and Tłichô Dene
  • diverse terrestrial and aquatic habitat
    • home to a wide variety of northern plants and animals
    • contains nationally significant habitat for boreal caribou
    • houses an important bird area for waterfowl and other migratory birds
  • it protects the headwaters of much of the watershed of the Dehcho region

Landscape within Edéhzhíe Protected Area

Edéhzhíe contains unique terrestrial ecosystems, including three ecoregions:

  • Horn Plateau
  • Hay River Lowlands
  • Great Slave Lake Plain

The Horn Plateau rises 600 metres above surrounding plains. This habitat is similar to the sub-arctic forest transition zone, hundreds of kilometers to the north. This is due to its high elevation. The Horn Plateau gradually transitions northward to a low-lying flat plain. South of the plateau, glacial lakes and organic deposits slope gently southward to the Mackenzie River.  Due to the change in elevation, Edéhzhíe contains a range of vegetation, typical of northern boreal forest and beyond. Conifers with a shrub understory dominate the forests. Wetlands cover half of the IPCA.

Edéhzhíe supplies fresh water to much of the Dehcho region. The Horn Plateau holds the source waters for the Willowlake, Horn, and Rabbitskin Rivers. One of the lakes within Edéhzhíe, Mills Lake, is an important wetland for waterfowl. The lake was designated an Important Bird Area of Canada in 2004. It is also an International Biological Program Site, and a “key migratory bird terrestrial habitat site.” As many as 50,000 lesser snow geese and 5,000 tundra swans visit Mills Lake during migration periods. Mills Lake is also home to a large numbers of diving ducks during summer months.

Edéhzhíe is an important hunting place, as well as a spiritual gathering place, for Dehcho and Tłichô Dene.  Game was always plentiful during times of scarcity in the Mackenzie Valley. There are extensive harvesting areas, cultural sites, and traditional trails throughout the IPCA.

The protected area supports several species at risk. Woodland (boreal) caribou’s critical habitat is extensive in the protected area. Wood bison inhabit the eastern portion of the protected area.
Examples of species at risk within Edéhzhíe include:

Edéhzhíe is an important area for flora and fauna in general. Within its boundaries, there are at least 73 vascular plant families, representing 537 species. Nearly 200 species of native higher plants grow there as well. Edéhzhíe is also home to about 250 species of amphibians, fish, birds and mammals. That includes 197 bird species.

Edéhzhíe’s top 20 most common birds (listed in order from largest to smallest population)

Boreal caribou
Photo: © John Nagy


The protection of Edéhzhíe stemmed from the initiative and desire of the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) to protect a fundamental part of their traditional territory and culture. Edéhzhíe became an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area in 2018. Edéhzhíe was designated a Dehcho Protected Area under Dehcho law in July, 2018. On October 11, 2018, the Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief and the Government of Canada signed the Edéhzhíe Agreement. By signing the Edéhzhíe Agreement, these two parties agreed to establish Edéhzhíe together, and to work together permanently to protect Edéhzhíe.

Complementing the IPCA designation, Edéhzhíe will be designated a National Wildlife Area (NWA) in 2020, under federal authority. NWAs are protected and managed according to the Wildlife Area Regulations under the Canada Wildlife Act.

These designations will allow the Dehcho First Nations and the Government of Canada to protect the ecological integrity of Edéhzhíe from future development.


The Dehcho First Nations and the Government of Canada will co-manage Edéhzhíe Protected Area. Under the 2018 Edéhzhíe Agreement, these parties agreed to act in the best interests of Edéhzhíe, and to both be responsible for its management and operation.
There will be a jointly appointed Edéhzhíe Management Board. This board will make management decisions by consensus. The consensus decision-making process has its origins in Indigenous society and culture. All decisions will be consistent with:

  • protecting the land
  • supporting the relationship between Dehcho Dene and the land
  • contributing to reconciliation

Management of Edéhzhíe will encourage Dehcho Dene presence on the land. It will also promote the continuance of language, harvesting, and other aspects of Dehcho Dene culture. An extensive Dehcho K’éhodi Stewardship and Guardian Program, administered by the DFN, will contribute to Edéhzhíe monitoring and stewardships programs. The Edéhzhíe Guardians will undertake patrols, research projects, and youth mentoring.

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas

Edéhzhíe is an IPCA. IPCAs are lands and waters where Indigenous Peoples have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems. This is done through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. Culture and language are the heart and soul of an IPCA. IPCAs came into being following key recommendations made in the Indigenous Circle of Experts report released in March 2018, and commitments made in Budget 2018 under the new Canada Nature Fund.
Essential elements:

  • IPCAs are Indigenous-led. Indigenous Peoples have the primary role in determining objectives, boundaries, management plans and governance structures for IPCAs. This is part of their exercise of self-determination
  • IPCAs involve a long-term commitment to the conservation of lands and waters for future generations
  • IPCAs highlight Indigenous rights and responsibilities. An example is the responsibility to care for, and respect, lands and waters consistent with natural and Indigenous laws

IPCAs represent an important step toward reconciliation. IPCAs also contribute to Canada’s international commitments for biodiversity. Through Canada Target 1, Canada aims to conserve 17% of land and inland waters, and 10% of marine and coastal areas, by 2020.

Future National Wildlife Area designation

The Government of Canada, the DFN, the Tłįchǫ Government, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and other partners are committed to designating the area as Edéhzhíe National Wildlife Area (NWA) in 2020. Edéhzhíe contains:

  • nationally significant habitat for migratory birds
  • species at risk
  • unique or unusual wildlife habitat on the Horn Plateau

NWA designation will complement and enhance the IPCA’s objectives, such as the conservation of wildlife and its habitat. For instance, Wildlife Area Regulations under the Canada Wildlife Act will provide regulatory restrictions on certain activities in Edéhzhíe.


Edéhzhíe is a remote wilderness area in the Northwest Territories. Currently, the land is federal Crown land that is administered and controlled by ECCC.

While federal Crown lands are public property, there is no general public right of access to federal Crown lands. Until a management plan is in place, we discourage visitors to Edéhzhíe.

Once Edéhzhíe is a National Wildlife Area, access to the area will be addressed through the Wildlife Area Regulations, the Establishment Agreement, and a management plan developed by a consensus-based management board.

We recognize that there is current use of these lands by the public for recreation and sport hunting and fishing. This will continue to be the case unless the management plan identifies a need for federal permits, or otherwise restricts access under the Wildlife Area Regulations.


GPS: approximately 62°00’ N and 119°00’ W

map (see long description below)
Map of Edéhzhíe Protected Area boundaries
Long description

This map shows the area in the Dehcho region (southwestern part) of the NWT. The area is northeast of Fort Simpson, north of Fort Providence, and west of Wrigley. The boundaries of Edéhzhíe Protected Area are indicated. The IPCA covers the Horn Plateau, Willowlake River, Willow Lake, Bulmer Lake, Hornell Lake, Mink Lake, and northern Mills Lake. The scale on the map is in kilometers. A small inset national map shows the Protected Area’s location in the NWT.

This map is for illustrative purposes only. It should not be used to define legal boundaries.

Summary table

This table provides summary information for Edéhzhíe IPCA and candidate NWA
Category Information
Protected area (PA) designation IPCA and candidate NWA
Province/territory Northwest Territories
Latitude/longitude Approximately 62°00’ N and 119°00’ W
Size 14,218 square kilometres
Reason for creation of PA
  • The area supports a population of a species or subspecies or a group of species which is concentrated, for any portion of the year
  • The area supports an appreciable fauna assemblage of rare, vulnerable, threatened or endangered species or subspecies of plants or animals, or an appreciable number of individuals of any one or more of these species or subspecies
  • The area is a rare or unusual wildlife habitat, of a specific type in a biogeographic region
Date created

IPCA: 2018
NWA: (anticipated) 2020

International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classification Wilderness Area (Ib)
Additional designations
Faunistic and floristic importance
  • Mills Lake, the Horn Plateau, and the Horn River are recognized for their characteristic geomorphology, rare or “at risk” flora and fauna, and important wildlife habitat.
Keystone or flagship species
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)




Invasive species None known
Main threats and challenges
  • habitat loss and fragmentation by human land use activities (e.g. the development of industrial facilities, road, seismic lines, and pipelines)
  • unnaturally high predation rates resulting from human-induced habitat alterations
Management agency
  • Dehcho First Nations
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service
Public access and usage
  • At the present time, and until a management plan is approved, visitor access to Edéhzhíe is not encouraged
  • Edéhzhíe is a remote wilderness area

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page and any notice posted at the NWA site, the notice legally prevails.

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – North Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship Unit
Western Arctic Unit
P.O. Box 2310
5019 52nd St, 4th Floor
Yellowknife NT X1A 2P7

Toll-free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca

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