Edéhzhíe National Wildlife Area and Dehcho Protected Area
The Edéhzhíe National Wildlife Area (NWA) 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 is also co-designated as a Dehcho Protected Area.
Edéhzhíe NWA covers 14,218 square kilometers (km2), 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 as a Dehcho Protected Area in 2018 and designated as a NWA in 2022, it is the first Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) established since the inception of the Pathway to Canada Target 1 and the launch of the Canada Nature Fund.
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
Edéhzhíe NWA 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 NWA.
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 NWA 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 NWA.
The National Wildlife Area supports several species at risk. Woodland (boreal) caribou’s critical habitat is extensive in the NWA. Wood bison inhabit the eastern portion of the NWA.
Examples of species at risk within Edéhzhíe include:
- woodland (boreal) caribou
- wood bison
- peregrine falcon
- short-eared owl
- olive-sided flycatcher
- common nighthawk
- rusty blackbird
- yellow rail
- evening grosbeak
- northern leopard frog (suspected)
Edéhzhíe NWA 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 NWA 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)
- fox sparrow
- blackpoll warbler
- white-throated sparrow
- Tennessee warbler
- Lincoln's sparrow
- dark-eyed junco
- hermit thrush
- palm warbler
- yellow-rumped warbler
- American robin
- ruby-crowned kinglet
- white-crowned sparrow
- orange-crowned warbler
- gray-cheeked thrush
- alder flycatcher
- northern waterthrush
- lesser yellowlegs
- Wilson's snipe
- common yellow throat
- LeConte's sparrow
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 is designated as a National Wildlife Area. NWAs are protected and managed according to the Wildlife Area Regulations under the Canada Wildlife Act.
These designations 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 NWA. 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.
- 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 25% of land and 25% of its oceans, by 2025.
National Wildlife Area
The Government of Canada, the DFN, the Tłįchǫ Government, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and other partners have worked collaboratively to designate Edéhzhíe as a National Wildlife Area. Edéhzhíe NWA contains:
- nationally significant habitat for migratory birds
- species at risk
- unique or unusual wildlife habitat on the Horn Plateau
Under the Canada Wildlife Act, NWAs are protected and managed in accordance with the Wildlife Area Regulations. The primary purpose of NWAs is to protect and conserve wildlife and wildlife habitat. For this purpose and according to the legislation, all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife can be prohibited. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all other activities are prohibited in all NWAs. However, some activities may be authorized through Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations or the issuance of permits as long as they are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWA Management and Activities section.
Edéhzhíe National Wildlife Area - New regulations and permit requirements
Please be advised that on May 2, 2022 the Edéhzhíe Protected Area received an additional designation as a national wildlife area. The purpose of the Edéhzhíe National Wildlife Area is primarily for Dene land-based cultural activities, and for wildlife and habitat conservation.
Activities in national wildlife areas are regulated under the Canada Wildlife Act which provides regulatory restrictions and monetary penalties on activities that may interfere with the conservation of wildlife.
Traditional activities, including Dene Ahthít’e within Edéhzhíe for resource harvesting and other cultural activities practiced by Treaty and section 35 rights holders in a manner consistent with Dehcho Law, are not affected, and shall continue without requiring additional permits.
All other activities within the Edéhzhíe National Wildlife Area now require a National Wildlife Area permit, including:
Request a permit by emailing CWSPermitNorth@ec.gc.ca
Note: Permits will be limited.
Edéhzhíe is a NWA and IPCA 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. Entry into the Edéhzhíe NWA is prohibited, but an entry permit can be requested under the Wildlife Area Regulations. Individuals exercising section 35 rights under the Constitution Act (1982) will be able to enter the Edéhzhíe NWA without a permit, in a manner consistent with Dehcho law.
Map of the area
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 NWA are indicated. The NWA 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 NWA’s location in the NWT.
This map is for illustrative purposes only. It should not be used to define legal boundaries.
|Protected area (PA) designation
|IPCA and NWA
|Approximately 62°00’ N and 119°00’ W
|14,218 square kilometres
|Reason for creation of PA
|International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classification
|Wilderness Area (Ib)
|Faunistic and floristic importance
|Keystone or flagship species
|Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)
|Main threats and challenges
|Public access and usage
Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page, any notice posted at the NWA site and the law, the law prevails, as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity.
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
Toll-free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
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