Polar Bear Pass (Nanuit Itillinga) National Wildlife Area

Polar Bear Pass (Nanuit Itillinga) National Wildlife Area (NWA) supports many bird species and some mammals including species at risk such as Peary caribou.


Polar Bear Pass (Nanuit Itillinga) NWA is located on Bathurst Island. This is in the heart of the Canadian Arctic archipelago. The NWA is 263 648 hectares (ha) in size. This makes it one of the largest NWA’s in Canada.

The NWA has unusual gathering and diversity of wildlife for its latitude. The area consists of a valley bordered by low hills up to 240 metres high. It has large wetlands where polygon ground patterns and other rarities exist, caused by frost and thaw cycles. Covering the floor of the valley is a relatively thick mat of:

The surrounding ridges are mostly desert, as is around 95% of the Canadian High Arctic.

polar bear
Polar bear

The NWA supports at least 54 species of birds. This includes 30 breeding species, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds. Red phalarope are likely the most abundant nesting species. Brant also breed here, but this population migrates over Greenland to winter in Ireland. Various species of mammals occur in the NWA including:

Peary caribou is an endangered species under the Species at Risk Act. Its populations have fluctuated dramatically over the years.

Peary caribou
Peary caribou at Nanuit Itillinga NWA. Photo: Lisa Pirie

As the NWA name implies, polar bears pass through the area in spring and summer. They do so on their way to Graham Moore Bay, to the southwest. This is an important feeding area where they find walrus and ringed seals.

Several studies by High Arctic field research station had been conducted. These studies serve as the source of much scientific information on Arctic flora and fauna. From 1968-1993, the National Museum of Natural Sciences operated a research station. They conducted studies on the life histories and behavioral adaptations of arctic animals at Polar Bear Pass. As a result, the Bracebridge-Goodsir Inlet area was first identified for protection under the International Biological Program (IBP) in the 1970's. The area was declared a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1982.

Polar Bear Pass was designated as a NWA in September, 1986, due to many consultations with:

More information is provided on Polar Bear Pass (Nanuit Itillinga) NWA in the summary table below.


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 their 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 activities are prohibited. However, some activities may be authorized through public notice or the issuance of permits as long as they are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWAs Management and Activities section.

In the Nunavut territory, Nunavut beneficiaries, as per the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA), can harvest wildlife for their economic, social and cultural needs (Article 5 of the NLCA). This includes collecting migratory bird eggs and feathers. The Polar Bear Pass NWA is managed by partnerships with:

This partnership is per the NLCA and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for conservation areas.

Access to the NWA is restricted except for Nunavut beneficiaries. For all non-beneficiaries, a permit must be obtained to either access or conduct any type of activity in the NWA. Activities that may be permitted will be in accordance with the conservation objectives of the NWA management plan (currently in development).

More information on access and permitting can be obtained by contacting the Environment and Climate Change Canada regional office.

Map of the area

Map of Polar Bear Pass (Nanuit Itillinga) NWA

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

Summary table

Protected Area designation NWA
Province/territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 75°43' North / 98°40'West
Size 263,648 ha
Reason for creation of protected area
  • Supports regionally significant wildlife populations.
  • Supports many archaeological sites
Date created (Gazetted) 1985 - Legal Description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Strict Nature Reserve (Ia)
Additional designations
  • International Biological Programme Site (IBP)
  • Ramsar Site
Keystone or flagship species
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)
Main habitat type
  • wetlands
  • low hills
  • a small marine portion
Invasive species None recorded
Additional links Birds:


Main threats and challenges
Management Agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage Nunavut beneficiaries and people with appropriate permits only

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page and any notice posted at the NWA site, the notice prevails as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity.

Contact us

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Prairie and Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
Eastern Arctic Unit
P. O. Box 1714
Iqaluit, Nunavut
X0A 0H0

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

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