Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area

Polar bear
Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada. Polar Bear

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Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area (NWA) is located on Bathurst Island, in the heart of the Canadian Arctic archipelago. The NWA is one of the largest in Canada comprising over 263 648 hectares (ha). The NWA features unusual concentration and diversity of wildlife and species for its latitude. Consisting of a valley bordered by low hills up to 240 metres high, the area features extensive wetlands where polygons and other phenomena induced by frost and thaw cycles abound. A relatively thick mat of Lichens, Mosses, Sedges, Grasses, flowering plants, and dwarf shrubs cover the floor of the valley. The surrounding ridges are basically desert, like approximately 95% of the Canadian High Arctic.

Several studies conducted by High Arctic field research station serves as the source of much scientific information on Arctic flora and fauna. From 1968-1993, the National Museum of Natural Sciences has operated a research station and conducted studies on the life histories and behavioral adaptations of arctic animals at Polar Bear Pass. As a result of this research, 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. Extensive consultations with industry, native groups, public and other interested parties culminated in the designation of Polar Bear Pass as a NWA in September, 1986.

The NWA supports at least 54 species of birds that include 30 breeding species, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds. Red Phalarope are probably 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 the Arctic Fox and Wolf, Lemmings, Muskoxen and the Peary Caribou, an endangered species under the Species at Risk Act, its populations having fluctuated dramatically over the years. As the NWA name implies, Polar Bears pass through the area in spring and summer on their way to Graham Moore Bay, to the southwest, an important feeding area where they find Walrus and Ringed Seals.

More information is provided on Polar Bear Pass NWA in the summary table below.


NWAs are protected and managed according to the Wildlife Area Regulations under the Canada Wildlife Act. The primary purpose of NWAs is the protection and conservation of wildlife and their habitat. For this purpose, and according to the legislation, Environment and Climate Change Canada can prohibit all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all activities are prohibited. Nonetheless, Environment and Climate Change Canada has the ability to authorize some activities, whether through public notice or the issuance of permits, as long as these 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 (including collecting migratory bird eggs and feathers) for their economic, social and cultural needs (Article 5 of the NLCA). Polar Bear Pass NWA, as per the NLCA and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for conservation areas, is managed in partnership by Environment and Climate Change Canada with the Area Co-management Committee (ACMC) of Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

Access to Polar Bear Pass 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.

More information on access and permitting for Polar Bear Pass NWA can be obtained by contacting the Environment and Climate Change Canada regional office.

Map of the Area

  • Bear Pass NWA boundaries.
Long description for the Map

Map showing a portion of Bathhurst Island, Nunavut, between Queens Channel and Graham Moore Bay. The boundaries of Nanuit Itillinga NWA are indicated. The protected area covers the portion of land between the two channels and the bay as well as a small portion of the adjacent waters. The scale on the map is in kilometers. Permanent water is indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the NWA in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Polar Bear Pass NWA can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name.

Summary Table

This table provides summary information for the Polar Bear Pass NWA
Category Information
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 and a substantial number of archaeological sites.
Date created (Gazetted) 1985 - Legal Description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category 1a - Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations
  • International Biological Programme Site (IBP)
  • Ramsar Site
Keystone or flagship species Polar Bear, Peary Caribou.
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Peary Caribou, Polar Bear.
Main habitat type Wetlands, low hills and a small marine portion.
Invasive species None recorded
Additional links

Birds: Red Phalarope.

Mammals: Wolf, Lemming, Muskoxen, Walrus, and Ringed Seal.

Main threats and challenges Increased shipping for hydrocarbon exploration (threat of oil spills), development and cruise ships.
Management Agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage None except for Nunavut beneficiaries and people with appropriate permits.

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 Information

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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