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Peel Watershed Atlas

Click here to select atlas sections to download.

Purpose of this atlas

Peel Watershed Atlas cover

The interests, rights and stewardship role of the First Nations of Nacho Nyak Dun and Tetl'it Gwich'in, to the lands, waters, wildlife and resources of the Peel watershed are established through Final Agreements and various trans-boundary arrangements. Renewable Resource Councils in both the Yukon and NWT, and the land use planning bodies established through land claims agreements, also have a key role in all land, conservation and resource planning in the region.

In addition, a wide range of people and groups have interests in the Peel River watershed, from community people who rely on the watershed for drinking water, big game outfitters and tourism operators who guide here, trappers who use trap-lines, members of the public who pursue outdoor recreation activities, conservationists who seek the protection of important ecological areas, to businesses and industries that seek to explore for oil, gas and mineral resources or pursue other economic activities. It is important that this wide range of interests be considered when developing a land use and conservation plan. Although lots of information exists for some aspects of the Peel watershed, others are not nearly as well known.

This atlas shows existing information for a wide range of conservation values and resources in the Peel River watershed. Existing digital data sources were used to create maps that display what can be complex information in a clear and concise way that can be used by people with varying backgrounds and expertise. Most maps are at the same scale, making spatial comparisons between different values easier. It is our hope that this atlas will help everyone understand where the various values and resources in the watershed are located, how these relate to various interests, and where there may be data gaps.

CPAWS-Yukon developed this atlas to:

  • provide a source of public information for land use and conservation planning;
  • to assist the Renewable Resources Councils and Peel River Land Use Planning Commission in planning and management within the Peel basin;
  • to educate & inform interested parties on the conservation values and related resources in the Peel River watershed;
  • to help inform various government resource development processes, including the Oil & Gas Call for Nominations process;
  • to identify data gaps;
  • to obtain corrections/revisions to data;
  • to encourage other interested parties to provide additional data that can be used for land use and conservation planning.

To assist in the identification of data gaps and revisions to existing data, we have included a blank base map at the end of the atlas (Appendix A). We would like to encourage all those who feel that information is missing or incorrect to make their corrections on this blank base map and mail this back to CPAWS-Yukon. Any other comments and digital data sets would be welcomed too. This atlas is a working draft, a starting point, not a definitive work on all values in the Peel River watershed.

Atlas sections

Description: The cover of the atlas features the image shown at the top of this page.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~760K)

Description: CPAWS-Yukon acknowledges and thanks numerous organizations for making this atlas possible through direct financial support, and assistance with staff support, field work, participation in community trips, mapping and data sources.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~515K)

Table of Contents
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~440K)

Purpose of This Atlas
Description: CPAWS-Yukon developed this atlas to:

  • provide a source of public information for land use and conservation planning;
  • to assist the Renewable Resources Councils and Peel River Land Use Planning Commission in planning and management within the Peel basin;
  • to educate & inform interested parties on the conservation values and related resources in the Peel River watershed;
  • to help inform various government resource development processes, including the Oil & Gas Call for Nominations process;
  • to identify data gaps;
  • to obtain corrections/revisions to data;
  • to encourage other interested parties to provide additional data that can be used for land use and conservation planning.

(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~495K)

Introduction to the Peel Watershed
Description: The Peel River is one of Canadas most striking and pristine mountain river watersheds, collecting the waters of well known tributaries such as the Ogilvie, Blackstone, Hart, Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume. These rivers form the heart of a great mountain ecosystem with a long cultural history, clear flowing waters, free-ranging wildlife and a rugged northern beauty.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~900K)

Three Rivers Journey (2003)
Description: In July of 2003, artists, writers, photographers, and other notable Canadians from across Canada and North America joined members of Yukon (Nacho Nyak Dun) and Northwest Territories’ (Tetl'it Gwich'in) First Nations communities on voyages down three tributaries in the Peel watershed, the Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~510K)

Land Use Planning in the Peel
Description: The Peel River watershed is within the Final Agreement area of four First Nations, all of whom have land selections in the watershed, as well as a long standing interest in land, water and wildlife management. In 1992, the Nacho Nyak Dun Final Agreement set up a process to make the Bonnet Plume a Canadian Heritage River, in recognition of its important recreational and cultural features. A Management Plan for the Bonnet Plume watershed guides land uses. Just over the border in the Northwest Territories, the Arctic Red River was also designated a Canadian Heritage River, due to the efforts of the Gwitcha Gwitchin of the community of Tsiigehtchic.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~760K)

Potential Threats to the Ecological Integrity of the Peel Watershed
Description: Completing a land use plan, including a network of protected areas and conservation lands before oil and gas, industrial or other development, is the best way to prevent the degradation of ecosystems, wildlife, cultural and wilderness values.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~565K)

A Conservation Vision for the Peel
Description: Published in May, 2004, the Peel Watershed Atlas offered a conservation vision statement that predates the work of the current Peel Watershed Planning Commission. Based on extensive community and First Nations participation, and the work of the Planning Commission, there is a new revised conservation goal described at The underlying vision to protect the Peel watershed with all its tributaries, remains the same as when the Atlas was written. The conservation vision shown in the 2004 Atlas is provided as an archive on the evolution of conservation work in the Peel watershed.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~825K)

Description: This is a detailed listing of the source documents referenced in the development of the Peel Watershed Atlas.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.38 Mb)

Appendix 1 - Topography
Description: High mountains, deep canyons, pond-studded plateaus, ancient landslides, glacial lake bottoms, and rolling hills provide a rich variety of landforms in the Peel watershed.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.27 Mb)

Appendix 2 - Physiography
Description: The Yukon is part of the chain of mountain ranges that runs from Mexico north to the Beaufort Sea. This mountain system is known as the Canadian Cordillera. There are five distinct physiographic or morphogeological belts in the Canadian Cordillera that run side by side in a northwesterly direction. Each belt is distinct due to a different geological history as well as the effects of climate and glaciation.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.2 Mb)

Appendix 3 - Watersheds
Description: The Peel River is the most westerly tributary of the Mackenzie River watershed, the largest river system in Canada. In total, the Peel River is 440 kilometres long (MacDonald Environmental Sciences, 1994) and drains an area of approximately 77,000 square kilometers.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~2.07 Mb)

Appendix 4 - Surficial Materials
Description: The surficial materials we find in the Peel River watershed today are the result of geologic processes that took place during the Cenozoic Era (Fuller and Jackson, in prep.) Weathering, shattering of rock through frost action, and gradual creep of materials has covered most mid- to high-elevation surfaces with blankets of colluvium (a mixture of weathered rock, soil, and other materials on a slope) while valley bottoms contain thick fans and aprons of alluvium (materials deposited as a result of moving water).
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.08 Mb)

Appendix 5 - Bedrock Geology
Description: The Peel River watershed is part of the far western edge of ancestral North America, two billion year old bedrock overlain by up to 15 kilometres of sediments washed down from the heart of the continent. The time span of these deposits is among the longest in the world, with sedimentary rocks from the early Proterozoic (1850 million years ago) to the middle Jurassic (160 million years ago), a 1.6 billion year long record exposed in only a few other places in Canada (Ecosystem Stratification Working Group, 1998).
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.12 Mb)

Appendix 6 - Enduring Features
Description: Enduring features are the distinct landforms and climate factors that support the variety of plant and animal communities in each ecoregion. The World Wildlife Fund (through its Endangered Spaces Campaign) and many government jurisdictions have used enduring features as one tool for assessing the representativeness of candidate protected areas. One principal goal of protected areas is to maintain the variety of life and therefore ideally, biological information would be used to assess representativeness. However, often biological information for a region is scarce, and in these cases enduring features, which are more easily inventoried, can be used at a coarse scale to help plan protected areas.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.33 Mb)

Appendix 7 - Soil Landscapes and the Extent of Glaciation
Description: (by Karen McKenna) The Peel River Watershed is a diverse and complex landscape resulting in a complex pattern of soils and vegetation. The watershed is at the interface between two major Pleistocene glaciations and the unglaciated portion of northern Yukon. The glacial history affects the topography, the landforms, the deposits and hence the soils and the pattern in which they are distributed.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.54 Mb)

Appendix 8 - Ecoregions
Description: The Peel River watershed falls within portions of six different ecoregions. Each ecoregion is a natural region with a distinctive combination of physical characteristics, such as climate, landforms, soils, plants and animals. Many of the previous maps in this atlas show information that was used by scientists to develop these ecoregion boundaries.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.93 Mb)

Appendix 9 - Ecosystem Classification
Description: Ecosystem classification is the identification, description and logical ordering of different ecosystems. This process groups together ecosystems with similar climate, soils and vegetation.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.79 Mb)

Appendix 10 - Forest Cover From Aerial Photography
Description: One way to get an idea for the vegetation in a remote area like the Peel Watershed without spending a lot of time and money on fieldwork in the area is to look at aerial photographs. Using a stereoscope and aerial photographs, a skilled technician can identify different stands of trees, delineate wetlands, identify meadows, and more.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.18 Mb)

Appendix 11 - Vegetation Cover From Aerial Photography
Description: It is difficult to get detailed information on what plants cover our land because areas like the Peel River watershed are remote and therefore expensive to do research in. One solution to this problem is to use satellites in space to give us a better picture of the land.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.2 Mb)

Appendix 12 - Fire History
Description: Although there have been significant efforts made to control them, wildfires have a long history as integral components of the boreal forest ecosystem. The boreal forest of the Yukon is classified as a fire dependent or fire-driven ecosystem. This means that wildfires are essential for maintaining the character, diversity and vigor of the plant and animal communities (Beaver, 2001).
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.1 Mb)

Appendix 13 - Forest Cover and Fire History
Description: Due to the cool climate in the Yukon, plant matter decomposes more slowly than it is produced. As a result, large amounts of litter (organic matter) builds up, essentially “locking up” nutrients that are in this organic matter and insulating the soil, making it colder. Fire helps recycle the nutrients, returning them to the soil and making them available for new plant growth. By removing the heavy layer of litter, fires also result in higher soil temperatures. All these improve overall site productivity (Beaver, 2001).
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~995K)

Appendix 14 - Porcupine Caribou
Description: The Porcupine Caribou Herd is a large group of migrating caribou that has been important in northern Yukon for thousands of years. First Nations people have relied extensively on the herd for survival. The Gwich'in, Inuvialuit, Inupiat and Northern Tutchone cultures and economies are dependent on the Porcupine Caribou.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.52 Mb)

Appendix 15 - Woodland Caribou
Description: There are approximately 22 distinct woodland caribou herds in the Yukon, with three of them occurring in the Peel River Watershed. The Hart River and Bonnet Plume herds, although not extensively studied, have for many years been known to occur here. In 2001, a third herd, the Clear Creek Herd, was identified in the region, overlapping with the Hart River Herd.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.18 Mb)

Appendix 17 - Wetlands and Waterfowl Migration Routes
Description: Wetlands – areas that are waterlogged all or most of the time – can be ponds, marshes, bogs, fens, muskegs, peatlands, swamps or shallow lakes. They are often highly productive environments that provide habitat for a wide range of plants and animals and support many complex ecological relationships. They play a very important role in ecosystem health.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.81 Mb)

Appendix 18 - Birds of Prey
Description: Birds of prey are good indicators of overall ecosystem health. By monitoring these birds, we can detect environmental problems early and take action to correct these problems. Similarly, the presence of thriving populations of birds of prey suggest a productive ecosystem. Golden eagles, bald eagles, gyrfalcons and peregrine falcons are all birds of prey that occur in the Peel River watershed. Other birds of prey, such as owls and osprey, also occur here but their distributions have not been mapped.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.49 Mb)

Appendix 19 - Fish
Description: Eighteen different species of fish are known to use the Peel River watershed for some portion of their life cycles (MacDonald Environmental Services Ltd., 1995). This map illustrates known locations where fish have been sampled by different researchers over the last 23 years. Arctic grayling, round whitefish, dolly varden and slimy sculpin were the most common species found at these locations.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.18 Mb)

Appendix 21 - First Nations
Description: A large part of the Peel River watershed falls within the traditional territories of the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun based out of Mayo, Yukon, and the Tetl'it Gwich'in based out of Fort McPherson, NWT. The western edge of the watershed also falls within the traditional territories of the Tron dk Hwchin of Dawson and the Vuntut Gwitchin of Old Crow. A small area surrounding the lower Blackstone River falls within an overlap area of all four First Nations.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.5 Mb)

Appendix 22 - Historical Sites and Travel Routes
Description: Historically, different First Nations groups traveled across the Peel River watershed on their way to hunting and fishing areas and to trade with other groups. Although it is impossible to show all of the different routes used, some of the main ones are illustrated on this map. The following account is adapted from The Wind, the Snake and the Bonnet Plume: Three Wild Northern Rivers (1998).
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.3 Mb)

Appendix 23 - Trapping Concessions
Description: Trapping has always been an important part of the way of life in the Peel River watershed. First Nations people have trapped here for many generations. When a trading post was set up at Fort McPherson, it changed the traditional life cycle of the Gwich'in people tremendously. Prior to the trading post, the Gwich'in spent most of their time hunting in the mountains of the upper Peel watershed during winter and fishing in the Peel and its tributaries in the summer.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.16 Mb)

Appendix 24 - Outfitting Concessions
Description: In the Yukon, non-resident hunters cannot hunt big game animals unless they are outfitted by a licensed outfitter and accompanied by a licensed big game guide. Canadian non-residents may also be guided by a Yukon resident holding a special guiding license. Big game animals include moose, caribou, mountain sheep, mountain goat, black bear, grizzly bear, wolf, coyote and wolverine (Yukon Dept. of Environment website).
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.2 Mb)

Appendix 25 - Potential Recreation/Tourism Features and Activities
Description: The Peel River watershed, with its spectacular mountain river tributaries, is known in the Yukon, across Canada, and in many parts of the world as a premiere destination for a wide range of wilderness recreation and backcountry tourism activities. The watershed remains one of the largest regions in the Yukon that has very large expanses of intact wilderness, with no roads or other development. This asset is increasingly rare in North America and elsewhere in the world.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.32 Mb)

Appendix 26 - Mining
Description: Mining has a long history in the Yukon. The first people to mine in the Peel watershed were probably the stampeders that tried the Peel River route to reach the Klondike during the famous Gold Rush of 1898. None of these stampeders found gold, the metal they were most interested in finding.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.16 Mb)

Appendix 27 - Oil and Gas
Description: Sandstone, limestone and other sedimentary rock can under certain conditions contain oil and gas. Oil and gas is formed when the remains of tiny marine plants and animals that lived 50 million years ago experienced immense pressure and extremely high temperatures over a long period of time. Oil and gas can subsequently be found in source rock (rock which contained the living tissue of these plants and animals), in reservoir rock (rock with lots of interconnected pore spaces that hold the petroleum), or in cap rock (a non-porous rock that trapped the oil or gas and prevented it from escaping).
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.66 Mb)

Appendix 28 - Sequence of Industrial Development
Description: As this map demonstrates, the level of industrial activity in the Peel River watershed has increased tremendously over the last 50 years. Keep in mind that the map only shows roads and oil and gas exploration activities. Other activities such as mining are not included, since information on timelines for different claimblocks was not readily available.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.12 Mb)

Appendix 29 - Areas Previously Identified For Wildlife Conservation
Description: The Peel River Watershed has been an area of interest for wildlife conservation for a long time. Outlined in this section are some of the areas identified previously as having high conservation value.
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.15 Mb)

Appendix 30 - Important Natural and Cultural Areas Identified by Previous Land Use Planning Processes
Description: A number of different commissions, committees and councils have identified specific areas within the Peel River watershed that they feel require some sort of protection or further investigation. These land use planning processes have all involved input from the communities. The map shows areas highlighted by the Mackenzie Delta Beaufort Sea Land Use Planning Commission (MDBS LUPC), the Peel River Watershed Advisory Committee (PRWAC), and the Mayo Renewable Resources Council (RRC).
(Acrobat [PDF] file, ~1.63 Mb)


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