Ducks come calling
Ducks Unlimited has big plans for Delta

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

Inuvik ( May 19/00) - Ducks Unlimited has big plans for waterfowl research in the Western Arctic.

The organization is looking for partners and Gary Stewart, a regional officer based out of Edmonton's DU office, travelled to Inuvik last week to present his four-year, $1.3-million idea to representatives of several local wildlife management boards.

"We're proposing to do an intensive study of waterfowl in an area around Inuvik," Stewart told his audience.

"It will involve landcover inventory and mapping, a waterbird inventory, water-quality sampling and breed research."

Stewart said the proposal is innovative -- focusing on an area of the country that has been neglected for a long time in terms of serious waterbird research -- and comes at a time of pressure on the environment from things like climate change and oil and gas development. The project will also make use of the latest technology, like satellite imaging.

"I've been with DU for almost 25 years working on the Prairies and across Canada. I think this is the right place to do this project," he said.

"I think there is so little known about the waterbirds up here."

Stewart said some key information about the behaviour of ducks like scaup, widgeon, teal, mallard and scope, or black duck, is already known. For example, the majority of their summer nesting grounds are found in the Northwest Territories, and the Mackenzie Valley and Mackenzie Delta are of crucial importance to the health of the populations.

Although research has been undertaken in Alaska and started in the Norman Wells area, much remains to be done. And time is a consideration because the number of birds is declining in the Arctic, he added.

"We're finding more and more that it's the Northern birds that are in trouble," he said.

"The consequences of development are not clearly understood ... but when we have the information we can work with industry to eliminate the bad things and make the relationship between development and wildlife truly sustainable."

Stewart had come to Inuvik to meet with representatives of the Gwich'in Renewable Resource Board on a related project. The board's executive director, Peter Clarkson, attended the Aurora meeting and was clearly intrigued by what he heard.

"The GRRB's mandate is to be interested in anything to do with renewable resources," he said.

"We haven't done too much with ducks and this is the first year we're looking at a specific project, but we have collected traditional knowledge about them."

Stewart said DU is interested in using such information and wants to talk to residents who are familiar with the region and its waterbird species. He added DU also wants to establish partnerships not only for logistical support, but also to help fund the project, which has already attracted $600,000.

"A big key is going to be the dollar side as to whether we've chosen a viable project," he said.

"And with a powerful partnership we'll have more leverage with the oil companies."

Stewart said information gathered through the project could also be applicable to other species, like caribou.

Clarkson said he thought other wildlife management boards would be interested in meeting with Stewart for a more detailed session when he returns to Inuvik next month.

"With self-government coming up, the groups here are used to partnering," he said.

"And the beauty of a project like this is that after four years and $1.3 million we'll know a lot more about the birds and the land and, with the development of oil and gas, that's important."