Pukaskwa National Park, Canada
Located on the shores of Lake Superior in the heart of the Canadian Shield, Pukaskwa National Park is unparalleled in cultural and natural history among Canadian parks. For thousands of years, numerous groups of Aboriginal peoples have inhabited the area, each adding to its rich history. To this day, the involvement of thirteen First Nations and one Métis group are of critical importance to park management and operations.
The park’s exceptional beauty is revealed in its vistas of Lake Superior, rugged landscape, and rushing rivers. The spirit of wilderness envelops those who explore this special place. Amazing opportunities abound to experience natural history and First Nations culture. Established as a National Park in 1978, Pukaskwa protects a representative sample of the Central Boreal Uplands Natural Region of the Canadian Shield. It is the largest national park in Ontario.
The boulder beaches of Pukaskwa are dotted with mysterious shallow rock structures fashioned by ancient civilizations. These petroforms or “Pukaskwa Pits” are cobblestone formations, mounds or depressions on beachfronts and may have been used for temporary shelter, storage or for spiritual purposes. It is believed that at least some of the area’s petroforms may have been created by peoples in 500 BC to AD1650; the last of the pre-contact periods in local Aboriginal history.
The steep and rugged landscape of Pukaskwa National Park is the legacy of mountain ranges that existed here over 2 billion years ago. The more recent effects of glaciation can be seen throughout in the park. The characteristic granite of the Canadian Shield underlies the thin acidic layers of grey-brown soil. Though this landscape was formed from Precambrian rocks, it was the glaciers that sculpted its final shape.
Pukaskwa National Park is managed by Parks Canada, with input and consultation with First Nations, the Canadian public, partners and stakeholders.
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Size and Location
Pukaskwa National Park is located along the north shore of Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada, approximately 15 km southeast of the town of Marathon. It covers an area of 1,878 km2.
Flora and Fauna
The section of Boreal forest within the park, dominated by tree species such as white spruce (Picea glauca), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), jack pine (Pinus banksiana), tamarack (Larix laricina) and black spruce (Picea mariana), provides habitat for animals such as moose (Alces alces), grey wolves (Canis lupus), beaver (Castor canadensis), black bear (Ursus americanus), lynx (Lynx canadensis) and flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus). Also found within the park is a small, remnant herd of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), which numbers approximately 16 individuals but has been declining steadily since the early 1990’s. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded within the park, along with some rare plants including Pitcher’s Thistle (Cirsium pitcheri), Sparrow’s-egg Lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium passerinum) and Mountain bilberry (Vaccinium membranaceum).
Other species at risk include the anatum subspecies of the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrines anatum), the Canada warbler (Wilsonia canadensis) and the Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica).
Threats and measures taken in response
Between 1978 and 1997, Pukaskwa National Park was under a fire exclusion policy during which Parks Canada did not allow fires to burn in the park. For several previous decades, the provincial government’s policy directed the immediate suppression of fires within the park before they could cause extensive harm.
Fire is an integral part of the forest ecosystem in many areas and research has shown several ecological consequences of fire suppression within Pukaskwa National Park. These include an increase in susceptibility to insect epidemics, a reduction to browse and forage components of wildlife habitats, an increase in dead biomass which can potentially lead to more intense wildfires later on, and a reduction in fire dependent species, such as jack pine and white pine (Pinus strobus).
On account of these consequences, Parks Canada has changed its approach and is now using fire as a resource management tool. Pukaskwa has an active prescribed burn program that involves the careful and extensive planning of prescribed fires within select areas to help restore the park’s native biodiversity. The first prescribed burn was in 1998, with another in 2002 and the most recent taking place between 2004 and 2008. The intended purpose of these fires was to increase the vegetation composition and structure that favour fire-dependent species, as well as stimulate new growth of certain species, notably black spruce, white birch (Betula papyrifera), white pine and white spruce. The initial fires have been deemed a success, and post-burn monitoring will take place to measure the ecological effects of the fires.
The woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), which occurs in Pukaskwa National Park, is listed as Threatened in the province of Ontario and across Canada. The destruction of its habitat, human disturbance (including road and infrastructure construction), and predation by wolves, bears and coyotes within its range have all seriously affected its status. Park staff and partners are increasing efforts to ensure that the numbers of caribou within the park contribute to a viable population along the north shore of Lake Superior. To actively increase the population, a caribou restoration program is being developed, which may include such tools as translocation of a number of caribou into the park. This has been facilitated by a literature review, a forum with scientists on the feasibility of this action, and community interviews to determine the public support for this endeavor. In order to properly develop a Caribou Restoration Plan, park staff are actively communicating with local and regional First Nations groups, and conducting a series of discussions to determine the social science behind working to restore caribou numbers. No decisions on the care of the species are made without direct input from members of the First Nations.