For thirty-four years Davidee Kooneeliusie has worked for Parks Canada. He regularly explores Auyuittuq National Park by foot, snowmobile and dogteam. Over his 34 years of work he has seen trails turn into rivers, glaciers recede, river ice levels drop, lake ice thickness decrease, snow levels decrease and new birds arrive.
Davidee spoke with expedition member Elizabeth Andre. He described difficulties the Global Warming 101 team is likely to encounter as they try to mush through Auyuittuq National Park towards Qikiqtarjuaq. Lack of snow will likely force the team to mush on the slippery and boulder-choked frozen river. Davidee gave Elizabeth several photos of one particularly difficult section of river called “The Waterfalls.” This snow-less trail will no doubt be difficult for the sleds and team.
Elizabeth: Davidee, you’re an Ecosystem Technician for Parks Canada and you work here in Auyuittuq National Park.
Elizabeth: How many years have you worked here?
Davidee: Altogether I have worked for 34 years for Parks Canada and 25 years in Qikiqtarjuaq and the rest here in Pangnirtung.
Elizabeth: Have you seen any changes in the environment or the duration or extent of winter?
Davidee: Yes, quite a bit; especially with the land. Well, there are some changes too with the weather, but I only can really speak to you about the land because I’m attached to the land—that is where I work. In thirty-four years of my time I’ve gone through a lot of hiking, traveling, snowmobiling during summer time, winter time and spring time. During the summer, where I used to walk is part of the river now—a many-channeled river right through the Akshayuk Pass. The place where I used to hike through, it’s all under water now. And the glaciers, they retreat a lot. There is one particular glacier called Turner glacier, right in Summit Lake area half way between here and Qikiqtarjuaq. In order to cross that glacier we used to go up, way up all the way in order to get to the other side. Right now you just walk through the bottom. Where that glacier used to go all the way to the lake, the bottom now is just gravel; you just walk over it now.
Elizabeth: The route that the Steger dogsled team will take, what will that look like this year?
Davidee: Well we call it the waterfalls, it’s not getting any better; it’s getting worse and worse every year. This year, to me, is the worst in the 34 years of my time that I have gone through. It’s even hard now even to try and walk it. For snow-machines and for dogs, it’s a little bit difficult.
Elizabeth: And it’s difficult because there is not snow, it’s just ice and rocks?
Davidee: Just hard ice and rocks. And what I think is that it is getting worse each year. Each year there is less and less ice at the waterfalls now. When I started with Parks Canada it used to be no problem; there used to be lots of ice and now it’s just basically a little bit of ice, rocks and no snow.
Elizabeth: Thirty years ago when you started, in addition to there being more ice, how much snow was there in Pang pass?
Davidee: Well, there’s never really been enough snow between Summit Lake to the head of the fiord in Pangnirtung on the south side, but on the north side of Summit Lake there is pretty much always snow there, but this side of Summit Lake, we call it Overlord, to the head of the Fiord there has been very little snow. And most of the time you have to travel on the river because around you is just rocks. The only route is river; right on the main river and most of the time it’s just hard ice.
Elizabeth: Have you seen other changes in the park?
Davidee: Ah yes, well I said earlier that I only could speak about the land, so the weather, there has been some changes in the weather, but I really can’t speak too much about the weather itself, but yes, more on the ice. The ice seems to be melting more and there is more break-up a lot earlier and never seems to be really thick. And especially this winter. The lake itself is usually a lot thicker than the sea ice because it’s fresh water; fresh water and salt water are different. And I notice this year, in the month of January, I was out fishing twice, the ice is way less than four feet. It’s supposed to be a lot thicker in the month of January but this year it was not.
Elizabeth: Have you noticed any changes with any of the animals or plants in the park?
Davidee: About the plants; I see more plants. There seems to be more because it’s warmer. That is the only thing I have noticed. But the animals…I also have seen some animals that have never been up here before. That’s the other observation I have.
Elizabeth: What are some of the new animals you have seen?
Davidee: Mainly birds.
Elizabeth: Is there anything else I should ask that I don’t even know about in order to ask?
Davidee: The dog teams that are coming in, I think they should be really prepared to go through some pretty slippery areas. They should be prepared to go through really really sand-blasted ice they’ll be encountering between here and Summit Lake.
Elizabeth: Ok…well, thanks for the warning…We’ll try and get ready (both laugh).
Davidee: I have dogs myself but my dogs are not trained to go through that kind of an area. I think I would really really have a hard time.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Well our dogs are used to running through trees and deep snow so it’s going to be really different for them too…
Davidee: Yeah it’s really really slippery; very slippery…as I said, it is all sand-blasted—some areas as shiny as glass.
Elizabeth: Wow…is there any chance we’ll get more snow?
Davidee: I doubt it (both laugh).
Elizabeth: Well alright, thanks, Davidee, for talking with us, I really appreciate it.