Photograph by Michael Christopher Brown National Geographic November 2008
Admired for its natural beauty and undisturbed lands, the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area is one of the most ecologically diverse and distinctive areas in North America. Located in northern British Columbia, the M-K spreads out in a southeasterly direction from the Yukon–British Columbia border into Canada's northern Rockies. It encompasses approximately 16 million acres, making it about the size of Ireland.
The M-K has mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers as well as 50 watersheds, and it's known for an abundance of wild mammals, including Stone's sheep, mountain goats, elk, grizzly bears, moose, plains bison, and wolves. It's also home to unique cultures, with three First Nations communities in and near the area. ("First Nations" is the Canadian term for Native American groups.)
About 25 percent of the M-K is made up of parks and protected areas, which prohibit industrial development. The remaining 75 percent consists of resource management zones, which permit the extraction of resources like oil and gas, though the land is managed to sustain the natural environment. The M-K may border the richest area for oil and gas reserves in British Columbia.
Vaillant, John. "Northern Giant." National Geographic (November 2008), 136-51.
Adopted in 1998 by British Columbia's legislative assembly, the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area Act is intended to ensure that human activity doesn't damage the M-K's thriving ecosystem or its rich cultural heritage.
The act, along with the Muskwa-Kechika Management Plan, serves to guide individuals in governmental and nongovernmental organizations who are interested in developing resources such as minerals, oil, and gas or in encouraging recreational activities such as camping, hiking, and hunting. The act also set up the Muskwa-Kechika Advisory Board, appointed by the premier of British Columbia, to advise the provincial government on managing the area's natural resources.
Muskwa-Kechika Management Area Act.
Muskwa-Kechika Management Plan.
The M-K's parks and protected areas fall into one or more of the following categories.
Class A Provincial Park: Commercial and noncommercial recreational activities, with some restrictions, are allowed in the park areas. Industrial development—including mining, oil and gas extraction, timber harvesting, and hydroelectric development—are not permitted.
Protected Area: Most of the protected areas are part of the provincial park system. Some roads can be built to give access to the park and to surrounding areas where resources might be extracted.
Ecological Reserve: These reserves have been established mainly to protect rare and endangered plants and animals and are used primarily for scientific research and educational purposes, though nondestructive activities such as hiking and photography are sometimes allowed. Resource extraction and recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, and camping are prohibited.
The following are parks and protected areas within the M-K.
(Ecological Reserve): This reserve protects one of British Columbia's few cold-water tufa terraces and pool formations and contains some of the purest limestone mineral formations in the province. Helicopters provide the only access to the area, and no recreational activities are allowed.
Sikanni Chief River
(Ecological Reserve): This reserve's main role is to conserve the Englemann spruce in the Rocky Mountains, though it's also filled with pristine flora and wildlife typical of alpine and subalpine ecosystems, including mountain goats, grizzly bears, and golden eagles.
Dall River Old Growth
(Class A Provincial Park and Protected Area): This roadless area provides important habitat for grizzly bears and other mammals, as well as for flowers, trees, and shrubs. Permitted activities include hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, and horseback riding.
(Class A Provincial Park and Protected Area): Denetiah is known for its fine-textured beaches, beautiful landscape, and habitat for moose, caribou, Stone's sheep, and mountain goat. Access is limited to boats, floatplanes, helicopters, horses, and foot traffic; permitted activities include camping, hiking, riding, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and hunting.
Dune Za Keyih
(Class A Provincial Park and Protected Area): With one of North America's most abundant wildlife populations, this area is home to species such as grizzly and black bears, wolves, moose, Stone's sheep, elk, and mule deer. People can best access the area by floatplane or helicopter; permitted activities include camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, and hunting.
(Class A Provincial Park and Protected Area): This park was designated a protected area to preserve its fish (bull and rainbow trout and Arctic grayling) and animal life as well as to protect a section of trail important to First Nations people. Access is easiest by plane or helicopter; permitted activities include camping, hiking, fishing, cycling, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and hunting.
(Class A Provincial Park and Protected Area): This area is unique in having three biogeoclimactic zones—river bottom, old-growth forests, and subalpine and alpine areas. All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) can access the area on a designated road; activities include camping, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, and hunting.
Liard River Corridor/West
(Class A Provincial Park and Protected Area): From its high upland plateau to its muskeg to the rapids of its Grand Canyon, this diverse landscape is home to a range of animals, including grizzly bears, northern long-eared bats, and Rocky Mountain elk. Access is via road or river; permitted activities include fishing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, canoeing, wildlife viewing, and hunting.
Northern Rocky Mountains
(Class A Provincial Park and Protected Area): Established in June 1999, this park contains rivers, streams, waterfalls, lakes, and small glaciers. It's accessible mainly by boat, aircraft, foot, or horseback; recreational activities include canoeing, climbing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, and snowmobiling.
(Class A Provincial Park): Though small, this park has the great task of protecting habitat vital to the mountain goat. Access is by riverboat and foot; permitted activities include camping, hiking, horseback riding, and hunting.
(Class A Provincial Park): This beautiful landscape, accessible by horse and foot trails, is great for bird-watching—it can claim more than 70 species of birds, including hawks, falcons, eagles, and Lapland longspurs. The area also supports animals such as wolves and Siberian lemmings. Permitted activities include camping, hiking, fishing, and horseback riding.
Liard River Hot Springs
(Class A Provincial Park): Known for its lush boreal spruce forest, this park has two hot springs, with water temperatures ranging from 108ºF (42°C) to 126ºF (52°C). It's home to a wide array of flora and fauna, including 14 orchid species, 104 bird species, and 28 mammals (moose can be spotted year-round). The fee for using the park is $5 for adults, $3 for children, or $10 for families. Activities include cycling, hiking, swimming, and wildlife viewing.
(Class A Provincial Park): A 12-kilometer-long, jade-colored lake, Muncho is surrounded by folded mountains and colorful wildflowers. Caribou and moose frequent the area, which has a road and is open to activities such as canoeing, cycling, fishing, hiking, hunting, scuba diving, swimming, and wildlife viewing.
Prophet River Hot Springs
(Class A Provincial Park): Located along the shores of the Prophet River, this wilderness park is accessible via foot, horseback, or helicopter. It's known for its wildlife—including grizzly and black bears, wolves, Stone's sheep, elk, and mountain goats—and for activities such as fishing and hunting.
(Class A Provincial Park): With its alpine meadows, forested valley bottoms, glaciers, waterfalls, and lakes, this mountainous landscape is known mostly for its natural beauty. It's accessible via trails and ATV-designated routes and is open to activities such as cycling, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, and snowmobiling.
(Class A Provincial Park): Harsh winter conditions here limit the range of wildlife species, yet this park is home to many small animals, including squirrels, chipmunks, coyote, and beavers. Access is mainly by road, though the more adventurous can hike in; recreational activities include canoeing, cycling, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and snowmobiling.
Toad River Hot Springs
(Class A Provincial Park): This park protects a significant hot springs ecosystem—lower river bars blanketed with shrubby vegetation and a higher terrace that's home to alluvial poplar forests. It's accessible via gravel road, riverboat, or helicopter; permitted activities include canoeing, horseback riding, camping, and hunting.
First NationNine First Nations groups live in three communities—Treaty 8, Kaska Dena, and Carrier Sekani—in and around the M-K, where they’ve lived, hunted, gathered, and fished for thousands of years. Members of seven First Nations groups sit on the Muskwa-Kechika Advisory Board, advising the British Columbia government on how to effectively manage the area and protect First Nations cultures, traditions, and history.
First Nations Development Institute.
Established in 1997 by scientists and conservationists, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative helps connect individuals and groups interested in protecting the natural ecosystem of the Rocky Mountains. The organization has developed a number of conservation strategies to protect the wildlife in the area that runs from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon’s Mackenzie Mountains from the effects of human activity.
The initiative is a Canadian-U.S. network of more than 800 organizations, foundations, and institutions, including government agencies, researchers, businesses, and First Nations and Native American communities. The focus is on meeting the needs of three groups of animals—grizzly bears, fish, and birds—though the goal is to sustain all wildlife in the area. Each animal group has designated priority areas within the larger ecosystem that protect species facing the most immediate danger. Muskwa-Kechika is a priority area, since it has, among other species, a large number of the world’s grizzly bears and Stone's sheep.
Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
Last updated: October 14, 2008