The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in BioBlitz

At the height of the summer, I joined an eclectic group of researchers from across Canada and the Yukon. They included members of different organizations and governments, community scientists, and young enthusiasts that united in the traditional territory of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in for a common goal; to search and identify species in Dawson City and its surrounding area. This was the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in BioBlitz 2021. 

For those who may not be familiar, a BioBlitz is an important conservation tool. It is an event that aims to identify as many species in a specific area as possible; to capture a biological snapshot of a region, if you will. The event brings together scientists, and community scientists alike, to work, learn, explore and catalogue any species found including plants, animals, insects, birds, invertebrates and even fish. The purpose of the activity is to take a snapshot of an area, with the goal of better understanding the region’s biodiversity and, consequently, the overall health of the environment. The information gathered helps create a comprehensive database for the region to help make more informed decisions about land use, wildlife, the environment, and climate change.

This year’s BioBlitz, in particular, was unique, not only because of the exciting findings, but also because of where it took place. Yukon South Beringia (YSB), which overlaps with the traditional territory of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, was chosen as the site of the 2021 BioBlitz due to its unique and new classification as a Priority Place, as identified by the Yukon Government. This region has a “high biodiversity value with a recognizable ecological theme and social relevance.” As such, the designation allows YSB to receive resources from the federal government to help design an action plan to ensure the striking region and all who rely on this are able to persist on for generations. 

Yukon South Beringia is in central west Yukon, and was the forefront of the New World during the last glacial maximum. Beringia, the land bridge that connected Asia and North America during the last mass glaciation, allowed the New World to be colonized by a myriad of species, likely including humans, that migrated over from Asia. As it stands, YSB houses some of the oldest landscapes in Canada, and hosts a plethora of rare and endemic species that help create intricate ecosystems which evolved here safe from glaciation for tens of thousands of years. As such, it’s important to comprehend and conserve it. 

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in BioBlitz was an immersive, and engrossing way to learn about the diversity found in YSB. We trudged through wetlands, traversed the alpine, crossed the famous Slide that overlooks Dawson City, bush-whacked through dense forests etc. I was able to see, first-hand, the unique ecosystems encompassed by YSB. 

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in BioBlitz 2021 brought people of different walks of life together to celebrate the beauty found in Yukon South Beringia, some of the oldest landscapes found in this corner of the world. This led to the discovery and identification of a number of rare species. Perhaps the most exciting was the rediscovery of a flower that was thought to be lost to time. The Yukon Fleabane, Erigeron yukonensis, a plant that had been last seen in the Dawson region in the 1920s, was found in abundance in the heart of Dawson City, in plain sight. This finding illustrates the importance of events such as a BioBlitz where people come together for a common goal of identification, and conservation. As we continue to study and learn about YSB, more informed, and educated choices can be made that will ultimately lead to the preservation of the unique characteristics of this special region. 

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