Old Crow Flats, located 73 km north of the Arctic Circle and 110 km south of the Beaufort Sea, represents one of the Yukon's most valuable wetlands and provides breeding habitat for several aquatic mammals, peregrine falcons, and a variety of waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds. In summer, the Flats serves as a waterfowl refuge for moulting and staging for fall migration. Old Crow Flats falls within the traditional territory of the Vuntut Gwitchin.
The richness of Old Crow Flats and its importance to waterfowl populations have drawn researchers to study this special ecosystem. Researchers are currently investigating why particular lakes are important to breeding and moulting waterfowl, as well as monitoring the long-term changes in vegetation communities. Satellite imagery has emerged as an important tool in these studies.
Old Crow Flats is recognized as an Ecological Site by the International Biological Programme (IBP). In 1982 Old Crow Flats was designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. Under the terms of the Vuntut Gwitchin Final Agreement proclaimed by the Canadian Government in February 1995, the northern portion of the Old Crow Flats became Vuntut National Park. Of the remainder, part is Settlement Land belonging to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and the rest remains federal government land. Despite these three different land tenures, the land claims agreement designates the entire area as Old Crow Flats Special Management Area and stipulates that it be managed to maintain the integrity of the area as one ecological unit, with the conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats, and the protection of the current and traditional use of the area by the Vuntut Gwitchin as guiding principles. Using these principles, a management plan will be prepared jointly by government and the Vuntut Gwitchin, incorporating the management plan for Vuntut National Park.
Given the remote wilderness location, pristine conditions, and the strong conservation regime now in place for the Old Crow Flats, its future as a wetland of international significance seems politically assured. One potential threat is global climate change. Old Crow residents seem to feel that lake levels have been dropping, and are concerned that the Flats are "drying up" from the warmer temperatures and earlier springs of recent years.
From Morison and Smith (1987)
More than 20,000 fossils have been collected from Old Crow by members of the Northern Yukon Research Programme, and the Paleobiology Division of the National Museum of Canada. Among the specimens are significant ones that have rarely or never been reported before from North America: the hyena (Adcrocuta), large camel (Camelini), giant moose (Alces latifrons), giant pica (Ochotona whartoni), and the muskoxen (Soergeliaand Praeovibos). Other taxa such as short-faced skunk (Brachyprotoma), the giant beaver (Castoroides ohioensis), and the ground sloth (Megalonyxcf. jeffersoni) are considered highly unusual for such a northerly location.
Old Crow Flats, located in the extreme northern Yukon Territory, is a lacustrine plain pocked by over 2,000 wetlands. The wetlands occur in two subareas, the Old Crow River basin, and the Bluefish River basin. The Old Crow River basin, located north of the community of Old Crow, is the largest, covering 550,000 ha, 26 percent of which is wetland (open water, emergent vegetation, or floating mats). The Bluefish basin lies south of Old Crow and is 83,000 ha, 21 percent of which is wetland. The lakes in the Old Crow Flats vary in size from 0.5 to 4,700 ha and have an average depth of 1 to 1.5 m and a maximum depth of about 4 m. The The uppermost sediments in the basin are composed of lacustrine clays up to 7 m thick deposited during the quaternary period when the basin was flooded by an enormous lake, and overlain by varying depths of organic material which have accumulated since this periglacial lake drained about 12,000 years ago. Over the years, the drainages in the basin have cut 40 or 50 m into the sediments, leaving most of the lakes perched well above the highest spring flooding. The abundant shallow water, 24 hour daylight, and warm summer temperatures make the present-day lakes exceptionally productive for this latitude.
The Flats are nearly surrounded by mountains, the British and Barn ranges to the north, Richardson mountains to the east and the Old Crow mountains to the southwest. Drainage of the Old Crow Flats is south, via the Old Crow River and its tributaries to the Porcupine River. Throughout the Flats, meandering streams have incised channels well below the lake levels, leaving the lakes in "perched" positions. The wetlands themselves are drained by seepage through organic materials, overlaying glacio-lacustrine clays.