The Environmental Stewardship Project: Preserving Canada’s North for the future

Operation NEVUS

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By: Dawnieca Palma, Canadian Joint Operations Command Public Affairs

In the North, effective communication is a challenge. However, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) overcomes this obstacle by using the High Arctic Data Communications System (HADCS), a series of line-of-sight microwave repeaters, to ensure a reliable link between Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert and Ottawa. For Operation NEVUS 2018, a team of about 100 people, including engineers, technicians, environmental specialists and CAF members, were sent to conduct maintenance at the HADCS sites.

Because of its harsh weather and unique wildlife, the North also has many sensitive environments. Dr. Peter Cott, the Environmental Advisor to Joint Task Force North (JTFN) describes northern conditions. “The High Arctic is largely untouched and pristine. The climate there is harsh. The wildlife ekes out a living in austere and difficult conditions. So it is sensitive to environmental perturbations.”

Although HADCS maintenance remains the core of Operation NEVUS, this summer environmental work was be officially added as a second line of operation. The Environmental Stewardship Project, a decade-long initiative, aims to improve the environmental state of Northern Ellesmere Island.

Major Etienne Marcoux, the Task Force Commander of Operation NEVUS 2018, describes the operation as “a critical maintenance operation to keep the northernmost inhabited location connected to the world with an environmental stewardship aspect added this year.” As Dr. Cott puts it, “When we leave Operation NEVUS 2018, Northern Ellesmere Island should be in a better condition than when we got there. And that’s our aim for being good environmental stewards.”

Since the end of Operation NEVUS 2017, JTFN has been planning for the environmental stewardship project. Teams are visiting sites including Lake Hazen and Ward Hunt Island within Quttinirpaaq National Park. These sites include abandoned research stations and legacy fuel caches, sites that once carried fuel and supplies for pilots and their travels. Although these sites were held to high environmental standards at the time of their establishment, JTFN is revisiting them to see if any environmental impact has occurred. The current focus for the Environmental Stewardship Project rests in taking samples and identifying any possible environmental contamination or threat.

“It’s our responsibility to minimize all of those anthropogenic or man-made impacts as much as we can,” explained Dr. Cott. “It’s a good idea as well because we’ve got an obligation as the Government of Canada to maintain the North and maintain Inuit-owned lands to a high standard. It’s our responsibility.”

A project like this cannot be accomplished alone. Dr. Cott explains the inter-governmental cooperation involved. “Everyone thinks it’s a good idea to keep cleaning up our environment up north but it’s expensive, it’s remote, and it’s more complex than what any single agency can do.”

For instance, Parks Canada supports JTFN, and there is also an agreement which gives the CAF access to these important sites. JTFN also partners with Environment and Climate Change Canada by using their facilities at the, like the Eureka Weather Station.

In the past couple of years, JTFN has already conducted environmental work alongside HADCS maintenance by removing, cleaning, and crushing empty fuel drums that may pose environmental risk. Additionally, the HADCS run on renewable energy technology. Further, active fuel caches are also functioning at current environmental standards.

Maj. Marcoux is proud that he can “work collaboratively with several internal organizations to tackle highly technical and environmental challenges during the operation.”

With all of these efforts, this Environmental Stewardship Project is the first step of making the environment better for the future generations by keeping the North clean and pristine.

Image gallery

  • A man puts dirt in a jar and drops chemicals on it.
  • A Canadian soldier writes on a small white board outside.
  • A Canadian Ranger looks out onto the tundra.
  • A Canadian soldier wearing a gas mask inspects fuel barrels.
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