The Kluane Park, created in the ancestral lands of the Southern Tutchone people in 1972, is a wild land dominated by mountains and ice. In the mountain valleys, however, you can find a wide variety of plants and animals unmatched anywhere else in northern Canada. Below the treeline, about 1,100 meters, you can find forests of white spruce, balsam poplar, and trembling aspen. In the transition zone between the treeline and the alpine tundra a variety of stunted trees like willow, dwarf birch, and alder grow. During the summer even the high country tundra is sprinkled with fields of color from over 200 species of alpine flora.
There are also a wide variety of animals found in the Kluane National Park. Herds of Dall Sheep are the most prevalent large mammals found in the park. You can also see mountain goats scrambling on the sides of the southern mountains. Caribou and moose also traverse the park during their migrations. Grizzly bears can be seen in a wide area, even up in the Alpine Tundra while black bear normally limit their range to the forested valleys. Other easily noted mammals include wolves, lynx, red fox, beaver and snow shoe hare.
The most famous animals found in Kluane National Park are not found roaming the flanks of the mountains, but rather swimming in the streams and lakes. The only naturally occurring population of Kokanee salmon found in any of Canada’s national parks is found here. It is thought that these salmon evolved from sockeye salmon that were trapped in the Alsek River – Lake Kathleen system when one of the surges of the Lowell Glacier dammed up the flow of the Alsek River; preventing the return of the salmon to the Pacific Ocean. In recent years there has been a dramatic decline in the population due to causes yet to be determined. Until the population is restored, there is no fishing for this species. There are, however, a wide variety of other sport fish in this popular fishing area. After all Kluane comes from the Southern Tutchone word meaning “lake with many fish”.
While many people come to the park to view and take pictures of the wildlife, the largest attraction is also the most obvious, the mountains and ice fields. Mountain climbing first attracted people to the area in the 1930’s after Mount Logan (5,959 meters tall), the highest peak in Canada, was first climbed in 1925. Other mountains in Kluane National Park that attract climbers include: Mount Saint Elias (5,488 m) and Mount Luciana (5,231 m). The large ice fields, the largest non-polar ice fields in the world, include over 2,000 valley bound glaciers, attracting adventurers, explorers and scientists.
In recent years, there has been a large contingent of scientist studying the consequences of a long term warming trend that started in 1945 in the area surrounding Kluane National Park. Milder winters, drier summers in the southwest and wetter summers on the eastern slopes are having a variety of effects on the plants and animals in the region. Many people think that studying the effects of this micro climate change may provide clues to the out comes to be expected from a world wide climate change known as Global Warming. Extensive studies are under way on the effects of this micro climate change on declines of glaciers, infestations of spruce bark beetles, and the increased survivability of Dall Sheep lambs and moose calves.
Indeed, it seems that this fairly remote national park has something for any one that is interested in the truly great out doors.