Tatshenshini-Alsek Park

History

In the 1800s, numerous aboriginal fishing villages were located along the Tatshenshini River and the lower Alsek River. Visitors are encouraged to visit Klukshu to learn something of the area's rich aboriginal cultural heritage. A lot more is known about the modern history of this area.

Cultural Heritage

The park is on the traditional lands of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. Numerous aboriginal fishing villages were located along the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers, although today only Klukshu, Yukon is still occupied. Preliminary archaeological studies of the area have been completed and will likely continue. Here is more information on the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

Conservation

The valley of the upper Tatshenshini is characterized by open sub-alpine forests, often with extensive poplar stands and alpine tundra. The poplar stands are unusual because of their dense alder thickets and carpets of “northern ground cone”, a parasitic plant, rarely found in the province, which is an important grizzly bear food. The broad middle reaches of the Tatshenshini flow past extensive gravel bars, large alluvial fans and the jagged ridges of the Alsek Ranges. The sloping fans and gravel bars are carpeted in meadows of flowers at a scale uncommon in the province.

Below the mouth of the O’Connor River, the Tatshenshini is dramatically different. The river pours through a braided channel that is over a kilometre wide; expansive views of the glacier-covered St. Elias Ranges dominate the west. Here the coastal influence begins to be felt, while high winds and heavy snowpacks are common. Scientists studying the area say the mixed spruce-willow-birch forest found along this stretch of the river is unique in B.C.

The Alsek River offers its own dramatic scenery and unique ecosystems.

Flowers, trees and shrubs are part of the park’s natural heritage, please don’t damage or remove them.

Wildlife

The exceptional landscape, climate and vegetation of the Tatshenshini have produced an unusual diversity of wildlife species. As with the plants, many of the area’s wildlife species are at either the northern or southern limits of their geographic range. These edge-of-the-range populations are important for the long-term survival of the species. Because environmental conditions at the edge of a species’ range are different from the conditions at the centre, adaptive evolution is encouraged. This results in a slightly different genetic pool that can help a species survive long-term environmental change.

It is estimated that up to 53 species of mammals and 125 species of birds may inhabit the Tatshenshini area. Only a few species have been studied, and these not in any real depth. One of the great opportunities afforded by the Tatshenshini area is the chance to learn about the several dozen species that have not been studied at all.

About 200 Dall sheep--roughly half the provincial population--are found in the Squaw and Datlaska Ranges just west of the Haines Highway. Between three and four hundred mountain goats are found on south-facing slopes between the highway and the Alsek Ranges to the west.

Grizzly bears are found throughout the region but are especially plentiful along the rivers when the salmon are running. Most river users see bears or bear tracks nearly every day. The Alsek Ranges between the Alsek and Tatshenshini Rivers are known to provide exceptionally productive grizzly habitat, probably the best in Canada. The Tatshenshini-Alsek area, along with the surrounding parks, may be the only area in North America large enough to ensure the long-term survival of grizzly bears. Black bears are also numerous along the rivers in the fall, and in the sub-alpine/alpine during the summer. A rare colour phase of black bear, the bluish-coloured glacier bear, occurs here; almost nothing is known about its range except that it is found nowhere else in Canada and rarely in Alaska. Campsites along the Tatshenshini River and Lower Alsek River from Shäwshe/Dalton Post, Yukon to Dry Bay, Alaska were evaluated for their potential for bear-human interaction, including displacement of bears from feeding areas and direct bear-human encounters. This project was a collaboration effort of the government agencies responsible for overseeing management of visitor use on the Tatshenshini River and Alsek River. A copy of this report is available in pdf format: Risk Assessment of Bear-Human Interaction at Campsites on the Tatshenshini River and Lower Alsek River, Yukon, BC, and Alaska. [PDF 212KB]

Waterfowl, Sandhill Cranes and other bird species use the Alsek River as a migration route from the coast to the interior in the spring and fall. Eagles follow salmon up the Alsek in the fall. Rafters report seeing 50 or more at one time. Other bird species of note include gyrfalcon, peregrine falcon, northern goshawk, golden eagle, northern harrier, trumpeter swan, willow ptarmigan, great grey owl, short-eared owl, king eider, arctic tern, gray-cheeked thrush, lesser golden plover, Pacific loon and the wandering tattler.

Park users should always be aware of bears and other wildlife in our park environment. Never feed or approach bears or other wildlife. Click here for more information on bear and wildlife safety.