Welcome to the Takhini River Valley: A Place for People, a Place for Wildlife
People have been enjoying this place for many years. Several First Nations share traditional territory in this area, including Carcross/Tagish First Nation, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council.
The Takhini River has some great paddling options. Do some planning before you go, and watch for the ‘Jaws of Death’ rapids! A portage trail allows safe passage around this feature or a place to scout your line. Eagles are often spotted perched on riverside trees.
The two territorial campgrounds on Kusawa Lake Road are ideal basecamps from which to explore this area. Set up your tent and enjoy the long summer days. Lucky campers may see Moose or Mule Deer wandering the valley.
The mountainous terrain above Kusawa Lake is rugged and beautiful. Dall’s Sheep, Golden Eagles and White-tailed Ptarmigan are commonly found in this environment. A hiking route to the alpine starts behind Kusawa Lake Campground.
The deep, cold waters of Kusawa Lake are home to Lake Trout, Arctic Grayling, and Inconnu. Burbot and whitefish also are found there. Dangerous winds can whip up quickly on this long, large lake – for safety, boaters must constantly monitor the weather. Arctic Grayling fishing is popular on the Takhini River and Chinook Salmon return there to spawn in late summer.
On all waters, be sure to check Yukon fishing regulations before wetting your line. Special rules apply to the Takhini River to protect the returning salmon.
The Fire of ‘58
It was a tense summer in 1958. The Takhini and Yukon river valleys north and west of Whitehorse were clogged with smoke from multiple forest fires. In this area, the “Stoney Creek fire” is thought to have started at a nearby highway maintenance camp.
Today we know that fire is natural and important in northern forests. Fires of different sizes, shapes and intensities affect plant growth on the land. This leads to habitat diversity for many species of wildlife as forests regrow after fire.
The White Spruce forest of this valley was largely consumed in the fires. Over 50 years later, only small patches of spruce have grown back – most of the area is now open forest of Trembling Aspen and willow.
Why Is the Forest Development So Slow?
Multiple factors are likely at work.
Hot, Hot Burn The intense fires consumed the surface organic soil – full of nutrients and microorganisms beneficial for tree growth.
Dry, Dry Valley Very little rain falls in this area – Vancouver receives over four times as much! Thirsty trees grow slowly.
No Seeds, No Trees White Spruce seeds spread on the winds, but only so far. Given the vast size of the fire, seeds may not have been blown far enough to reach all burned areas. Seeds would also have trouble growing on the thick ash layer for years after the fire.
A Short History of Yukon Elk
You are standing in the heart of Elk country in Yukon… but it wasn’t always this way.
Elk lived in ice-free Beringia at the close of the last Ice Age. Most Elk fossils in Alaska and Yukon date to between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago. The animals spread southwards as the glaciers melted, but the Yukon Elk population died out sometime after 4,000 years ago. Exactly why and when is unknown.
Elk Today: An Introduction
Naturally occurring Elk are occasionally seen in southeastern Yukon, having moved up from British Columbia. However, the animals in the Takhini valley have a different history.
In the late 1940s, the Yukon Fish and Game Association successfully lobbied the Commissioner of Yukon to introduce free-ranging Elk to the territory. The intent was to provide Elk for new hunting opportunities, which would eventually reduce pressure on other big game.
In the early 1950s, 49 Elk were released near Braeburn. An additional 119 animals were released between 1989 and 1994.
Elk rely on a mix of habitats: south-facing slopes, grasslands, new vegetation after fire, and thick growth of aspen and willow in which to hide from predators. The 1958 forest fire created plenty of habitat and today this area has the highest number of Elk in Yukon.
Did you know?
Elk (Cervus elaphus) is a member of the Deer Family.
Moose outnumber Elk in Yukon by about 290 to 1!
Male Elk ‘bugle’ during the fall mating season. Listen for their high-pitched calls, one of nature’s most unusual sounds.
Summer Visitors Looking for Love
Many bird species call the Takhini valley home. The forest fire of 1958 changed the landscape, creating habitat for some summer visitors: birds that breed in Yukon and spend winters in the south.
Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda)
Although considered a “shorebird”, the Upland Sandpiper spends little time on shorelines. It’s a grassland bird, but in Yukon also breeds on mountains above the treeline, in boggy tundra. A true summer visitor to Yukon, this bird spends up to eight months of the year in South America. Upland Sandpipers eat mostly insects while walking along the ground.
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
The smallest falcon in North America comes here to start a family. The American Kestrel likes the open country found in this valley. Watch for them perched on utility poles, power lines and tree tops. Kestrels nest in “cavities” such as natural tree hollows and old woodpecker holes in large trees. They will also use nest boxes, where provided by humans.
Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)
A bird of grasslands and open forests, Common Nighthawks are most active at dawn and dusk, zooming about snatching flying insects from midair. Listen for their nasal “peent” calls and the impressive “booming” sound, created by air rushing across their wingtips during dives from great heights. Common Nighthawks return to South America for the winter, flying at all hours of the day to cover the vast distance.
Takhini Salt Flats
Saline soil creates unique habitat. Just a short drive east of here is the Takhini Salt Flats. The stark white of salt deposits contrasts sharply with the greens and reds of surrounding vegetation. This is an interesting place.
What Is a Salt Flat?
As surface water evaporates, ground water is drawn upwards, taking naturally occurring salts to the surface. Not all plants can grow in such an environment, but some thrive in the salty earth.
Arctic Glasswort (Salicornia borealis) blankets this site. The plant starts its life a dull green colour, but matures to a brilliant red in the fall. Different types of this salt-tolerant plant are found around the world, with some species edible by humans.
Annual plants – those that complete their entire life cycle in one season – are often better adapted to harsh environments like salt flats. The Saltwater Cress (Arabidopsis salsuginea) growing here is particularly hardy. The plant can tolerate salt, freezing, nitrogen-deficiency and drought!
How to Get There
This unusual site is on the north side of the Alaska Highway, about 20 km east of here. Look for open meadows and ponds 1.3 km east of the Takhini River bridge.