For the first time, Canada’s 10 longest wild rivers identified | WWF-Canada

For the first time, Canada’s 10 longest wild rivers identified

Posted on 14 November 2017
Landscape showing the confluence of the Mackenzie River and Liard River near Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, Canada
© Tessa MacIntosh/WWF
November 14, 2017 – For the first time, Canada’s free-flowing rivers have been assessed on a national scale to identify our nation’s wild rivers. Launched today, World Wildlife Fund Canada’s Wild Rivers report lists Canada’s top 10 longest wild rivers. Despite these rivers having tremendous ecological value and supporting local economies and community well-being, Canada lacks comprehensive legal tools to safeguard them against large-scale hydropower dams and ensure that any other development is done in a way that maintains the wild status of these rivers.

What are free-flowing and wild rivers?
  • A free-flowing river is any river, or section of a river, that is not impacted by a dam.
  • A wild river is a free-flowing river that is not negatively impacted by pollution, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, overuse of water, invasive species, climate change or alteration of flows.
What are Canada’s longest wild rivers?
Canada has a wealth of wild rivers. The majority are in the North, where fewer people live. Canada’s longest wild rivers are:
  • Liard River (Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Northwest Territories)
  • Kazan River (Nunavut)
  • Dubawnt River (Nunavut, Northwest Territories)
  • Thelon River (Nunavut, Northwest Territories)
  • Horton River (Northwest Territories)
  • Anderson River (Northwest Territories)
  • Taltson River (Northwest Territories)
  • Stikine River (British Columbia)
  • Ekwan River (Ontario)
  • Birch River (Alberta)

Quote from David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada:

“Canada has a responsibility to protect our wealth of wild rivers. In the face of a changing climate, these swaths of intact freshwater habitat provide refuge and resilience for vulnerable river-based and terrestrial wildlife like Lake Sturgeon and caribou. At a time when so many species and ecosystems are in decline, it is essential to ensure that any development on or near these rivers respects and maintains their wild nature. Now that we have identified Canada’s longest wild rivers, we are calling on national, provincial and territorial governments to take the steps necessary to protect them. That means putting legal mechanisms in place to prevent damming on wild rivers and requiring environmental assessments for any other development proposals.”

Quote from Elizabeth Hendriks, WWF-Canada vice-president, freshwater:

“Canada’s wild rivers are the freshwater equivalent of wilderness areas. They deserve the same understanding and knowledge we afford to key marine and terrestrial habitats. And yet the current patchwork of provincial and territorial monitoring programs means communities are often lacking enough baseline data to make evidence-based decisions for these rivers. As a result, they are vulnerable to both individual and cumulative impacts. Ongoing monitoring and data collection is essential for informed management of these wild rivers to ensure both people and nature thrive.”

Why wild rivers are worth safeguarding
Wild rivers provide numerous ecological and community benefits. They:
  • Benefit wildlife (including species at risk) that rely on intact river ecosystems;
  • Facilitate climate change adaptation;
  • Allow for the unhindered transportation of nutrients for plants and animals;
  • Maintain a healthy food supply for communities;
  • Support native biodiversity;
  • Provide pollution control;
  • Support vibrant industries; and
  • Provide substantial cultural and spiritual value.
Wildlife, including many species at risk, rely on the health and resilience of wild rivers as a source of water, food and habitat. Wildlife that benefit from wild rivers (to name a few) include:
  • Threatened caribou herds;​
  • Wolverines;
  • Grizzly bears; 
  • Wood bison
  • Chinook salmon;
  • Lake Sturgeon;
  • Muskrat; 
  • Green-winged teal
  • Arctic grayling;
  • Tundra swans; and even 
  • The tiny hot water physa (a prehistoric snail found only in Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park).
Read the executive summary here:

Read the full technical report here:

About World Wildlife Fund Canada

WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit

For further information

Rebecca Spring, communications specialist,, +1 647-338-6274
Landscape showing the confluence of the Mackenzie River and Liard River near Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, Canada
© Tessa MacIntosh/WWF Enlarge