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Hudson Plains Ecozone+ Evidence for key findings summary


Theme: Humman/Ecosystem Interactions

Key finding 8
Protected areas

Theme Human/ecosystem interactions

National key finding

Both the extent and representativeness of the protected areas network have increased in recent years. In many places, the area protected is well above the United Nations 10% target. It is below the target in highly developed areas and the oceans.

The global and national significance of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, which rests in its extensive wetlands, peatland carbon, intact forests, and habitats for species of national conservation concern, is recognized by a protected area system. The ecozone+ contains two designated Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar convention sites): Polar Bear Provincial Park (Ontario) and Southern James Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, the latter comprised of Hannah Bay Bird Sanctuary (Ontario and Nunavut) and Moose River Bird Sanctuary (Ontario).Reference29 The ecozone+ also includes one large national park, Wapusk, in Manitoba, and one large wilderness park, Polar Bear Provincial Park, in Ontario, both also with areas of coastline. A number of other, smaller protected areas occur throughout, in all four component jurisdictions.Reference130 Smaller protected areas include some narrow linear corridors along segments of some of the major rivers.

The protected area system in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is currently comprised of 31 federal, provincial, and territorial protected areas that together account for 12.8% of the land base. All of these protected lands are in IUCN (World Conservation Union - previously known as International Union for Conservation of Nature) categories I to III.Reference131 Categories I to III include nature reserves, wilderness areas, and other parks and reserves managed for conservation of ecosystems and natural and cultural features. Figure 10shows the distribution of the ecozone+'s protected areas as of May 2009, when they accounted for 11.7% of the land base.Reference 130 Recent additions not represented in Figure 10are the Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area (portion in IUCN category II, 2,595 km² ) and the Kaskatamagan Sipi Wildlife Management Area (IUCN category Ib, 1,338 km² ) (Figure 11), both announced in December 2009.Reference132

Figure 10. Map of protected areas (legally protected areas and, for Quebec, also proposed and soon to be legally protected areas) in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, as of May 2009.
Not shown are the Kaskatamagan Sipi Wildlife Management Area and a portion of Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area that were announced in December 2009 (see Figure 11).
Map of protected areas (legally protected areas
Source: Environment Canada, 2009;Reference 133 using Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS) v.2009.05Reference 130 data provided by federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions
Long description for Figure 10

This map shows that the major protected areas are along Hudson Bay in Manitoba and Ontario and on Akimiski Island in Nunavut. Smaller protected areas are found in the eastern part of the ecozone+ in Quebec and in the southern part of the ecozone+ in Ontario. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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Figure 11. Map of legally protected areas, as well as designated but not legally protected Wildlife Management Areas, in the Manitoba portion of the ecozone+.
The Kaskatamagan Sipi Wildlife Management Area and a portion of the Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area are new legally protected areas, announced in December 2009.
Map of legally protected areas
Source: Manitoba Conservation, Protected Areas Initiative, 2010Reference 134.
Long description for Figure 11

This map of the Manitoba portion of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ shows the legally protected areas, as well as designated but not legally protected Wildlife Management Areas. The Churchill Wildlife Management Area (not protected) extends west and south of the boundaries of the Wapusk National Park. The Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area which runs east along the coast to the Ontario border is not protected, with the exception of a portion in the centre which is a protected wildlife area. South of that is another protected wildlife area, the Kaskatamagan Sipi Wildlife Management Area. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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Figure 12 illustrates how the amount of land protected in the ecozone+ has increased over time, since 1939 when the first protected area, Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary, was established, to May 2009. Over time, the largest area gains were made with the addition of Polar Bear Provincial Park in 1970 and Wapusk National Park in 1996, which currently account for 75% of the total area protected. Several small biodiversity reserves and other protected areas have been established since 2003, as well as the new Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area and the Kaskatamagan Sipi Wildlife Management Area that are not represented in Figure 12.

A number of designated but not protected areas also occur throughout the ecozone+, including wildlife management areas in Manitoba (see Figure 11) and an extensive network of Important Bird Areas along the coast in all three provinces and on Nunavut's islands (not shown).Reference 135

Figure 12. Growth of protected areas (IUCN categories I-IV) in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, 1939-May 2009.
Data correspond with Figure 10and include legally protected areas as well as some proposed and soon to be legally protected areas in Quebec. The three largest protected areas are noted, along with their dates of establishment. As the year 2009 only represents the period up to and including May, it does not include the two newest protected areas announced in Manitoba in December 2009. The Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area (protected portion) and Kaskatamagan Sipi Wildlife Management Area contribute an additional 2,595 km² and 1,338 km² of legally protected area to the ecozone+ , respectively. All protected areas shown are in IUCN categories I-III; no protected areas are category IV.
Growth of protected areas
Source: Environment Canada, 2009;Reference 133 using Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS) v.2009.05Reference 130 data provided by federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions.
Long description for Figure 12
This bar graph shows the following information:
Year protection establishedIUCN Categories I-IV
-Cumulative area protected (km2)

Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary was established in 1941, Polar Bear Provincial Park in 1970 and Wapusk National Park in 1996.

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Although the protected area system in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is relatively well developed and extensive, representation gaps remain, particularly in inland portions of the ecozone+.Reference 4 The degree of connectivity is also low in some areas, including parts of the Hudson Bay coast. A large coastal gap of about 150 km exists between Polar Bear Provincial Park in Ontario and the Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area in Manitoba. Portions of this unprotected coast have been identified as Important Bird Areas, but these are not regulated and have no legal standing. Additional protected areas may be established in the Ontario portion of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ through its new Far North Land Use Planning Initiative that is supported by legislation in the form of a Far North Act.Reference 136 ManitobaReference 137 and QuebecReference 138 also identified new initiatives that include the potential for new protected areas in their portions of the broader boreal forest, and may include additional areas in this ecozone+ .

Wapusk National Park (established 1996) is mandated to report on its ecological integrity. The park submitted its first five year ecological integrity monitoring plan in 2008Reference 139 (no results yet available). Ecological integrity is also the guiding principle in Ontario's Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act.Reference 140 Although individual park reporting is not required, a system-wide State of the Protected Areas Report is required every 5 years. Ontario's first report will be published in 2011. There is no periodic re-assessment of the ecological integrity of the other protected areas in the ecozone+ at the present time. Climate changeReference 141 (on page 42) and development in adjacent lands (see Intact landscapes and waterscapeson page 51) are emerging threats to the ecozone+ 's protected areas.

Key finding 9

Theme Human/ecosystem interactions

National key finding

Stewardship activity in Canada is increasing, both in number and types of initiatives and in participation rates. The overall effectiveness of these activities in conserving and improving biodiversity and ecosystem health has not been fully assessed.

Co-management agreements among First Nations and other levels of government are a notably important type of stewardship initiative in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, with some important new initiatives introduced in recent years. Such initiatives have the capability to directly influence broad-level conservation of biodiversity values although their effectiveness has not generally been assessed.

Some co-management agreements involve federal as well as provincial or territorial and First Nations governments, such as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA), the Eeyou Marine Region Land Claims Agreement, and the Wapusk Management Board. The JBNQA was signed in 1975Reference 142 after plans were announced to build a system of hydroelectric dams in northern Quebec in areas used by Aboriginal peoples.Reference 142, Reference 143 The JBNQA mandates that consideration be given to such aspects as the protection of hunting, fishing, and trapping rights, protection of wildlife resources, physical and biotic environments and ecological systems, and minimizing negative environmental and social impacts, all with respect to development activities. Under this agreement protection bodies, including Aboriginal, federal, and Quebec provincial government representatives, are appointed for the review and formulation of laws and regulations for environmental protection, to set guidelines for environmental and social impact assessment, and to evaluate and review impact assessments.Reference 142, Reference 143 Although the JBNQA does affect coastal development it does not, however, address land use planning or include offshore waters.

The Eeyou Marine Region Land Claims Agreement (EMRLCA)Reference 144 was recently concluded for some islands offshore of Quebec in Hudson and James bays (Nunavut) that are not covered by the JBNQA (Figure 13). Issues to be addressed under this federal-territorial (Nunavut)-Aboriginal agreement relate to contaminated sites and protected areas, as well as wildlife harvesting and management. The Government of Canada and the Eeyou Istchee Cree agreed to base the new EMRLCA on the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement, which received Royal Assent in 2008. The EMRLCA was approved by referendum of the Eeyou Istchee Cree in March 2010Reference 145 and signed by all parties in July 2010.Reference 144 It has a unique jurisdictional aspect: its beneficiaries are in Quebec while the claim is located in Nunavut.

Figure 13. Map showing the area of offshore islands in Hudson and James bays that is covered by the Eeyou Marine Region Land Claims Agreement.
The agreement applies to islands offshore of Quebec's portion of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ , as well some islands offshore of the more northerly Taiga Shield Ecozone+ .
Map showing the area of offshore islands in Hudson and James bays
Source: Government of Canada, Government of Nunavut, and Grand Council of the Crees, 2010Reference 144
Long description for Figure 13

This map shows the area of offshore islands in Hudson and James bays that is covered by the Eeyou Marine Region Land Claims Agreement. The agreement applies to islands offshore of Quebec's portion of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ in the southeastern part of James Bay, as well some islands offshore of the more northerly Taiga Shield Ecozone+. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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In Manitoba, the Wapusk Management Board was formed to co-manage Wapusk National Park (Manitoba) after its creation from part of the Cape Churchill Wildlife Management Area in 1996. This co-management arrangement was articulated in the Federal-Provincial Memorandum of Agreement for the Park through two major intents: 1) the park is to be managed in the context of its adjoining lands; and 2) the residents of the area are to continue to have access to the park lands.Reference 146 The Wapusk Management Board consists of ten members appointed by associated Aboriginal groups, federal, provincial, and municipal governments.Reference 146, Reference 147 The board makes recommendations to the federal Minister of Environment on matters related to planning, management, and development of the park, while Parks Canada administers day-to-day operations.Reference 147

In addition to initiatives with federal involvement (as above), a variety of provincial and territorial initiatives are in place that demonstrate various targeted management levels (i.e., landscape-level or ecosystem-level), and are inconsistent among jurisdictions. Perhaps most notable is Ontario's new comprehensive Far North Land Use Planning Initiative.Reference 136 Objectives, which apply to public land in the "Far North" geography of Ontario (including the Ontario portion of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ ), are to: 1) set-out a process for community-based land use planning that includes a significant role for First Nations in the planning (community-based land use plans are to be developed by First Nations in advance of major developments); 2) support protection for at least half of the Far North area of Ontario in an interconnected network of protected areas designated in community-based land use plans; 3) maintain biological diversity and ecological processes/functions, including carbon storage and sequestration; and 4) enable sustainable economic development of natural resources that benefits the First Nations, while recognizing the environmental, social, and economic interests of all Ontarians. This land use planning initiative has substantial potential for protection of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity for the bulk of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ that lies in Ontario, particularly in the face of increasing pressure there for further resource developments (see Intact landscapes and waterscapes on page 51). The initiative was further supported by a Far North Science Advisory PanelReference 148 to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. This advisory panel recommended a regional-scale "conservation-matrix" model for the aforementioned land use planning, supported by adaptive management and an associated, sustained commitment to the collection and sharing of both scientific and Aboriginal information.

This type of comprehensive land use planning has not yet been developed in either Manitoba or Quebec to similarly help guide development in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. That said, both jurisdictions recently put forth intents for further stewardship of their respective far north lands (including the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ ). Specifically, the Government of ManitobaReference 132 committed to developing a boreal peatlands stewardship strategy in co-operation with stakeholders and leading climate change non-governmental agencies and the Government of Quebec (2009)Reference 138 committed to protect from industrial development at least 50% of the area covered by its Plan Nord, i.e., lands north of the 49th parallel.

Key finding 10
Invasive non-native species

Theme Human/ecosystem interactions

National key finding

Invasive non-native species are a significant stressor on ecosystem functions, processes, and structure in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments. This impact is increasing as numbers of invasive non-native species continue to rise and their distributions continue to expand.

Note: In contrast to the scope in the national key finding statement above (limited to non-native invasive species), the discussion of invasive species in this section includes reference to species both native and non-native to Canada that have been introduced outside their natural ranges.

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ has relatively few introduced and potentially invasive species compared to most other ecozones+ in Canada (for example, CFIA 2010Reference 149). A number of species native and non-native to Canada have been introduced into the ecozone+ from outside their normal ranges, but their impacts on the ecology of the ecozone+ are not well studied or monitored, and therefore their degree of invasiveness there is unknown. Most introduced species present in the ecozone+ are vascular plants (at least 98 species), most of which remain localized around the few villages and other areas with most human activity.Reference 99 Introduced mammals include the house mouseReference 150 and introduced birds include rock pigeon, European starling and house sparrow,Reference 90, Reference 151 all also found around villages in small numbers.

Introduced fish species include common carp,Reference 152 rainbow smelt,Reference 153-Reference 156 and smallmouth bass.Reference 157, Reference 158 Common carp (non-native) is a destructive bottom feeder present in the Nelson River that damages habitat for native fish by feeding heavily on vegetation and uprooting substrate.Reference 152 Rainbow smelt, a small anadromous and predatory non-native species, was reported in the Nelson River in 1998 and the Churchill River in 2002,Reference 154, Reference 155 but has not been observed in the Churchill River since then, despite several attempts to capture more.Reference 159 The spread of rainbow smelt is a concern, because this species is a voracious predator of invertebrates.Reference 153, Reference 156 Rainbow smelt competes directly for food with many native fish, especially lake whitefish and cisco, and preys upon their eggs and larvae. Smallmouth bass is native to Canada but was introduced outside its natural range, including in Ontario.Reference 160 This predatory warmwater species has recently been found in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ in the Moose River (2008),Reference 157 and the lower Albany River (2009),Reference 158 for the first time. Smallmouth bass is a strong competitor with typically negative impacts on species such as brook trout, lake trout, and walleye.Reference 160-Reference 162 Although its expansion in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is currently limited by harsh climatic and physical conditions,Reference 163 the species is expected to become more competitive there as a result of climate change (Climate changeis discussed on page 42).

The introduction of additional species into the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ may be facilitated through hydrological connectivity with adjacent ecozones+ to the south (in this area of Canada rivers and wetlands drain north) as, for example, for the fish species above, but also by other transportation routes. Transportation routes into the ecozone+ are, however, still fairly limited, being comprised of a deepwater shipping port at Churchill (one of only three deepwater ports in the marine arctic), a non-deepwater port at Moosonee, air, and two railway lines (Manitoba and Ontario) and one all-season road (Quebec) that connect the ecozone+ to land-based transportation systems in the southReference 14, Reference 76, Reference 164-Reference 166 (but see discussion of development pressure in Intact landscapes and waterscapes on page 51).

Key finding 11

Theme Human/ecosystem interactions

National key finding

Concentrations of legacy contaminants in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems have generally declined over the past 10 to 40 years. Concentrations of many emerging contaminants are increasing in wildlife; mercury is increasing in some wildlife in some areas.

Very little pollution originates within the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ but long-range transport contributes to contaminants found in some species there.Reference 4 Monitoring of contaminant levels in the ecozone+ 's biota is very limited, with a few exceptions such as persistent organic pollutants and metals in polar bears (top predator) and mercury in some fish populations affected by hydroelectric developments.

Many persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been detected in the tissues of polar bears throughout their global range, including individuals of both the Western Hudson Bay (WHB) and Southern Hudson Bay (SHB) subpopulations that summer on land in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ .Reference 167-Reference 170 Among global populations, polar bears from the SHB subpopulation have shown particularly high concentrations of chlordane-related compounds and metabolites (ΣCHL); 4,48-DDE, and dieldrin.Reference 167, Reference 168 Overall trends in POP levels in WHB and SHB subpopulations are variable,Reference 170, Reference 171 with levels of some contaminants declining including legacy contaminants such as the pesticide DDT (Figure 14). However, concentrations of emerging POPs such as the brominated flame retardants and perfluoroalkyl contaminants are rapidly increasing in arctic and subarctic regions,Reference 170-Reference 174 and polar bears from the SHB subpopulation show greater contamination than those from other areas.Reference 172, Reference 173, Reference 175, Reference 176 It is not clear what impacts the measured levels of contaminants may have on wild polar bears, but impaired endocrine and immune function and reproductive effects have been suggested.Reference 177-Reference 180

Figure 14. Temporal trends of major organochlorines in the adipose tissue of polar bears from the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation.
Samples are from the Churchill area of western Hudson Bay from 1968 to 2002. Samples from 1991 to 2002 are fat biopsies but earlier samples are adipose tissue. Abbreviations: β-HCH, beta-hexachlorocyclohexane; α-HCH, alpha-hexachlorocyclohexane; ∑CBz, chlorobenzenes; ∑CHL, chlordanes; ∑DDT, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane and its metabolites; ∑PCB, polychlorinated biphenyl congeners.
Temporal trends of major organochlorines
Source: reprinted from Braune et al., 2005 Reference 171 (p 42, fig 21) with permission from Elsevier. Data from Norstrom, 2001 Reference 181and Letcher et al., 2003 Reference 182
Long description for Figure 14

This graphic presents six bar graphs showing temporal trends of major organochlorines in the adipose tissue of polar bears from the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation, from 1968 to 2002.

Each graph is described in the following set of points:

  1. beta-hexachlorocyclohexane concentrations are variable, with the highest value around 1990 and generally decreasing to the end of the period.
  2. alpha-hexachlorocyclohexane concentrations increase between samples in 1968 and 1981. Samples throughout the 1990s show a decrease in concentrations, approximately half of the 1981 level.
  3. chlorobenzenes concentrations increase between samples in 1968 and 1981, and then show a decreasing trend through the end of the period.
  4. chlordanes concentrations are variable throughout the period, with the highest value in 1981.
  5. dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane and its metabolites were at their highest levels of the period in samples from 1968. Levels decrease with some variability through to the end of the period.
  6. polychlorinated biphenyl congeners concentrations were highest in 1981 and 1992. Concentration levels from samples through the rest of the period are variable.

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As a result of changing sea-ice conditions (see Sea ice on page 26), WHB polar bears are feeding less on ice-associated bearded seals (which eat invertebrates) and more on open-water harbour and/or harp seals (which eat fish).Reference 170 Because fish-eating seals have higher levels of contaminants, some legacy contaminants in polar bear tissues may not be declining as much as would be expected if the polar bear's diet had not changed and the levels of newer (emerging) contaminants may be increasing at a faster rate.Reference 170 Concentrations of brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) in the bears are estimated to have increased 28% faster from 1991 to 2007 than would have occurred if the bears had not changed their diet. Based on limited data (2001-2003), it is not clear if similar trends in diet may be occurring in SHB polar bears.Reference 183

In contrast to POPs, concentrations of 21 elements (i.e., mercury, lead, cadmium) have not changed significantly in Canadian polar bears since the 1980s, including the SHB subpopulation of bears; all measured elements, including mercury, are below levels associated with toxic effects.Reference 184, Reference 185 Relatively few industrial emissions of mercury occur in northerly areas although some mercury is deposited there as a result of long-distance transport.Reference 186 Atmospheric acid deposition, which could increase methylation of mercury to its more bioavailable form, is not currently an issue in this geography but the ecozone+ does have some acid-sensitive terrain.Reference 187, Reference 188

Mercury levels are relatively high in natural aquatic environments in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ and proximal northerly areas, especially in areas where organic content is high (organic matter binds mercury effectively).Reference 65 Thus, the prospect of increased methylmercury uptake within the aquatic food chain is a concern when inundating new reservoirs, particularly over organic soils (flooding can promote bacterial conversion of inorganic mercury to methylmercury, a more bioavailable form).Reference 189 Significant increases in mercury levels were observed in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ following inundation of the Opinaca reservoir in 1980Reference 65, Reference 190, Reference 191 (for more information on the reservoir, see Wetlands on page 14and Lakes and rivers on page 16). Methylmercury levels in water increased and then declined to pre-impoundment values in about 8 to 10 years, while mercury levels in fish (bioaccumulated) have declined more gradually (Figure 15). Following reservoir creation, mercury levels were also elevated in fish in the associated diversion, but not in the reduced-flow segments of the lower Eastmain and Opinaca rivers. Any impacts of elevated mercury levels on these fish are not clear but safe human consumption recommendations from public health institutions have been as low as two fish meals per month for piscivorous speciesReference 191 and four meals per month (occasional consumption) more recently.Reference 190 Fish mercury levels are projected to increase again in the Opinaca reservoir due to receipt of mercury exported from the recently impounded Eastmain-1 reservoir upstream, just outside ecozone+ boundaries.Reference 190

Figure 15. Changes in mercury levels (mg/kg) in the flesh of a) lake whitefish (non-piscivorous), b) walleye (piscivorous), and c) northern pike (piscivorous) in the Opinaca reservoir, 1981-2007.
Pre-inundation levels of mercury, shown as the data point for 1979 (and as the reference line), represent the natural levels of mercury in these fish species in lakes in the area prior to reservoir creation in 1980 (arrow). All data points represent fish of standardized lengths, which are 500 mm for lake whitefish and walleye and 700 mm for northern pike. Note the differences in y-axis scales.
Changes in mercury levels
Source: Abraham et al., 2011Reference 4 using data from Therrien and Schetagne, 2008Reference 190
Long description for Figure 15
This graphic presents three graphs showing the following information:
YearsLake WhitefishWalleyeNorthern pike
---Total mercury (mg/kg)

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Environmental contaminants confirmed at some former Mid-Canada Line radar (doppler detection) sites in the ecozone+ include petroleum hydrocarbons, asbestos, heavy metals, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).Référence 192-Reference 204 Limited evaluation of hare tissue samples at a radar line site just south of the ecozone+ (site 060, Relay/Foxville) resulted in a health advisory at that site for country foods, due to PCB levels that exceeded Health Canada guidelines for safe food consumption.Reference 205 Concern from local Aboriginal peoples about the potential impacts of these former radar line sites on local ecosystems and human health are based on the Health Canada advisory as well as local Aboriginal perspectives and knowledge about impacts in the area.Reference 206, Reference 207 The Mid-Canada Line, which included 21 sites in the Manitoba and Ontario portions of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, became fully operational in 1958 and closed in 1965. Remediation is now in progress for Ontario sites. Leeches (Haemopis spp.) were used to monitor PCB levels in the Albany River following remediation of the first site (Site 050, Anderson Island) located adjacent to Fort Albany (completed 2001). Results suggested that, although PCB levels were still elevated 4 years after remediation, PCB levels were declining and, thus, removal of the terrestrial source of PCBs at Site 050 appears to have removed the main source of PCBs in the river.Reference 208

Key finding 14
Climate change

Theme Human/ecosystem interactions

National key finding

Rising temperatures across Canada, along with changes in other climatic variables over the past 50 years, have had both direct and indirect impacts on biodiversity in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems.

Climatic trends are evident in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ and the broader Hudson Bay region. Modelling projects that this ecozone+ will experience amplified climatic warming in the future, likely with major consequences for the ecology of the area.

Observed changes

Over the period 1950 to 2007, the few climate stations located in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ that have long-term data (Figure 16) showed significant trends for increased mean annual and/or mean seasonal temperature (winter and/or summer), increased effective growing degree days, decreased total spring precipitation, decreased seasonal days with precipitation (spring or winter), and a decreased proportion of precipitation falling as snow, depending on location (Table 3).Reference 7 Significant changes in both temperature and precipitation are also evident in the broader Hudson Bay region.Reference 7, Reference 209

Figure 16. Locations of climate stations in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ that have long-term data sufficient for trend analysis.
Note that all three stations represent coastal conditions and that long-term temperature data exist for only two of these stations, Churchill and Moosonee; the Eastmain station is used only in precipitation analyses.
Locations of climate stations in the Hudson Plains
Source: site locations from Zhang et al., 2011Reference 17
Long description for Figure 16

This map of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ shows the location of climate stations that have long term data sufficient for trend analysis. Churchill, Manitoba is located in the northeast of the ecozone+. Moosonee, Ontario and Eastmain, Quebec are along the James Bay in the south-eastern region of the ecozone+. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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Table 3. Overview of climate trends from stations in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, 1950-2007.
Climate variableSignificant (p<0.05) trends, total change 1950-2007
Mean annual temperature
  • Churchill: ↑ 1.3 °C
  • Moosonee: no significant trends
  • Eastmain: not analyzed
Mean seasonal temperature
  • Churchill:
    • summer mean temperature ↑ 1.9 °C
    • winter mean temperature ↑ 2.2 °C
  • Moosonee: summer mean temperature ↑ 1.6 °C
  • Eastmain: not analyzed
Effective growing degree days
  • Moosonee: ↑ 220.4 °C over the growing season
  • Churchill and Eastmain not analyzed
Total annual precipitation
  • No significant trends (all 3 stations)
Total seasonal precipitation
  • Churchill: no significant trends
  • Moosonee: spring precipitation ↓ by 28.1% of 1961-1990 mean
  • Eastmain: no significant trends
Mean annual # of days with precipitation
  • No significant trends (2 stations, Eastmain not analyzed)
Mean seasonal # of days with precipitation
  • Churchill: ↓ of 14.4 spring days with precipitation
  • Eastmain: ↓ of 33.1 winter days with precipitation
  • Moosonee: no significant trends
Snow to total precipitation ratio
  • Moosonee: 7.0% unit ↓ in proportion of precipitation falling as snow
  • Churchill: no significant trends
  • Moosonee: not analyzed

For this analysis, temperature and precipitation variables were expressed as anomalies with respect to a 1961-1990 reference period. Seasonal analyses were based on four seasons defined as: spring, March-May; summer, June-August; fall, September-November; and winter, December-February.

Source: data for ecozone+ provided by authors of Zhang et al., 2011 Reference 7

Impacts of the changing climate are apparent. The extent of sea ice has significantly declined and the sea-ice season has become significantly shorter (see Sea ice on page 26). The shorter sea-ice season is, in turn, correlated with declines in the body condition, survival, and abundance of the polar bear subpopulations that use the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ (see Polar bear on page 54). The changes in sea ice are also implicated in some changes in wildlife phenology and predator-prey interactions, including interactions between polar bear and lesser snow goose, whose mean hatching date in the ecozone+ is advancing as the climate changes (see Food webs on page 66). Canada goose hatching date is also advancing.Reference 210 Other potentially early effects of climate change may be present, but not detectable given the general paucity of monitoring in this ecozone+. For example, it is not known from monitoring if permafrost is thawing or if the freshwater ice season for lakes and rivers is shortening, but such changes are suspected (see Ice across biomes on page 26).

Projected changes

Most studies of climatic projections are at larger spatial scales than the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ and for long temporal periods. A high degree of uncertainty therefore prevails as to the changes that will occur in this ecozone+ in the future. Nevertheless, it is possible to comment on trajectories of climatic and ecological change based on a growing number of studies.

Climate scenarios developed for the Hudson Bay region using various general circulation models (GCMs) and regional climate models (RCMs) project warmer temperatures over both sea and land in all seasons, with peak temperature differences generally occurring in winter.Reference 69, Reference 125, Reference 141, Reference 211-Reference 214 Precipitation results are more equivocal than those for temperature but precipitation is also often forecast to increase, with some exceptions depending on model, season, and/or location. Where precipitation is projected to increase over land in summer, the increase will tend to be more than offset by higher evaporation due to the warmer temperatures (i.e., conditions will be drier overall). As the cover of sea ice disappears, an amplified warming of up to ~10 °C in winter (or 8 °C annual average) is projected through ice-albedo feedback effects,Reference 125 threatening permafrost throughout the ecozone+ .Reference 95, Reference 125, Reference 211

The more specific implicationsReference 95, Reference 125, Reference 211 of this modeling are that warming will likely lead to:

  1. a substantial reduction or complete loss of seasonal sea ice from James Bay and the southern portion of Hudson Bay (i.e., areas adjacent to the Hudson Plains Ecozone+) by 2100 (see also Joly et al. (2010)Reference 212 for higher-resolution regional modeling to 2070);
  2. a virtual elimination of a climate that supports permafrost, by 2100; and
  3. an associated loss of at least 50% of the continuous permafrost (and complete loss of permafrost that is currently discontinuous or in isolated patches).

Because the ecozone+ 's defining climatic and edaphic conditions are a result of sea ice and permafrost, cascading effects on the ecology of the ecozone+ are anticipated. Sea ice-dependent species are at most immediate risk, with current trends for deterioration in polar bear subpopulations expected to continue or accelerateReference 215-Reference 217 (see also Polar bear on page 54). The presence of more open sea water increases the likelihood of increased wave action (coastal erosion) and storm surges that could result in more frequent inundation events inland.Reference 71 Peatland sensitivity mapping suggests that much of the ecozone+ 's peatlands will likely be severely or extremely severely impacted as permafrost thaws and other changes in hydrology occurReference 218 (Figure 17). In more northerly areas, thawing of permafrost is initially expected to collapse the peat, raise the water table, and form ponds.Reference 219 Conversely, more southerly areas where permafrost is limited may become more xeric,Reference 219 potentially resulting in fragmentation of wetlandsReference 220 and shifts to shrub and tree-dominated communities.Reference 221, Reference 222 Prime denning habitat for polar bears will be affected as geomorphic features such as palsas degrade and eventually disappearReference 223-Reference 225 and important habitat for wetland-dependent species, including much of the breeding bird population, will also be altered or lost. Like elsewhere, other changes in species' ranges and assemblages are expected in both freshwater and terrestrial environments (for example, Minns and Moore (1995);Reference 226 McKenney et al., (2007)Reference 227).

Figure 17. Peatland sensitivity map of Canada.
Much of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is expected to be severely or extremely severely impacted by climate warming.
Peatland sensitivity map
Source: reprinted from Tarnocai , 2006Reference 218 (p 224, fig 2; adapted from Kettles and Tarnocai, 1999Reference 228) with permission Elsevier and Copibec
Long description for Figure 17

This map shows peatland sensitivity across Canada, and permanent and predicted permafrost boundaries. Regions with extremely severe sensitivity run through the central region of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Northern Manitoba. Additionally, there are areas of extremely severe sensitivity scattered through Northern Quebec and Labrador and the northern prairies. Areas of severe sensitivity run south along the extremely sensitive areas of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and central Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Regions of Canada with moderate peatland sensitivity are located in central Yukon into the Northwest Territories, as well as some regions in Northern Quebec and Labrador. Areas with slight sensitivity are shown in north regions of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, the central region of Ontario, parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and most of Newfoundland. Regions with light sensitivity run along the northern coast of Canada, the Northern Pacific coast, the Rocky Mountains, the northern prairies, central and southern regions of Ontario and Quebec, parts of the northern coasts in Quebec and Labrador, and part of New Brunswick. The remaining regions of Canada's peatland are not sensitive including the arctic islands, most of BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, and scattered portions of Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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It is not clear how well the ecozone+'s extensive peatlands will be able to continue storing and accumulating carbonReference 229 but potential changes in the carbon balance of these peatlands are of global concern for biodiversity and human well-being. If carbon stored in the ecozone+'s peatlands is released to the atmosphere,Reference 218, Reference 230 the release may lead to a positive feedback to atmospheric greenhouse gasesReference 230 that could be further exacerbated if large areas of dry peatlands burn as projected.Reference 214, Reference 231-Reference 233 Increased fire activity could in turn lead to increased mercury emissions, which in boreal areas can be more than 10-fold greater from burning peatlands than from fires in non-peatland forests.Reference 234 Increased temperature-dependent methylation of mercury in aquatic environments is also a concern.Reference 235

Key finding 15
Ecosystem services

Theme Human/ecosystem interactions

National key finding

Canada is well endowed with a natural environment that provides ecosystem services upon which our quality of life depends. In some areas where stressors have impaired ecosystem function, the cost of maintaining ecosystem services is high and deterioration in quantity, quality, and access to ecosystem services is evident.

There is no compelling evidence to suggest that the capacity of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ to supply ecosystem services has deteriorated, based on limited information available for a select set of services examined for the ESTR.Reference 4 The ecozone+ 's ecosystem services are also assumed for the most part stable, given a high degree of intactness and minimal levels of development (see Intact landscapes and waterscapes on page 51). The effects of climate change and further development on the resilience or capacity of this ecozone+ to continue supplying ecosystem services are, however, uncertain.

One provisioning service (wildlife harvest), one cultural service (traditional land use), and one regulating service (climate regulation) are profiled below. Although both climate regulation and the flood control (disturbance moderation) and water filtration (water quality regulation) services afforded by freshwater (including wetlands) are sometimes considered the most important ecosystem services provided by Canada's boreal ecozones+ ,Reference 23, Reference 236, Reference 237 only climate regulation is profiled here in relation to its global significance.

Wildlife harvest, a provisioning ecosystem service

The provisioning services of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ (i.e., goods derived from the living portion of the ecosystem, such as food, furs, and plant fibre) are still very important for the majority of the principally Aboriginal peoples that live there.Reference 238, Reference 239 complete data on provisioning services are lacking for the ecozone+ as a whole and the information examined (harvests of caribou, moose, and waterfowl for food and harvests of furbearing mammals for fur) had significant spatial and/or temporal gaps in representation, particularly in recent years.Reference 4 The strongest evidence of a trend in recent years is for fur harvest, for which comparable data are available across most of the ecozone+ 's geography. However most, if not all, records of fur harvest come from official sealing records and Manitoba mandatory dealer reports and, therefore, the absolute total harvest (i.e., including animals retained by Aboriginal peoples for personal use) is unknown. Still, revenue generated by the sale of pelts is important to many communities where other sources of income may be few.

The available data show that the trend for declining fur harvest is continuing in present times (Figure 18), largely as a result of trends in American beaver and muskrat harvest (not shown). This trend, however, is probably not strongly related to decreasing furbearer populations, i.e., a reduced capacity of the ecozone+ to supply furs. Declines in trapping effort in the ecozone+ (and resultant harvest) often coincide with changes in market conditions and the trapping effort there has also depended on local economic conditions and the desire of Aboriginal trappers to maintain traditional trapping lifestyleReference 64 (see also Traditional land use, a cultural ecosystem servicebelow). Indeed, there is no indication that the actual population sizes of furbearing mammals are decreasing across the ecozone+ .Reference 4

Figure 18. Harvest trends of furbearing mammals as measured by mean number reported or sealed per community for Manitoba (1996-1997 to 2006-2007), Ontario (1973-1974 to 2006-2007), and Quebec (1983-1984 to 2006-2007) portions of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+.
For Manitoba, the average is based on mandatory fur dealer reports for traplines entirely or partially in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ , i.e., those in the Churchill, Limestone, Shamattawa, Gods Lake, and Split Lake Registered Trapline Sections. For Ontario, the number of communities participating varied from year to year; therefore, the average is based on seven main communities in the ecozone+ . For Quebec, the average is based on sealing records from Eastmain and Waskaganish.
Harvest trends of furbearing mammals
Source: Abraham et al., 2011Reference 4 using unpublished data from Manitoba Conservation, 2010;Reference 240 Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 2010;Reference 241 and Ministère des Ressources Naturelles et de la Faune, 2010Reference 242
Long description for Figure 18
This scatter plot shows the following information:
1973  1,817
1974 2,2611,814
1975 1,9541,683
1976  2,934
1977 2,8173,105
1978 2,0012,797
1979 2,9283,179
1980 3,162 
1981 2,977 
1982 2,442 
1983 2,252 
1984 2,771 
1985 1,8762,501
1986 2,7892,043
1987  2,998
1988 2,1422,111
1989 1,3171,624
1990  1,379
1991 7721,170
1992 7651,391
1993  991
1994 1,0031,083
1995 1,5871,280
1996 1,6881,282
   Mean number of furs reported or sealed per community

The trend line for Manitoba shows a decline from approximately 1,200 mean furs reported in 1997 to around 750 a decade later. The trend line for Ontario shows a decline from just under 3,000 furs in 1973 to fewer than 500 in 2007. The trend line for Quebec also shows declines, from over 2,500 in 1973 to fewer than 1,000 in 2007.

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Traditional land use, a cultural ecosystem service

Historically, Lowland Cree livelihoods were based mostly on hunting, trapping, fishing, gathering, and the trading of products from these pursuits.Reference 61, Reference 165 Such activities provided a strong connection to the land and environment, which was important for survival and for maintaining social relationships and cultural identity.Reference 61, Reference 243 One proxy for the trend in traditional land use (cultural continuity) is the level of participation in the Income Security Program (ISP) under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.Reference 142 Families who spend more than four months of the year on the land come under the ISP. Since the late 1970s, the percentage of families under ISP has declined, including in Eastmain and Waskaganish (Figure 19). Similarly, studies in the Ontario portion of the ecozone+ show that the activity patterns of Cree harvesters have shifted from long trips to numerous short trips of a few days in duration.Reference 239 The fact that the majority of families no longer spend a substantial part of the year on the land is consistent with the observation of many elders that the younger generations are not as well connected to the land as in the past,Reference 244 and is probably not related to deterioration in the supporting environment itself.

Figure 19. Percentage of the Cree member's population in Eastmain and Waskaganish participating in the Cree Hunter and Trappers Income Security Program, 1977-2006.
Percentage of the Cree member's population
Source: Cree Hunter and Trappers Income Security Program, 2009Reference 245
Long description for Figure 19
These two bar graphs show the following information:
--Participation in the Income Security Program (%)

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Climate regulation, a regulating ecosystem service

Ecosystems regulate climate through carbon storage and release, by either sequestering (as a sink) or emitting (as a source) greenhouse gases.Reference 246 Canada accounts for 87% of the peatland area in North America, and the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is its largest peatland complex.Reference 31 As such, this ecozone+ stores an exceptionally high amount of carbon, on both a national and global basis.Reference 247

The carbon stored in the ecozone+ 's peatlands is estimated at 6.483 trillion tonnes, which accounts for 33% of total peatland carbon in Canada's boreal region even though the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ covers only 6% of this land area (Table 4). From the same analysis, another approximately 945 billion tonnes of carbon is stored in this ecozone+ 's forests.Reference 23, Reference 236 In other assessments, the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is estimated to contain approximately 33 Gt of soil carbon or 12% of the organic carbon stored in Canadian soils.Reference 248 More recently, Tarnocai et al., (2009)Reference 249 discovered that permafrost-affected soils contain more carbon than previously thought, the implication being that absolute values of carbon storage may have been strongly underestimated in permafrost areas across the globe. Updated regional estimates of carbon storage are not fully available at this time, in part because the Tarnocai et al., (2009)Reference 249 study did not differentiate among various types of permafrost sites (see Schindler and Lee 2010).Reference 237 Nonetheless, on a relative basis the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ still has some of the highest carbon densities globally.Reference 249

Table 4. Carbon storage in peatlands in Canada's boreal ecozones.
The Hudson Plains Ecozone accounts for ~6% of the area of Canada's boreal region but ~33% of the carbon stored in its boreal peatlands.
EcozoneNote a of Table 4Total ecozone area (ha)Note b of Table 4Peatlands:
Area (ha)
of ecozone area (%)
Carbon storage in peatlands
(millions of tonnes)
Taiga Cordillera26,366,0006,7000.031.1
Taiga Plains63,722,00014,110,00022.12,372
Taiga Shield135,431,0009,705,4007.21,632
Hudson Plains36,734,00024,868,60067.76,483
Boreal Shield199,642,00024,515,40012.36,391
Boreal Plains74,412,0009,816,10013.22,559
Boreal Cordillera47,772,000177,5000.3784
Total, Canada's Boreal Region584,079,00083,199,80014.219,522

Notes of Table 4

Note a of Table 4

These are the Ecological Stratification Working Group (2005) Reference 5 ecozone boundaries, which differ slightly from the ecozone+ boundaries used in the ESTR.Reference 6

Return to note a referrer of table 4

Note b of Table 4

Areas are for ecozones, not ecozones+.

Return to note b referrer of table 4

Source: adapted from Anielski and Wilson, 2005.Reference 236 See also Anielski and Wilson, 2009Reference 23

The comparatively large carbon store in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ has high value to society. In their 4th report, the International Panel on Climate ChangeReference 250 reported an average 2005 value for carbon of $43 US per tonne based on the damage costs of climate change to society. Although data are currently insufficient to examine trends in the amount of carbon stored in the ecozone+ 's peatlands, the fate of this carbon is a concern for biodiversity and human well-being (see Climate change on page 42).

The importance of maintaining the ecozone+'s large peatland carbon store is being increasingly recognized by managing jurisdictions. The Government of Manitoba recently committed to develop a boreal peatlands stewardship strategy in co-operation with stakeholders and leading climate change non-governmental agencies.Reference 132 The commitment was made coincident with the establishment of two new protected areas with significant carbon stores in the ecozone+ (see Protected areas on page 30). In Ontario, the vision to maintain carbon storage and sequestration is now articulated in the province's new Far North Act .Reference 136 To support the intent of this Act, a science advisory panel to the Ontario government recommended that some conservation areas be designated where the densest carbon pools exist, and that these carbon stores be given economic value for the benefit of local communities.Reference 148 The need to consider enhancing fire suppression efforts as climate change proceeds is also recognized, even if increasing fire suppression will be logistically and economically challenging in this geography (for example, Stocks and Ward (2010)Reference 251).

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