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Hudson Plains Ecozone+ Evidence for key findings summary

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Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010

Evidence for Key Findings Summary Report No. 2

Published by the Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers

Table of Contents

Document Information

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Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Hudson Plains Ecozone+ evidence for key findings summary.

Issued also in French under title:

Sommaire des éléments probants relativement aux constatations clés pour l’écozone+ des plaines husoniennes.

Electronic monograph in PDF format.

ISBN 978-1-100-19958-0

Cat. no.: En14-43/0-2-2011E-PDF

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Cover photos: Woodland caribou, Cape Henrietta Maria, Ontario; Inland (freshwater) wetlands, Hudson Bay Lowlands, Ontario. Both photos © Queen’s Printer for Ontario/K.F. Abraham, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

This report should be cited as:

Abraham, K.F. and McKinnon, L.M. 2011. Hudson Plains Ecozone+ evidence for key findings summary. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Evidence for Key Findings Summary Report No. 2. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. vi + 98 p.

Technical Reports

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada (Environment Canada) and Queen’s Printer for Ontario (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), 2011

Aussi disponible en français

Preface

The Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers developed a Biodiversity Outcomes FrameworkReference 1 in 2006 to focus conservation and restoration actions under the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy.Reference 2 Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010 Reference 3 was the first report under this framework. It presents 22 key findings that emerged from synthesis and analysis of background technical reports prepared on the status and trends for many cross-cutting national themes (the Technical Thematic Report Series) and for individual terrestrial and marine ecozones+ of Canada (the Technical Ecozone+ Reports). More than 500 experts participated in data analysis, writing, and review of these foundation documents. Summary reports were also prepared for each terrestrial ecozone+ to present the ecozone+-specific evidence related to each of the 22 national key findings (the Evidence for Key Findings Summary Report Series). Together, the full complement of these products constitutes the 2010 Ecosystem Status and Trends Report (ESTR).

This report, Hudson Plains Ecozone+ Evidence for Key Findings Summary, presents evidence from the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ related to the 22 national key findings. The report is not a comprehensive assessment of all ecosystem-related information. The level of detail presented on each key finding varies, and issues or datasets may have been missed. Some emphasis is also placed on information from the national Technical Thematic Report Series. As in all ESTR products, the time frames over which trends are assessed vary - both because time frames that are meaningful for these diverse aspects of ecosystems vary and because the assessment is based on the best available information, which is over a range of time periods.

This summary report is based on the full Technical Ecozone+ Report for this ecozone+, Hudson Plains Ecozone+ Status and Trends Assessment, Reference 4 which was prepared for this project and also incorporates information from many of the Technical Thematic Reports. Many experts from a broad range of disciplines and organizations contributed to the full Hudson Plains status and trends assessment as authors and reviewers (see acknowledgements section on page iii). Additional reviews of this summary report were provided by scientists and resource managers from relevant provincial, territorial, and federal government agencies.

Ecological classification system - ecozones+

A slightly modified version of the Terrestrial Ecozones of Canada, described in the National Ecological Framework for Canada, Reference 5 provided the ecosystem-based units for all reports related to this project. Modifications from the original framework include: adjustments to terrestrial boundaries to reflect improvements from ground-truthing exercises; the combination of three Arctic ecozones into one; the use of two ecoprovinces - Western Interior Basin and Newfoundland Boreal; the addition of nine marine ecosystem-based units; and the addition of the Great Lakes as a unit. This modified classification system is referred to as “ecozones+ ” throughout these reports to avoid confusion with the more familiar “ecozones” of the original framework.Reference 6 For the Hudson Plains, modifications were made to the southern boundary of the ecozone within Ontario to reflect the actual contact between the Precambrian and Paleozoic bedrock.

Ecological classification system – ecozones+
This map of Canada shows the ecological classification framework
Long description for Preface Figure

This map of Canada shows the ecological classification framework for the Ecosystem Status and Trends Report, named “ecozones+”. This map shows the distribution of 15 terrestrial ecozones+ (Atlantic Maritime; Newfoundland Boreal; Taiga Shield; Mixedwood Plains; Boreal Shield; Hudson Plains; Prairies; Boreal Plains; Montane Cordillera; Western Interior Basin; Pacific Maritime; Boreal Cordillera; Taiga Cordillera; Taiga Plains; Arctic), two large lake ecozones+ (Great Lakes; Lake Winnipeg), and nine marine ecozones+ (North Coast and Hecate Strait; West Coast Vancouver Island; Strait of Georgia; Gulf of Maine and Scotian Shelf; Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence; Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves; Hudson Bay, James Bay and Fox Basin; Canadian Arctic Archipelago; Beaufort Sea).

Acknowledgements

This summary report is based on the technical report, Hudson Plains Ecozone+ Status and Trends Assessment (see credit box below),Reference 4 and has been prepared in partnership by the lead authors of the full technical report and the ESTR Secretariat. Additional reviews of this summary report were provided by scientists and resource managers from relevant provincial, territorial, and federal government agencies through a review process administered by the ESTR Steering Committee. Direction and report production were provided by the ESTR Secretariat.

Hudson Plains Ecozone+ Status and Trends AssessmentReference 4 (Technical Ecozone+ Report) acknowledgements

Lead coordinating authors and compilers:
K.F. Abraham, L.M. McKinnon, Z. Jumean, S.M. Tully, L.R. Walton and H.M. Stewart
Contributing authors (alphabetically):
D. Berezanski, F. Berkes, W. Bernhardt, L. Brown, V. Crichton, W.J. Crins, F.N. Dawson, L.A. Dredge, J.R. Duncan, M.D. Flannigan, R.A. Fleming, M.P. Girardin, W.A. Gough, R.L. Jefferies, V. Kanya, G.J. Kayahara, R. Koes, S. Kowalchuk, C.C. Krezek-Hanes, R. Lalonde, C. Latremouille, R. Man, I.P. Martini, S. McGovern, J.W. McLaughlin, K. Middel, B. Mighton, K.M. Monson, R.I.G. Morrison, M.E. Obbard, C. Paitre, R.D. Phoenix, M.D. Piercey-Normore, J.S. Price, C.E. Punter, J.C. Ray, R.F. Rockwell, R. Roughley, G.A.J. Scott, M. Vukelich and K.L. Webster
Authors of ESTR Thematic Technical Reports from which material is drawn

Canadian climate trends, 1950-2007: X. Zhang, R. Brown, L. Vincent, W. Skinner, Y. Feng and E. MekisReference 7

Trends in large fires in Canada, 1959-2007: C.C. Krezek-Hanes, F. Ahern, A. Cantin and M.D. FlanniganReference 8

Monitoring ecosytems remotely: a selection of trends measured from satellite observations of Canada (land cover change, forest density, and NDVI trends): F. Ahern, J. Frisk, R. Latifovic and D. PouliotReference 9

Biodiversity in Canadian lakes and rivers: W.A. Monk and D.J. BairdReference 10

Trends in Canadian shorebirds: C. Gratto-Trevor, R.I.G. Morrison, B. Collins, J. Rausch and V. JohnstonReference 11

Inter-jurisdictional review by scientists and resource managers from relevant provincial, territorial, and federal government agencies through a review process administered by the ESTR Steering Committee. Additional reviews of individual sections by non-governmental researchers and resource managers in their field of expertise.

Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge compiled from publicly available sources by Donna D. Hurlburt.

Technical, map, and graphic contributions by the ESTR Secretariat.

Direction provided by the ESTR Steering Committee composed of representatives of federal, provincial, and territorial agencies.

Report production by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in cooperation with the ESTR Secretariat.

Funding for report compilation and production provided by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ Biodiversity Branch, Far North Branch, Science and Information Branch, and Applied Research and Development Branch. In-kind contributions from Environment Canada and the affiliations of all contributing authors are gratefully acknowledged.

Figure 1. Overview map of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+.
Gillam lies outside of ecozone+ boundaries, but is shown for geographic context.
This map of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+
Long description for Figure 1

This map of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ shows the locations of cities/towns and bodies of water which are referred to within this report. This ecozone+ runs from the eastern corner of Manitoba, along the Hudson Bay into Ontario, to the eastern side of the James Bay in Quebec and includes Akimiski Island, Nunavut. Cities/towns shown are: Churchill, Gillam, York Factory, and Shamattawa in Manitoba (Gillam lies outside of ecozone+ boundaries, but is shown for geographic context), Fort Severn, Peawanuck, Cape Henrietta Maria, Attawapiskat, Kashechewan, Fort Albany, Moosonee, and Moose Factory in Ontario, Waskaganish, and Eastmain in Quebec. From west to east, the labeled rivers are: Churchill, Nelson, Hayes, Severn, Winisk, Sutton, Attawapiskat, Albany, Moose, Harricana, Nottaway, Rupert, and Eastmain. Missisa Lake is west of Fort Albany. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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References

Reference 1

Federal-Provincial-Territorial Biodiversity Working Group. 1995. Canadian biodiversity strategy: Canada's response to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Environment Canada, Biodiversity Convention Office. Hull, QC. 86 p. Canadian Biodiversity Strategy.

Return to reference 1 referrer

Reference 2

Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments of Canada. 2010. Canadian biodiversity: ecosystem status and trends 2010. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. vi + 142 p. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010.

Return to reference 2 referrer

Reference 3

Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments of Canada. 2010. Canadian biodiversity: ecosystem status and trends 2010. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. vi + 142 p. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010.

Return to reference 3 referrer

Reference 4

Abraham, K.F., McKinnon, L.M., Jumean, Z., Tully, S.M., Walton, L.R. and Stewart, H.M. (lead coordinating authors and compilers). 2011. Hudson Plains Ecozone+ status and trends assessment. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Ecozone+ Report. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. xxi + 445 p.

Return to reference 4 referrer

Reference 5

Ecological Stratification Working Group. 1995. A national ecological framework for Canada. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Branch, Centre for Land and Biological Resources Research and Environment Canada, State of the Environment Directorate, Ecozone Analysis Branch. Ottawa, ON/Hull, QC. 125 p. Report and national map at 1:7 500 000 scale.

Return to reference 5 referrer

Reference 6

Rankin, R., Austin, M. and Rice, J. 2011. Ecological classification system for the ecosystem status and trends report. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 1. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. ii + 14 p. Technical Reports.

Return to reference 6 referrer

Reference 7

Zhang, X., Brown, R., Vincent, L., Skinner, W., Feng, Y. and Mekis, E. 2011. Canadian climate trends, 1950-2007. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 5. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. iv + 21 p. Technical Reports.

Return to reference 7 referrer

Reference 8

Krezek-Hanes, C.C., Ahern, F., Cantin, A. and Flannigan, M.D. 2011. Trends in large fires in Canada, 1959-2007. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 6. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. v + 48 p. Technical Reports.

Return to reference 8 referrer

Reference 9

Ahern, F., Frisk, J., Latifovic, R. and Pouliot, D. 2011. Monitoring ecosystems remotely: a selection of trends measured from satellite observations of Canada. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 17. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. Technical Reports.

Return to reference 9 referrer

Reference 10

Monk, W.A. and Baird, D.J. 2011. Biodiversity in Canadian lakes and rivers. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 20. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. Technical Reports.

Return to reference 10 referrer

Reference 11

Gratto-Trevor, C., Morrison, R.I.G., Collins, B., Rausch, J. and Johnston, V. 2011. Trends in Canadian shorebirds. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 13. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. iv + 32 p. Technical Reports.

Return to reference 11 referrer

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List of Figures

List of Tables

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Ecozone+ Basics

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ (Figure 1) is a low-lying northern region that has been little altered by human activities; however, it is increasingly under threat from climate change and pressure for new development. Its extensive wetlands provide critical habitat for a variety of birds and its peatlands also play an important global role in carbon storage. Species of national conservation concern such as polar bear, woodland caribou, wolverine, and lake sturgeon find an important refuge there. This ecozone+ has many critical information gaps. Table 1provides an overview of the main features of the ecozone+.

Table 1. Hudson Plains Ecozone+ overview.
Area352,980 km²
Topography
  • Very low grade 0.5 m/km rise from the ocean, with little relief; maximum elevations 130 m near the Nelson River in Manitoba and 240 m east of James Bay
  • Broad, poorly drained plains, interrupted by incised valleys along major rivers, a low bedrock ridge at Churchill, Manitoba and the Sutton Ridges (a 50 km long, 120 m high cuesta) southwest of Cape Henrietta Maria, Ontario
  • Extensive wetlands and numerous small lakes and ponds
Climate
  • Maritime boreal climate, influenced significantly by Hudson and James bays, especially seasonal sea ice cover
  • Mean annual air temperatures vary from -7°C at Churchill, Manitoba to -1°C at Moosonee, Ontario; precipitation varies from 430 mm to 680 mm correspondingly
River basins
  • Churchill, Nelson, Hayes, Severn, and Winisk rivers flowing into Hudson Bay
  • Attawapiskat, Albany, Moose, Harricana, Nottaway, Rupert, and Eastmain rivers flowing into James Bay
Geology
  • Former Tyrell Sea bottom, formed by retreat of Laurentide Ice Sheet; land is still rebounding at one of the highest rates in North America
  • Bedrock mostly Paleozoic limestone and dolomite; glacial and postglacial deposits up to 80 m thick
  • Surface sediments largely fine-grained calcareous deposits overlain by thin blankets of marine sand or thicker sandy deposits forming beach ridges
Permafrost
  • Sea ice in Hudson and James bays cools the climate and contributes to the occurrence of the most southern continuous permafrost in North America
  • Permafrost grades from continuous along the Hudson Bay coast; to discontinuous towards the south and inland; to isolated patches around James Bay in the south Permafrost is absent in the most southern reaches of the ecozone+ away from the coast
Settlement
  • Moosonee and Moose Factory, both in Ontario, were the largest communities in 2006 (last census year), with estimated populations of 2,006 and 2,700, respectively
Economy
  • Mixed traditional (especially hunting and fishing) and wage-based economies, with high unemployment rates in the wage economy
  • Transportation, government services, hydroelectricity, and tourism (the latter principally at Churchill, Manitoba and Moosonee-Moose Factory, Ontario), with mining increasing in importance
  • Economic development is being increasingly explored and promoted
Development
  • Access into the ecozone+ is limited to sea, air, two railway lines, and one all-season road that connects Eastmain and Waskaganish in Quebec with the highway system in the south; communities within the ecozone+ are seasonally connected by winter roads
  • Resource developments mostly in the hydroelectric sector but a diamond mine was established near Attawapiskat, Ontario in 2006 (opened 2008) and recent discovery of world-class chromite deposits further inland portends major mining-related infrastructure
  • Very little forestry or agriculture; limited subsoil asset extraction (except the one mine)
National/global significance
  • Largest wetland complex in Canada and third largest in the world, making this ecozone+ of hemispheric importance to migratory birds
  • Largest peat basin in Canada and the second largest in northern latitudes (>40-50°), making this ecozone+ globally important for carbon storage
  • Contains two designated Wetlands of International Importance: Polar Bear Provincial Park and Southern James Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuaries (Moose River and Hannah Bay)
  • Part of one of the largest intact tracts of forest remaining in Canada and the world

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Jurisdictions: Most of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ lies in northern Ontario (Figure 1). From its core in Ontario, the ecozone+ extends west along the Hudson Bay coast to the Churchill area in northern Manitoba and east into the western part of coastal Quebec. The few islands in James Bay that are part of this terrestrial ecozone+ are jurisdictionally part of Nunavut. Akimiski Island is the largest of these islands and it is located just off the western coast of James Bay.

Population: The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is home to an estimated 14,000 residents, concentrated in 11 communities at a density of about one person per 24 km².Reference 12, Reference 13 Most of these communities are coastal villages located near the mouths of major rivers (estuaries) (Figure 1) and residents are primarily of Aboriginal descent, principally Cree and Metis.Reference 14


References

Reference 12

Corston, K. and McComb, N. 2008. Coastal community profiles. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Cochrane District, ON. 28 p.

Return to reference 12 referrer

Reference 13

Statistics Canada. 2010. Community profiles [online]. Statistics Canada. (last accessed December, 2010).

Return to reference 13 referrer

Reference 14

Abraham, K.F. and Keddy, C.J. 2005. The Hudson Bay Lowland: a unique wetland legacy. In The world's largest wetlands: ecology and conservation. Edited by Fraser, L.H. and Keddy, P.A. Cambridge University Press. New York, NY. pp. 118-148.

Return to reference 14 referrer

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Key findings at a glance: national and ecozone+ level

Table 2 presents the national key findings from Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010Reference 3 together with a summary of the corresponding trends in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ . Topic numbers in this section correspond to the national key findings as described in Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010.Reference 3 Topics in grey text were identified as key findings at a national level but were either not relevant or not assessed for this ecozone+ . Key findings that are not relevant to the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ do not appear in the body of this document. Evidence for the statements that appear here are found in the subsequent text organized by key finding and further elaborated on in the full Technical Ecozone+ Report, Hudson Plains Ecozone+ Status and Trends Assessment.Reference 4

Table 2. Key findings overview.
ThemesThemes and topicsKey findings: NationalKey findings: Hudson Plains Ecozone+
Theme: Biomes1. ForestsAt a national level, the extent of forests has changed little since 1990; at a regional level, loss of forest extent is significant in some places. The structure of some Canadian forests, including species composition, age classes, and size of intact patches of forest, has changed over longer time frames.No trends are apparent in the extent of forest cover. Information is insufficient to assess for potential changes in forest structure, including species composition, age class (or time-since-fire), and intactness. No such changes are expected based on minimal anthropogenic disturbance, including harvest, and an effectively natural and apparently unchanged disturbance regime.
Theme: Biomes2. GrasslandsNative grasslands have been reduced to a fraction of their original extent. Although at a slower pace, declines continue in some areas. The health of many existing grasslands has also been compromised by a variety of stressors.Not relevant
Theme: Biomes3. WetlandsHigh loss of wetlands has occurred in southern Canada; loss and degradation continue due to a wide range of stressors. Some wetlands have been or are being restored.Information is currently insufficient for analysis of trends in the distribution, extent, or condition of inland wetlands. These wetlands are assumed healthy, with extensive peatlands largely intact, except in limited areas affected by hydroelectric and mining developments.
Theme: Biomes4. Lakes and riversTrends over the past 40 years influencing biodiversity in lakes and rivers include seasonal changes in magnitude of stream flows, increases in river and lake temperatures, decreases in lake levels, and habitat loss and fragmentation.The streamflow network is deficient but a reduced total annual volume of freshwater naturally discharged from several rivers is evident over the last four decades, associated with a four day advance in annual peak discharge rate and a decline in peak intensity. Lakes and rivers are relatively undisturbed and assumed to be mostly in good condition overall. However, hydroelectric developments in and around the ecozone+ have affected flow rates and other physical parameters of some rivers and created a large reservoir in the ecozone+ , with impacts on biota. Cumulative effects from these and possible future hydroelectric developments in the watershed is a concern.
Theme: Biomes5. CoastalCoastal ecosystems, such as estuaries, salt marshes, and mud flats, are believed to be healthy in less developed coastal areas, although there are exceptions. In developed areas, extent and quality of coastal ecosystems are declining as a result of habitat modification, erosion, and sea-level rise.Intense foraging principally by a greatly increased Mid-Continent population of lesser snow goose has resulted in an apparent trophic cascade in this biome, with an associated loss of ~30% of coastal salt marsh vegetation since the 1970s, from Manitoba to James Bay. Additional area is still being damaged. Hydroelectric development that has reduced the discharge of freshwater from some rivers has caused more saltwater intrusion into estuaries with associated impacts on fish communities. Deterioration of eelgrass beds along the eastern James Bay coast is a concern.
Theme: Biomes6. MarineObserved changes in marine biodiversity over the past 50 years have been driven by a combination of physical factors and human activities, such as oceanographic and climate variability, and overexploitation. While certain marine mammals have recovered from past overharvesting, many commercial fisheries have not.The marine biome is not directly part of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ , but Ice across biomesand Species of special interest: economic, cultural, or ecologicalillustrate links between sea ice and the ecozone+ ’s climate and polar bears. Other information about the marine ecosystem adjacent to Hudson Plains Ecozone+ can be found in the Arctic-marine Ecozone+ technical and summary reports of the Ecosystem Status and Trends Report (ESTR).Reference 15, Reference 16
Theme: BiomesTundraNote * of Table 2Ecozone+ -specific key findingInformation is insufficient for analysis of trends in the extent or condition of the tundra (including potential treeline shifts) but some damage is occurring to tundra freshwater marshes as an effect of excessive feeding by a greatly expanded lesser snow goose population (see Coastalbiome section above). Some damage is also being caused by operation of wheeled vehicles (tundra buggies/ATVs). The tundra, which reaches its most southerly extent in this ecozone+ , is especially vulnerable to climate change and associated permafrost thaw.
Theme: Biomes7. Ice across biomesDeclining extent and thickness of sea ice, warming and thawing of permafrost, accelerating loss of glacier mass, and shortening of lake-ice seasons are detected across Canada’s biomes. Impacts, apparent now in some areas and likely to spread, include effects on species and food webs.Sea ice extent in the broader Hudson Bay marine ecosystem has declined 5.3% per decade over the period 1979 to 2006, with decreases evident in all seasons except winter. The annual period of sea ice cover in western Hudson Bay, southern Hudson Bay, and James Bay (areas adjacent to the ecozone+ ) has decreased an average of about three weeks since the mid-1970s. These changes in sea ice are correlated with deteriorations in the polar bear subpopulations that use the ecozone+ . Monitoring data are currently insufficient to assess trends in permafrost but some permafrost degradation is suspected from casual observations, as well as permafrost loss occurring just outside western and eastern ecozone+borders. Data are insufficient for analysis of trends in lake and river ice.
Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions8. Protected areasBoth 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 amount of protected area has grown from 1939 to the present, most substantially with the addition of Polar Bear Provincial Park in 1970 and Wapusk National Park in 1996. Protected areas now cover 12.8% of the land base, and include two designated Wetlands of International Importance and two new protected areas announced December 2009. Some representation and connectivity gaps remain, particularly in the interior versus the coast.
Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions9. StewardshipStewardship 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 particularly important type of stewardship initiative in this ecozone+ . Some important new initiatives were recently introduced, including Ontario’s Far North Land Use Planning Initiative and the Eeyou Marine Region Land Claims Agreement . Such initiatives have the capability to have a direct influence at a broad level on conservation of biodiversity values.
Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions10. Invasive non-native speciesInvasive 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.A number of species both non-native and native to Canada have been introduced into the ecozone+ from outside their normal range but their impacts on the ecology of the ecozone+ are not well studied or monitored. Most introduced species are vascular plants (at least 98 species), generally found near villages. A few introduced species of smaller mammals, birds, and fish are also known to be present, with smallmouth bass (a species native to Canada that was introduced outside its normal range) most recently discovered (2008-09). The potential spread of this warm water predatory species as the climate warms is a concern for fish community composition and dynamics.
Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions11. ContaminantsConcentrations 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.Trends in persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in polar bears are variable with some legacy contaminants declining and some newer (emerging) contaminants increasing. Dietary changes linked to a shortening sea-ice season may be affecting the rates at which POPs change in these bears. In contrast, levels of metals in polar bears, including mercury, have not changed since the 1980s. Mercury monitoring in fish has been limited but significant increases were observed following inundation of the Opinaca reservoir in 1980. Methylmercury levels in water declined to pre-impoundment values in ~8-10 years while mercury levels in fish have declined more gradually and are forecast to increase again due to receipt of mercury exported from a recently impounded reservoir upstream, just outside the ecozone+ . Environmental contaminants at former Mid-Canada Line radar sites are a concern but remediation is now in progress for Ontario sites.
Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions12. Nutrient loading and algal bloomsInputs of nutrients to both freshwater and marine systems, particularly in urban and agriculture-dominated landscapes, have led to algal blooms that may be a nuisance and/or may be harmful. Nutrient inputs have been increasing in some places and decreasing in others.Not considered to be a concern for this ecozone+ . Minimal nutrient inputs and no known algal blooms or related concerns.
Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions13. Acid depositionThresholds related to ecological impact of acid deposition, including acid rain, are exceeded in some areas, acidifying emissions are increasing in some areas, and biological recovery has not kept pace with emission reductions in other areas.Not considered to be a concern for this ecozone+ . No significant concerns with acid deposition at present, although the ecozone+ has some acid-sensitive terrain.
Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions14. Climate changeRising 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.The few climate stations in the ecozone+ with long-term data show significant trends over the period 1950-2007 for increased mean annual and/or mean seasonal temperatures (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. Main impacts associated with the changing climate include: a significantly shorter sea-ice season in Hudson and James bays; deterioration in the polar bear subpopulations that use the ecozone+ ; advancing wildlife phenology; and changing predator-prey interactions involving polar bear. Other early impacts might also be present but are not detectable given a paucity of monitoring. Climate projections forecast a substantial or complete loss of seasonal sea ice in areas adjacent to the ecozone+ and a ~50% or more reduction in continuous permafrost (and complete loss of permafrost that is currently discontinuous or in isolated patches) in the ecozone+ by 2100. Cascading effects on the ecozone+ ’s ecosystems and biota are expected as the ecozone+ ’s defining climatic and edaphic conditions are lost.
Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions15. Ecosystem servicesCanada 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 that the capacity of the ecozone+ to supply ecosystem services has deteriorated, based on limited information available for a select set of services examined for the ESTR. Fur harvests continue to decline but this is probably related to market conditions and changes in Aboriginal lifestyle. The ecozone+ ’s climate-regulating services are of notable concern - the ecozone+ is Canada’s largest peatland complex and climate change impacts on carbon storage and cycling there (currently not monitored) may be globally significant.
Theme: Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem ProcessesIntact landscapes and waterscapesNote + of Table 2Intact landscapes and waterscapes was initially identified as a nationally recurring key finding and information was subsequently compiled and assessed for the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ . In the final version of the national report,Reference 3 information related to intact landscapes and waterscapes was incorporated into other key findings. This information is maintained as a separate key finding for the Hudson Plains Ecozone+.This ecozone+ has the most intact (97% intact, based on a 2006 analysis) or least anthropogenically fragmented landscape of the forested ecozones+ in Canada, with very few linear disturbances (hydroelectricity transmission corridors, winter roads, and two railway lines and one all-season road that connect the ecozone+ to the south). As such, the ecozone+still provides quality habitat for top predator species such as grey wolf, as well as species of national conservation concern such as polar bear, woodland caribou, and wolverine that require large tracts of unfragmented and/or unroaded landscape and are especially vulnerable to human disturbance. Waterscapes (rivers) have experienced some fragmentation by hydroelectric developments but again much less than many other ecozones+ . As such, this ecozone+ still provides much quality, unfragmented habitat important for anadromous fish species and the migratory lake sturgeon (a species of national conservation concern), which tends to be more deeply in decline or extirpated in more developed locales. Development pressure is, however, mounting and cumulative impacts from roads and hydroelectric developments are concerns.
Theme: Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Processes16. Agricultural landscapes as habitatThe potential capacity of agricultural landscapes to support wildlife in Canada has declined over the past 20 years, largely due to the intensification of agriculture and the loss of natural and semi-natural land cover.Not relevant for this ecozone+
Theme: Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Processes17. Species of special interest: economic, cultural, or ecologicalMany species of amphibians, fish, birds, and large mammals are of special economic, cultural, or ecological interest to Canadians. Some of these are declining in number and distribution, some are stable, and others are healthy or recovering.Polar bear has declined in body condition (both Southern and Western Hudson Bay subpopulations) and number (Western Hudson Bay subpopulation only). The forest-dwelling ecotype of woodland caribou shows no evidence of range recession or population decline but the migratory forest-tundra ecotype of woodland caribou, and more specifically the Pen Islands (aka Hudson Bay Coastal Lowland) herd, shows eastward range-shift and possible decline. Some migratory bird populations that use the ecozone+ show strong changes in local, seasonal abundance or distribution (for example, semipalmated sandpiper and brant), or otherwise declining populations of continental concern. The increased number and size of discrete lesser snow goose colonies nesting in the ecozone+ is notable. Lake sturgeon is declining in some rivers affected by hydroelectric development.
Theme: Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Processes18. Primary productivityPrimary productivity has increased on more than 20% of the vegetated land area of Canada over the past 20 years, as well as in some freshwater systems. The magnitude and timing of primary productivity are changing throughout the marine system.Increases in primary productivity in this ecozone+ appear much less than for some other areas of Canada. From 1985 to 2006, Normalized-Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI, a measure of gross primary photosynthesis and a proxy for green leaf area based on remote sensing), significantly increased over 4.9% of the land surface and decreased over 0.1% of the land surface. Some increase in primary productivity may also be suggested by observations of increased tree and shrub cover above the treeline near Churchill, Manitoba.
Theme: Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Processes19. Natural disturbancesThe dynamics of natural disturbance regimes, such as fire and native insect outbreaks, are changing and this is reshaping the landscape. The direction and degree of change vary.There is little evidence to suggest that the natural disturbance regime has changed. The large fire (≥ 2 km² ) regime is essentially natural and no trends are apparent since 1980 in its analyzed elements (annual area burned, causes of fire, seasonality and duration of the active fire season, and fire severity index). Information is insufficient to examine trends in native insect outbreaks. Trends in extreme weather events have not been directly examined but rather indirectly using indicators or indices of extreme weather derived from daily temperature and precipitation data. These indices suggest only limited potential change in extreme weather, including increased diurnal temperature range and variability, more warm days (days with daily maximum temperature > 90th percentile), and more summer days (days with daily maximum temperature > 25 °C), depending on location.
Theme: Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Processes20. Food websFundamental changes in relationships among species have been observed in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments. The loss or reduction of important components of food webs has greatly altered some ecosystems.Predator-prey cycles are not being monitored and food web structures are otherwise largely unstudied but some changes in food webs are apparent. Loss or serious reduction of important components of the coastal salt marsh food web are evident, reflecting the severe damage that has occurred to these salt marshes since the 1970s. As well, some changes in predator-prey relationships involving polar bear are apparent that are implicated with climate change and associated changes in wildlife phenology.
Theme: Science/Policy Interface21. Biodiversity monitoring, research, information management, and reportingLong-term, standardized, spatially complete, and readily accessible monitoring information, complemented by ecosystem research, provides the most useful findings for policy-relevant assessments of status and trends. The lack of this type of information in many areas has hindered development of this assessment.With certain exceptions such as climate station monitoring and some studies of waterfowl, polar bear (and sea ice in the broader geography), and fish mercury levels in areas affected by hydroelectric development, inventory, monitoring, and research have been episodic and without continuity over the long term. A geographical bias to the available information is also evident, with most information pertaining to coastal versus inland areas. Much of the available information, including Aboriginal traditional knowledge, is also contained in disparate sources of variable accessibility. Enhanced interests in climate change and economic development are currently driving the collection of much new information that will help inform future assessments. Permafrost, hydrology, and carbon flux are particularly notable and important among knowledge gaps but better information is needed on most fronts, including cumulative impacts and climate modelling.
Theme: Science/Policy Interface22. Rapid changes and thresholdsGrowing understanding of rapid and unexpected changes, interactions, and thresholds, especially in relation to climate change, points to a need for policy that responds and adapts quickly to signals of environmental change in order to avert major and irreversible biodiversity losses.Thresholds and natural ranges of variability are poorly understood. A somewhat anomalous finding for a relatively remote and undisturbed ecozone+ such as this is a substantially damaged coastal biome (see the Coastalbiome section above). As well, sea ice is changing more rapidly than expected, ahead of modelled climate change projections and these changes are correlated with deteriorating polar bear subpopulations. As the sea-ice season shortens, trophic interactions are changing between polar bears and species such as seals and geese. Unexpected interactions are sometimes observed, such as dietary shifts in polar bears amplifying their contaminant levels. These early effects of climate change are a prelude to the major changes expected in this ecozone+ as extent and duration of seasonal sea ice is reduced.

Notes of Table 2

Note * of Table 2

This key finding is not numbered because it does not correspond to a key finding in the national report.Reference3

Return to note * referrer of table 2

Note + of Table 2

This key finding is not numbered because it does not correspond to a key finding in the national report.

Return to note + referrer of table 2


References

Reference 3

Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments of Canada. 2010. Canadian biodiversity: ecosystem status and trends 2010. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. vi + 142 p. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010.

Return to reference 3 referrer

Reference 4

Abraham, K.F., McKinnon, L.M., Jumean, Z., Tully, S.M., Walton, L.R. and Stewart, H.M. (lead coordinating authors and compilers). 2011. Hudson Plains Ecozone+ status and trends assessment. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Ecozone+ Report. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. xxi + 445 p.

Return to reference 4 referrer

Reference 15

Niemi, A., Paulic, J. and Cobb, D. 2010. Ecosystem status and trends report: Arctic marine ecozones+ . DFO Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat Research Document No. 2010/066. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. viii + 66 p.

Return to reference 15 referrer

Reference 16

DFO. 2010. 2010 Canadian marine ecosystem status and trends report. DFO Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat Science Advisory Report No. 2010/030 (Revised). Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 38 p.

Return to reference 16 referrer

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Theme: Biomes

Key finding 1
Forests

Theme Biomes

National key finding

At a national level, the extent of forests has changed little since 1990; at a regional level, loss of forest extent is significant in some places. The structure of some Canadian forests, including species composition, age classes, and size of intact patches of forest, has changed over longer time frames.

The boreal forests of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ form an important part of the largest intact tract of forest in Canada, which is also considered one of the largest intact forests remaining in the world.Reference 17 However, the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ has a lower proportion and density of forest than many other forested ecozones+ in Canada.Reference9, Reference18 Owing to widespread wet edaphic conditions, forests there are primarily open and often poorly delineated from the many small bodies of water and non-forested wetlands on the landscape. Truly closed forest stands more typically associated with boreal forests are generally confined to better-drained embankments, slopes, flats, and riverbank levees.Reference 19, Reference20 As such, forest productivity in this ecozone+, as reflected in volume per hectare, is low (42 mReference3 /ha) compared to that of the adjacent Boreal Shield and Taiga Shield ecozones+. Reference 21 Overall, forest density decreases from south to north (Figure 2).Reference9, Reference22 On an area basis, coniferous forest types (conifers ≥75% of total) dominate (54.9%) over mixedwood (34.6%), broadleaved (1.1%), and unclassified (9.5%) ones.Reference21 Spruce is the leading genus in 88% of all forest stands.

Figure 2. Forest density in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ circa 2000, calculated as the percent of forested 30 m² Landsat pixels in each 1 km² analysis unit.
No data are available for Akimiski Island. Forested areas are areas with >10% tree crown cover.
Forest density in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ circa 2000
Source: Ahern et al., 2011Reference 9
Long description for Figure 1

This map of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ shows forest density circa 2000, calculated as the percent of forested 30 m² Landsat pixels in each 1 km2 analysis unit. The most densely forested areas are in the southern regions of the Ontario portion of the ecozone+. The least densely forested areas are in the northern portion of the ecozone+ in Manitoba. No data are available for Akimiski Island. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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Inventory and monitoring information is very limited for forests in this ecozone+, inhibiting the ability to track changes and report on trends.Reference 4 A coarse-scale satellite remote sensing analysis of land cover classes from 1985 to 2005, however, suggests no significant changes are occurring in the extent of forest cover.Reference 9 Overall reductions in forest cover from 1985 to 2005 were small (0.25%) and primarily due to fire, i.e., burned areas that have not yet revegetatedReference9 (see also Natural disturbances on page 63). Given the coarse scale of the analysis, the errors in mapping may, however, be greater than the small amount of change detected. There is also currently little evidence to suggest that the treeline may be moving (see Tundra biome on page 24).

Data are also insufficient to assess trends in forest structure, including: species composition; age class or time-since-fire; and relative intactness. The ecozone+’s forests are, however, also assumed stable in these respects, given an effectively natural and apparently unchanged disturbance regime (see Natural disturbances on page 63) with only minimal anthropogenic disturbance (see Intact landscapes and waterscapes on page 51), including forest harvest. Although commercial forestry is an important industry elsewhere in Canada’s boreal forest (see for example Anielski and Wilson, 2009Reference23 ), it has not been important in this ecozone+, presumably because of the low productivity of its forests, limited existing access to them, and insufficient markets. Currently, only a very small portion at the southern end of the ecozone+ forms part of a forest management unit in Ontario where commercial harvesting may be permitted,Reference24 and planning for potential commercial forestry has been undertaken in the Moose Factory area by the Moose Cree First Nation.Reference25, Reference26 Anthropogenic fragmentation is also very minor, rendering the ecozone+’s forests particularly important for species such as woodland caribou and wolverine that tend to thrive in large tracts of intact and/or unroaded landscape (see Intact landscapes and waterscapes on page 51).

Key finding 3
Wetlands

Theme Biomes

National key finding

High loss of wetlands has occurred in southern Canada; loss and degradation continue due to a wide range of stressors. Some wetlands have been or are being restored.

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is considered Canada’s largest wetland complex, and the third largest in the world.Reference27 These extensive wetlands provide critical habitat for many breeding bird populations.Reference 28 Two sites, Southern James Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuaries (comprised of Moose River Bird Sanctuary and Hannah Bay Bird Sanctuary) and Polar Bear Provincial Park (see also Protected areas on page 30), have been designated Wetlands of International ImportanceReference29 because of the staging and breeding habitat these ecosystems respectively provide for geese, dabbling ducks, and tundra swans.Reference 28 Several species of national conservation concern (such as short-eared owl and yellow rail) also use the ecozone+’s inland (freshwater) wetlands.Reference 14, Reference30 Also notable is that a large proportion of wetlands in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ are peat-forming wetlands (bogs and fens), making this ecozone+ Canada’s largest peatland complex and the second largest at northern latitudes (>40-50º ).Reference 31 As such, the ecozone+’s peatlands contribute significantly to global carbon-cycling and climate regulation (see Climate regulation, a regulating ecosystem service on page 49).

Although there has been high loss of wetlands in southern Canada, there are few documented changes or trends in the distribution, extent (expansions or contractions), or condition of wetlands in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, albeit these wetlands are for the most part not being monitored. The ecozone+’s wetlands are assumed healthy with extensive peatlands largely intact, with a few notable exceptions where changes have occurred.

The most important documented change in the ecozone+’s wetlands is in the coastal biome, where about one-third of the coastal salt marsh vegetation from Manitoba to James Bay has been destroyed, and additional areas damaged, as a result of overuse by overabundant lesser snow geese (see Coastalbiome on page 20). However, the phenomenon is also occurring to some extent in the freshwater marshes and fens of the adjacent tundra biome, as a decrease of preferred salt marsh forage forces the geese to move inland to nest and feed (see Tundrabiome on page 24).

Other known stressors of wetlands in the ecozone+ include hydroelectric and mining developments, both of which may cause loss of wetlands or alter wetland classes. Where river flows in the ecozone+ have been reduced by hydroelectric development (for example, Eastmain and Opinaca rivers, see Lakes and rivers on page 16), some desiccation has occurred downstream with, for example, shrubby species expanding at the expense of pioneer wetland species.Reference 32 Conversely, some wetlands in the ecozone+ were affected by flooding in 1980Reference32 when waters diverted from the Eastmain and Opinaca rivers flooded 740 km² of land at the northeast edge of the ecozone+ to create the 1,040 km² Opinaca reservoir that is part of the La Grande hydroelectric complex that continues to the north (see Taiga Shield Evidence for Key Findings SummaryReference33 for further discussion).Reference34 Diversion in 2009 of 72% of the mean annual flow of the Rupert River north to the La Grande complex is further changing wetland hydrology in the Quebec portion of the ecozone+.Reference35

The ecozone+’s only active mine, the Victor open-pit diamond mine (90 km west of the mouth of the Attawapiskat River) was constructed beginning in 2006, opened in 2008,Reference36 and is expected to operate for at least 12 years.Reference37 Although the mine occupies a relatively small area of the ecozone+ (~28.8 km² in direct project-related developmentsReference37), the potential area affected by it, like other mining operations, is considerably larger than the mine itself. As well, although a reclamation plan is in place for the mine,Reference38 some activities associated with the mine can adversely affect the ecozone+’s wetlands to the extent that areas will not be restorable.Reference 37 Wetlands are being impacted by dewatering (potentially affecting an area up to ~500 km² Reference39), as well as infilling during development of mine infrastructure; replacement with mineral stockpiles; and drainage interruption around stockpiles.Reference 37 Some wetlands have also been altered through construction of winter roads and transmission lines from Attawapiskat.

Additional resource developments (see Intact landscapes and waterscapes on page 51) and especially climate change (see Climate change on page 42) are notable future concerns for the ecozone+’s wetlands. Although climate-related changes in the extent of inland (freshwater) wetlands are generally not apparent in this ecozone+, a long-term change or trend involving partial degradation and conversion of frozen peat plateau bogs to fens is suggested in an area from the Nelson River north to Churchill.Reference40

Key finding 4
Lakes and rivers

Theme Biomes

National key finding

Trends over the past 40 years influencing biodiversity in lakes and rivers include seasonal changes in magnitude of stream flows, increases in river and lake temperatures, decreases in lake levels, and habitat loss and fragmentation.

No clear trends in overall river-flow and lake-level regimes (for example, magnitude, frequency, timing, duration, and flashiness of low and high flow events) are evident for undeveloped waters in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, albeit this result is based on data from only two reference hydrometric stations with data judged useful for this analysis.Reference10 Indeed, the Hudson Bay basin has one of the most deficient streamflow networks in Canada.Reference41 Reduced total annual volume of freshwater naturally discharged from several of the ecozone+’s rivers is, however, indicated in studies of the broader Hudson Bay region.Reference42-Reference44 These trends for reduced total volume of freshwater discharged (1964 to 2000 or 2003), disregarding rivers with hydroelectric development or correcting for them, are correlated with large-scale climate oscillationsReference42 and associated with a four day advance in annual peak discharge rate and a decline in peak intensity.Reference43

Lakes and rivers in the ecozone+ are relatively undisturbed and generally assumed to be in good condition overall. However, hydroelectric developments have affected flow rates and other physical parameters of some rivers and created a large reservoir (Opinaca) in the ecozone+, along with associated impacts on biota (see below). Monitoring is mostly limited to these hydroelectric developments, while the remoteness of most of the area’s hundreds of rivers/streams and tens of thousands of small lakes and ponds precludes a comprehensive survey of their component fish communities.Reference14, Reference45 Portions of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ are, however, recognized as supporting among the highest diversity of freshwater fish species in Canada.Reference 46, Reference47

Rivers

Rivers in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ are typically shallow, slow moving, and have cut deeply into the clay and alluvial sediments.Reference 48 The ecozone+ is drained by twelve major rivers: the Churchill, Nelson, and Hayes rivers in Manitoba; the Moose, Albany, Attawapiskat, Winisk, and Severn rivers in Ontario; and the Harricana, Rupert, Eastmain, and Nottaway rivers in Quebec. The large quantities of nutrients and organic material carried by these rivers make the coastal zone (see Coastalbiome on page 20), and especially the river deltas, very productive for fish and wildlife.Reference47 As well, the large volume of freshwater they discharge dilutes the saltwater in Hudson and James bays to a salinity one-third that of normal oceanic water,Reference49 which in turn allows this inland sea to freeze over completely each year (see Sea ice on page 26).

Hydroelectric developments are currently the principal direct human influence on rivers in this ecozone+ (but mining near Attawapiskat is having smaller-scale effectsReference37). The few hydroelectric developments located within the ecozone+ are near the southern boundaries, concentrating downstream effects within the lowlands (Figure 3). Two hydroelectric generating complexes (Long Spruce, established 1976-77; and Limestone Rapids, established 1989) are located along the Nelson River and one generating station (Otter Rapids, established 1961) is located on the Abitibi River (a tributary of the Moose River). Development in the eastern portion of the ecozone+ includes a complex of eight sites associated with the Eastmain River and Opinaca reservoir (established 1979-80), as part of the La Grande hydroelectric complex. After waters from the Eastmain River and its tributary, the Opinaca River, were diverted to the more northerly La Grande River, flows of the Eastmain River (at its mouth into James Bay) and the confluencing Opinaca River were reduced by 90% and 87%, respectively.Reference32, Reference 34

Figure 3. Spatial distribution of dams (>10 m height) in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ as of 2005, grouped by decade of completion.
Spatial distribution of dams
Source: adapted from Monk and Baird, 2011Reference10 using data from the Canadian Dam Association, 2003Reference50 updated to 2005
Long description for Figure 3

This map of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ shows the spatial distribution of dams (>10 m height) as of 2005 grouped by decade of completion. In the western part of the ecozone+, two dams were completed along the Nelson River, one in the 1970s and one in the 1980s. In the southeastern part of the ecozone+, one dam was completed in the 1960s on the Abitibi River (a tributary of the Moose River). Development in the eastern portion of the ecozone+ includes a complex of eight sites associated with the Eastmain River and Opinaca reservoir completed in the 1970s and 1980s. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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In addition to altering river flow rates, hydroelectric developments have altered the magnitude and timing of fluctuations in river flows. For example, post-development studies ~50 km downstream of the Otter Rapids generating station (Abitibi River) reported diurnal water level fluctuations of 0.7-0.9 m in summer and dewatering of one-third to one-half of the river channel during low flows.Reference51 The effects of water level fluctuations at this station are still apparent at least 75 km downstream.Reference52

Rivers in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ are also influenced by hydroelectric developments upstream, within adjacent ecozones+. Diversion of water from the Churchill River to the Nelson River is noteworthy, as it reduced the flow of the Churchill River into Hudson Bay by about 40%.Reference53 The recent (2009) diversion of 72% of the mean annual flow of the Rupert River north to the La Grande hydroelectric complexReference35 is likewise noteworthy (though lateral flow from tributaries increases the flow at the river mouth to ~48%). Overall, river channel fragmentation and/or flow regulation have strongly affected the Churchill and Nelson river systems in Manitoba, the Moose River system in Ontario, and the Eastmain and Rupert river systems in Quebec.Reference 35, Reference54 The Albany River in Ontario and Nottaway River in Quebec are systems that are considered moderately affected.Reference54

The hydroelectric developments in and around the ecozone+ (described above) are associated with changes in river biota. Lake sturgeon in the northwestern part of the ecozone+ is assigned an elevated “at risk” status category by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) due in part to hydroelectric development (see Lake sturgeon on page 61). Changes in fish habitat and community composition, including a loss in dominance of lake sturgeon, have also occurred in the reduced flow portions of the Eastmain and Opinaca riversReference 34 (see also the estuary and near-shore impacts in the Coastalbiome on page 20). Fish species composition also did not fully recover following impoundment of the Opinaca reservoir in 1980, even though total fishing yield stabilized by 1996 to levels near baseline.Reference34 An additional concern with this reservoir has been the mobilization of mercury and its subsequent bioaccumulation and contamination of fish (see Contaminants on page 38). Impacts on benthic macroinvertebrate communities are also evident, as in the Abitibi River downstream of the Otter Rapids generating station.Reference52

Although construction of hydroelectric facilities appears to have peaked in the ecozone+ in the late 1970s to early 1980s,Reference10 a high potential exists for more. At least one additional development is proposed for the Nelson River.Reference55, Reference56 In Ontario, seven of the 15 new hydroelectric developments included in the Ontario Power Authority’s supply mix plan for development by 2025 are in the ecozone+, along Abitibi (4), Albany (2), and Moose (1) rivers.Reference57 Additional hydroelectric developments are also either in progress or being considered in Quebec.Reference35, Reference58 Cumulative impacts from multiple hydroelectric developments in the Hudson Bay watershed is an ongoing concern.Reference59,Reference60.Reference61,Reference62,Reference63

Lakes

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ contains a multitude of mostly shallow bog lakes and ponds that freeze to the bottom in winter, but some larger lakes are deep enough that they do not freeze to the bottom and can, therefore, support fish communities.Reference40, Reference64Reference65Reference66 Owing to remoteness and limited harvest, fish populations in these lakes are assumed to be generally healthy overall, despite insufficient monitoring.Reference45

Information on trends in water levels, water temperature, and water quality is not available for most natural lakes in this ecozone+. However, observations from thermal monitoring of Hawley Lake are notable from the perspective of unusual warming and fish kills (Hawley Lake is one of four lake trout lakes located near the Sutton Ridges). During the unusually warm summer of 2001, Hawley Lake showed strong and unusual thermal stratification, with temperatures exceeding 20°C in the surface layerReference67, Reference68 (Figure 4). Lake trout in the lake were not affected because ample coldwater habitat remained below the epilimnion.Reference67 Warm air temperatures (daily maximums >30°C) combined with the unusual thermal stratification in this headwater lake, however, contributed to a major die-off of anadromous brook trout, as well as white sucker, downstream in the lower reaches of the Sutton River (which drains Hawley Lake) close to its intersection with the Hudson Bay coast.Reference68 Anadromous brook trout summer in the cold ocean but return to spawn and overwinter in cool freshwater rivers and lakes.

Figure 4. Temperature-depth profiles for Hawley Lake in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, 1976-2001.
In 2001 Hawley Lake showed strong thermal stratification for one of the first times on record, with water temperatures exceeding 20 °C in the surface (discharge) layer.
Temperature-depth profiles for Hawley Lake
Source: reprinted from Gunn and Snucins, 2010 Reference68 (p 82, fig 2) with permission from Springer Science+Business Media
Long description for Figure 4

This line graph shows temperature-depth profiles for Hawley Lake in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ from 1976 to 2001. During the unusually warm summer of 2001, Hawley Lake showed strong and unusual thermal stratification, with temperatures exceeding 20˚C in the surface layer. Data presented from previous years, 1976, 1977, and 1986, generally follow the same temperature patterns below 15˚C in. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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Such die-offs of fish during warming events have rarely been recorded within arctic or subarctic watersheds (but see also Hori (2010)Reference69 regarding Aboriginal knowledge of lake whitefish and sucker die-offs in the lower Albany River during a heat wave and period of reduced precipitation in 2005) and it was suggested that this may be among the first of an increasing number of die-offs of vulnerable anadromous stocks that will occur as climate change proceedsReference68 (Climate changeis discussed on page 42). The seasonal sea ice cover in Hudson and James bays moderates the continental climate, but the sea ice season has been shortening (see Sea ice on page 26) and rivers may consequently be warming. Reduced river flows in the region (see earlier) may also contribute to warming.

Key finding 5
Coastal

Theme Biomes

National key finding

Coastal ecosystems, such as estuaries, salt marshes, and mud flats, are believed to be healthy in less-developed coastal areas, although there are exceptions. In developed areas, extent and quality of coastal ecosystems are declining as a result of habitat modification, erosion, and sea-level rise.

New land emerges and vegetation develops continuously along the coastline of Hudson and James bays, as a result of one of the highest rates of isostatic rebound in North America.Reference70 The coastal biome of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is dominated by extensive tidal flats, salt marshes, and shallow waters,Reference 5 including some of the largest and best-developed polar salt marshes in the world (i.e., those characterized by the presence of permafrost).Reference71 These salt marsh ecosystems provide important breeding grounds and staging areas for a large number of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.Reference 72-Reference76 Subtidal eelgrass beds are also an important component of the coastal ecosystem along the Quebec coast in eastern James Bay and in isolated portions of the Ontario James Bay coast.Reference77-Reference79 Eelgrass beds provide feeding grounds and nurseries for coastal fish species and invertebrates, and forage for brant, Canada geese, and ducks.

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is an exception to the national key finding that coastal ecosystems tend to be healthy in areas with little development. The coastal-intertidal zone, and in particular its extensive salt marshes, has been under considerable stress over the past four decades, predominantly due to a continuous increase in foraging (grazing and grubbing) by lesser snow goose, but also by increasing Canada goose breeding and moulting populations in this area.

The Mid-Continent population of lesser snow goose, to which individuals migrating through and nesting in both Manitoba and Ontario belong, has greatly increased over the past four decades, by as much as 7% per year,Reference 80 with the adult portion of the population reaching as many as 7 millionReference81 or moreFootnote. The goose population increase is thought to be principally a result of human influences outside the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, including increased supply of agricultural food on wintering grounds (mostly in the southern United States) and along migration routes, declining harvest rate, and the development of refugia.Reference80, Reference83 In many years, especially those with late snow melt and thaw, millions of geese are held up in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ on their northward journey, exacerbating the impact of their foraging.

Within these grass- and sedge-dominated coastal salt marshes, intensive foraging by the geese has led to vegetation loss, shifts in plant community composition, and exposure and sometimes erosion of sediment. Reference81, Reference 83, Reference84 As snow geese forage with increasing intensity, an apparent trophic cascade occurs wherein swards of their preferred forage species (Puccinellia phryganodes and Carex subspathacea) are replaced by mudflats often devoid of vegetation.Reference 85, Reference86 The trophic cascade is sustained by positive feedbacks. One such feedback involves grubbing in spring, whereby geese uproot large areas of P. phryganodes and C. subspathacea and other species in the salt marshes, fragmenting swards and exposing the edges to secondary effects such as erosion, drying, and hypersalinity. The combined effect of the grubbing and the secondary processes is a reduction in the amount of above-ground vegetative matter. The second feedback involves grazing during the nesting season and following hatch. The remaining sward area, both intact and fragmented, is grazed more intensively by ever larger numbers of geese, allowing for less compensatory growth, and eventual exhaustion of the plants. The end result is an alternate stable state, wherein large areas of exposed sediments are resistant to re-colonization (Figure 5) because few plants can germinate or establish in the saline sediments. The effects are long-lasting when foraging pressure continues and recovery can take decades.Reference81 In some cases, the geese have been forced to move inland to freshwater marshes and fens in the adjacent tundra biome to nest and feed due to the scarcity of preferred salt marsh forage (see Tundrabiome on page 24).Reference 83, Reference87

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Figure 5. An example of the severe damage caused to coastal salt marsh ecosystems of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ due to over-feeding by the greatly increased Mid-Continent population of lesser snow goose.
Geese were excluded from the area inside the fence, La Pérouse Bay, Manitoba.

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Trends showing increasing area damaged over time are evident from remote-sensing analyses, whereby successive waves of plant community destruction are seen to transform the entire intertidal ecosystem (Figure 6). Similar processes, feeding pressure, and damage to coastal vegetation have been described from Manitoba to James Bay, including Akimiski Island, Nunavut. Approximately one third of the coastal salt marsh vegetation in the ecozone+ has been destroyed by geese since the 1970s and a far greater area will be severely damaged if this intense foraging pressure continues.Reference 88 Not only does the destruction of salt marshes remove important food resources for species that feed directly on the vegetation, it also reduces suitability of the zone for other bird species dependent on these habitats for nesting and foodReference 89, Reference90 (see also Food webs on page 66).

Figure 6. Normalized-difference vegetation index (NDVI) analysis of Landsat imagery showing areas with vegetation loss from goose foraging at La Pérouse Bay, Manitoba, for three successive periods between 1973 and 2000.
Normalized-difference vegetation index
Source: reprinted from Jefferies et al., 2006Reference81 (p 238, fig 3) with permission from Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Long description for Figure 6

This map shows normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) analysis of Landsat imagery showing areas with vegetation loss from goose foraging at La Pérouse Bay, Manitoba for three successive periods between 1973 and 2000. The majority of change to plant communities happened between 1973 and 1984, along the entire coast, with the exception of a small stretch on the inside of the bay. However, between 1984 and 1993 approximately half that stretch showed damaged plant communities, as well as additional areas all along the coast. Between 1993 and 2000, the last unchanged portion of that stretch showed plant loss, and once again other sections throughout the coast were damaged. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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Changes in overland river flow and associated nutrient and sediment loads that result from hydroelectric developments in and around the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ (see Lakes and rivers on page 16) have impacted salinity and other aspects of habitat quality in the interfacing estuarine and marine environments of Hudson and James bays. For example, the 90% reduction in flow at the mouth of the Eastmain River associated with its diversion north to the La Grande River has led to a greater intrusion of saltwater into the Eastmain River estuary with associated impacts on the fish community.Reference34 Marine species (sculpin, Greenland cod, sand lance) now inhabit the saltwater portion of the estuary; although anadromous lake whitefish and cisco still migrate up the estuary in fall to spawn, their overwintering area is smaller due to the saltwater intrusion; and feeding grounds for walleye are now 5 to 10 km further upstream.

In the near-shore environment, hydroelectric development in the broader James Bay region, and particularly the increased flow output from the La Grande River (to which flows from the Eastmain and Opinaca rivers were diverted), has been implicatedReference91 in a steep decline in subtidal eelgrass beds along the eastern James Bay coast.Reference 92, Reference93 Reduced salinity during the major growing period (June and July) and increased duration of ice cover related to reduced salinity were suggested as the major causes of a sudden and precipitous decline in eelgrass health near the La Grande River, while wasting disease, climate change, and isostatic rebound were rejected as major causes.Reference 93

Climate change is an important future threat to the ecozone+’s coastal biome (see Climate change on page 42) but sea-level rise is less of a concern for this ecozone+ than for some other coastal areas (for example, Tsuji et al., 2009Reference 94) due to an especially high rate of isostatic rebound.Reference70 Still, the combined effect of isostatic rebound and sea-level rise could reduce the rate of successional development of coastal systems.

Tundra

Theme Biomes

Ecozone+ - specific key finding

The tundra in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ represents the southernmost zone of continuous tundra vegetation and continuous permafrost in North America.Reference14, Reference 76, Reference95, Reference96 It occurs as a series of beach ridges and inter-ridge areas (extensive sedge meadows and fens and shrub-dominated fens), in a band of land contiguous with the inland side of the coastal-intertidal zone, from Churchill, Manitoba to near the Lakitusaki River, Ontario, in the area of continuous permafrostReference97, Reference98 (see Figure 9 in Ice across biomes). The most inland tundra sites comprise a forest-tundra landscape. The defining tree “line” itself has been described as erratic, extending farthest north on river levees and beach ridges where drainage is better and the active layer deeper.Reference 99

Information is insufficient for analysis of trends in extent or condition of the tundra in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ as a whole. However, a portion of the ecozone+’s tundra, and in particular its freshwater marshes, is being damaged from excessive feeding by a greatly expanded lesser snow goose population (see the Coastalbiome on page 20 for further discussion of snow goose damage). That is, in some cases the geese have so drastically depleted their preferred food sources (P. phyganodes and C. subspathacea) in the coastal salt marshes that they have moved to forage in less desirable areas within tundra freshwater marshes with similarly devastating effects.Reference100, Reference 101 In response to development of hypersaline soils in grubbed areas, Salix sp. shrubs have been reduced as much as 65%,Reference102, Reference 103 resulting, in turn, in declines of tundra-nesting bird populations located close to snow goose colonies.Reference 83, Reference89 Sammler et al., 2008Reference 101 have shown that localized nesting populations of semipalmated sandpipers, dunlins, savannah sparrows, Lapland longspurs, and other tundra-nesting passerines were more frequent in intact sedge meadow habitats than those altered by goose activity. Although no area-wide population effects were reported, it is likely that as degraded areas expand with continued goose foraging, area-wide effects will occur.Reference 101

Damage to plant communities on both the drier beach ridges and wetter inter-ridge areas of the tundra is also being caused by the operation of wheeled vehicles (tundra buggies/ATVs) in ManitobaReference97 and in OntarioReference 104 (Figure 7).

Figure 7. An example of ATV damage to wet tundra, near Fort Severn, Ontario (July 2008).
HBL ATV tracks in wet tundra Ken Abraham 14 July 2008
Photo © Queen’s Printer for Ontario/K.F. Abraham, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
Long description for Figure 7

There are several trails and tracks across the landscape.

The tundra, which reaches its most southerly Canadian extent in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, is especially vulnerable to climate change and associated permafrost thaw (see Climate change on page 42). Currently, there is no strong evidence that the ecozone+’s treeline is moving north (for example, Scott et al., 1987Reference 105), as is occurring in some other northerly locations in Canada and the world (for example, Harsch et al., 2009Reference 106). The treeline in this ecozone+ has, however, received relatively little direct study. Ballantyne (2009)Reference107 recently documented increases of 12.6% and 6.9% of shrub and tree cover, respectively, in a 2.55 km² study area just north of the functional treeline at Churchill. Climate-driven change to the ecozone+’s tundra may also be suggested by a long-term (non-successional) change or trend involving partial degradation and conversion of frozen peat plateau bogs to fens in an area from the Nelson River north to Churchill.Reference40

Key finding 7
Ice across biomes

Theme Biomes

National key finding

Declining extent and thickness of sea ice, warming and thawing of permafrost, accelerating loss of glacier mass, and shortening of lake-ice seasons are detected across Canada’s biomes. Impacts, apparent now in some areas and likely to spread, include effects on species and food webs.

The sea ice in Hudson and James bays is significantly changing. Loss of sea ice is correlated with deteriorations in the polar bear subpopulations that use sea ice as habitat in winter and the terrestrial environment of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ in summer. On the terrestrial landscape, permafrost degradation is suspected, but cannot currently be confirmed due to insufficient monitoring data. Data are also insufficient for analysis of trends in lake and river ice.

Sea ice

Hudson Bay, along with James Bay to the south and Foxe Basin to the north, is the largest inland sea in the world and the only sea at this latitude that goes through a complete cryogenic (ice) cycle each year.Reference108, Reference 109 This factor has been primary in shaping the ecosystem around it by creating much cooler temperatures than what is typical of this latitude.Reference110 These cooler temperatures provide the conditions necessary to maintain the southernmost continuous permafrost in North AmericaReference95, Reference 96 and support species of arctic affinity, such as polar bear, arctic fox, and some plants, at their southernmost occurrence (see also Polar bear on page 54).Reference99, Reference111, Reference 112

The winter maximum extent of sea ice has not changed, and Hudson and James bays continue to completely freeze over each year. However, sea ice extent in the broader Hudson Bay marine ecosystem declined significantly over the period 1979 to 2006, on the order of -5.3 ±1.1% per decade, with decreases evident in all seasons except winter.Reference 108 As well, significant trends for longer ice-free periods each year have been detected in areas of Hudson and James bays adjacent to the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, associated with later freeze-up dates, earlier break-up dates, or both, depending on location (see inset).Reference109, Reference 113-Reference115 On average, the annual ice-free period in western Hudson Bay, southern Hudson Bay, and James Bay has increased by ~3 weeks since the mid-1970s.Reference 109 These trends in sea ice are correlated with significant negative impacts on polar bear, which is dependent on sea ice as habitat and a platform for hunting and feeding on seals (see Polar bear on page 54for further discussion). These trends in sea ice are projected to continue, such that James Bay and the southern portion of Hudson Bay (i.e., marine areas adjacent to the ecozone+) may become substantially to completely ice-free by 2100 (see Climate change on page 42).

Sea Ice is Changing

Analysis of historical sea ice data for Hudson and James bays reveals that this inland sea is becoming increasingly ice-free. Gough et al., (2004)Reference 115 found significant trends for earlier dates of sea ice break-up in southwestern Hudson Bay over the period 1971 to 2003. Although they did not find a trend in later freeze-up dates, the trend for earlier break-up alone resulted in an approximate increase in ice-free conditions by approximately 0.49 days per year (Figure 8). Subsequent work that expanded the study area to include the entire Hudson Bay region found a significant trend for earlier break-up in James Bay, southern Hudson Bay, and western Hudson Bay with magnitudes ranging from 0.49 to 1.25 days earlier per year, coincident with temperature trends in these areas.Reference109

Figure 8. Trends in a) date of freeze-up and b) date of break-up of sea ice in southwestern Hudson Bay.
Trends in southwestern Hudson Bay
Source: redrawn from Gough et al., 2004 Reference115 (p 303, fig 2) with permission from Arctic Institute of North America. D ata from t he Canadian Ice Service archives
Long description for Figure 8
These two line graphs show the following information:
YearFreeze-up
R2=0.0719
Break-up
R2=0.0933
1971-200
1972328216
1973-211
1974323204
1975-203
1976340207
1977-200
1978324191
1979329203
1980334208
1981340207
1982332206
1983340214
1984319207
1985325220
1986320215
1987327208
1988338198
1989337218
1990329189
1991328181
1992326235
1993325192
1994-205
1995330204
1996335202
1997336199
1998-180
1999-165
2000-212
2001358183
2002329203
2003-202
--Julian Date

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Permafrost

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ supports the most southern continuous permafrost in North AmericaReference95, Reference 96 and includes a full range of permafrost types across its geography (Figure 9). At the northern extent of the ecozone+, continuous permafrost can be found beneath the coastal ridges and wetlands. As little as 20 km inland from the coast in some areas (as near York Factory), the terrain changes to palsas, localized geomorphic mounds indicative of a transition from continuous to discontinuous permafrost. Sporadic discontinuous and isolated patches of permafrost are found further south, while permafrost is absent at the most southerly extent of the ecozone+ in areas away from the coast. The presence of permafrost, and its effective retention of surface water, contributes greatly to the unique nature of this ecozone+ as Canada’s largest wetland complex.

Figure 9. Permafrost zones in and around the Hudson Plains Ecozone+.
Permafrost zones
Source: adapted from Heginbottom et al., 1995Reference116
Long description for Figure 9

This map shows permafrost zones in and around the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. At the northern extent of the ecozone+, continuous permafrost can be found beneath the coastal ridges and wetlands. As little as 20 km inland from the coast in some areas (as near York Factory), the terrain changes to palsas, localized geomorphic mounds indicative of a transition from continuous to discontinuous permafrost. Sporadic discontinuous and isolated patches of permafrost are found further south, while permafrost is absent at the most southerly extent of the ecozone+ in areas away from the coast. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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Sufficient data are not currently available with which to evaluate trends in the extent and condition of permafrost, or associated shifts in permafrost boundaries, in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. Until relatively recently, no permafrost thermal monitoring sites were located and maintained there to help track changes as is being done elsewhere in Canada’s north.Reference117, Reference 118 Ten year data are now available for a permafrost site at Churchill, Manitoba,Reference119 a new permafrost monitoring site was established in 2007 at York Factory, Manitoba,Reference 120 and two more sites have recently been added in northern and southern areas of Wapusk National Park, Manitoba.Reference 121 In Ontario, annual summer monitoring of permafrost began in 2007 and a permanent monitoring site (Brant River) is now in place.Reference122

Changes in permafrost, however, are suspected in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. Both collapse and erosion features and aggrading features are visible in the ecozone+’s permafrost tension zone and collapse features appear to have become more widespread over time, as in the Ekwan to Lake River areas of the northern James Bay coast.Reference 99 In recent decades, casual observations have also been made of slumping and collapse of river banks along the Hayes and Nelson rivers in the vicinity of York Factory, Manitoba, close to the boundary between discontinuous and continuous permafrost. Partial degradation and conversion of frozen peat plateaus to fens, as well as the enlargement of some associated lakes from eroding shorelines, is also suggested in the area from the Nelson River north to Churchill.Reference40 Moreover, although the relatively short 10 year permafrost record from Churchill shows no significant trend to date, comparison of this data with the much longer climate record at Churchill suggests that the air temperature warming there might have resulted in permafrost warming of ~0.5°C since the mid-1970s.Reference119 Permafrost loss is known to be occurring just outside both western and eastern ecozone+ boundaries in areas where permafrost is discontinuous and in isolated patches respectively.Reference123, Reference 124

Modeling for the Hudson Bay region forecasts a loss of ~50% or more of the continuous permafrost and a virtual elimination of a climate that supports permafrost by 2100,Reference95, Reference125 which would have significant impacts on ecozone+ integrity (see Climate change on page 42).

Lake and river ice

Data are insufficient for analysis of long-term trends in river and lake ice in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+.Reference7 For example, trends in break-up dates for the lower Attawapiskat, Albany, and Moose rivers (near the James Bay coast) were inconclusive when examined from disparate community-based data sources.Reference126 It is, therefore, not known from monitoring if trends being observed elsewhere in northern Canada for earlier break-up and in some cases also later freeze-up of freshwater iceReference127-Reference129 are occurring in this ecozone+. Changes in freshwater ice are, however, suspected. Aboriginal peoples in western James Bay have noted changes in the break-up and/or freeze-up of rivers,Reference 126 as well as a reduction in ice thickness both in naturally flowing rivers and rivers with flows modified by hydroelectric developments and longer ice-free periods for some inland lakes.Reference61

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Footnotes

Footnote ‡

This population estimate is higher than estimates derived from mid-winter population surveys reported in other references (for example Canadian Wildlife Service Waterfowl Committee 2009,Reference82 referenced in Canadian Biodiversity, Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010). Mid-winter survey estimates are known to largely underestimate total population levelsReference83 and are most useful for examining trends in relative population size over time.

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Ross, R.K. 1982. Duck distribution along the James and Hudson Bay coasts of Ontario. Le Naturaliste Canadien 109:927-932.

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Thomas, V.G. and Prevett, J.P. 1982. The roles of the James and Hudson Bay Lowland in the annual cycle of geese. Le Naturaliste Canadien 109:913-925.

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Stewart, D.B. and Lockhart, W.L. 2005. An overview of the Hudson Bay marine ecosystem. Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 2586:vi + 487.

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Curtis, S. 1973. The Atlantic brant and eelgrass (Zostera marina) in James Bay, a preliminary report. James Bay report series No. 8. Canadian Wildlife Service. Ottawa, ON. 8 p.

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Ettinger, K., Lajoie, G. and Beaulieu, R. 1995. Wemindji Cree knowledge of eelgrass distribution and ecology. Unpublished report prepared for the Cree Regional Authority and submitted to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Quebec Region, QC. 50 p.

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Abraham, K.F. and Jefferies, R.L. 1997. High goose populations: causes, impacts and implications. In Arctic ecosystems in peril: report of the Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group. Arctic Goose Joint Venture Special Publication. Edited by Batt, B.D.J. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service. Washington, DC and Ottawa, ON. pp. 7-72.

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Jefferies, R.L., Jano, A.P. and Abraham, K.F. 2006. A biotic agent promotes large-scale catastrophic change in the coastal marshes of Hudson Bay. Journal of Ecology 94:234-242.

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Jefferies, R.L., Rockwell, R.F. and Abraham, K.F. 2003. The embarrassment of riches: agricultural food subsidies, high goose numbers, and loss of arctic wetlands - a continuing saga. Environmental Reviews 11:193-232.

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Jefferies, R.L. and Rockwell, R.F. 2002. Foraging geese, vegetation loss and soil degradation in an arctic salt marsh. Applied Vegetation Science 5:7-16.

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Handa, T. and Jefferies, R.L. 2000. Assisted revegetation trials in degraded salt-marshes. Journals of Applied Ecology 37:944-958.

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McLaren, J.R. and Jefferies, R.L. 2004. Initiation and maintenance of vegetation mosaics in an arctic salt marsh. Journal of Ecology 92:648-660.

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Ngai, J.T. and Jefferies, R.L. 2004. Nutrient limitation of plant growth and forage quality in Arctic coastal marshes. Journal of Ecology 92:1001-1010.

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Bertness, M.D., Silliman, B.R. and Jefferies, R.L. 2004. Salt marshes under siege. American Scientist 92:54-61.

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Rockwell, R.F., Witte, C.R., Jefferies, R.L. and Weatherhead, P.J. 2003. Response of nesting savannah sparrows to 25 years of habitat change in a snow goose colony. Ecoscience 10:33-37.

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Rockwell, R.F., Abraham, K.F., Witte, C.R., Matulonis, P., Usai, M., Larsen, D., Cooke, F., Pollak, D. and Jefferies, R.L. 2009. The birds of Wapusk National Park. Wapusk National Park of Canada Occasional Paper No. 1. Parks Canada. Winnipeg, MB. 25 p.

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PARL. 2008. Standing committee on fisheries and oceans: evidence. Parliament of Canada, House of Commons. Number 016, 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. 13 p.

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Hydro-Québec and GENIVAR Inc. 2001. La Grande complex environmental monitoring: the coastal habitats of James Bay. Summary report. 28 p.

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Short, F.T. 2008. Report to the Cree Nation of Chisasibi on the status of eelgrass in James Bay: an assessment of Hydro-Québec data regarding eelgrass in James Bay, experimental studies on the effects of reduced salinity on eelgrass, and establishment of James Bay environmental monitoring by the Cree Nation. University of New Hampshire, Jackson Estuarine Laboratory. Durham, NH. 30 p. + appendices.

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Tsuji, L.J.S., Gomez, N., Mitrovica, J.X. and Kendall, R. 2009. Post-glacial isostatic adjustment and global warming in subarctic Canada: implications for islands of the James Bay region. Arctic 62:458-467.

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Gough, W.A. and Leung, A. 2002. Nature and fate of Hudson Bay permafrost. Regional Environmental Change 2:177-184.

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Reference 96

Zhang, T., Barry, R.G., Knowles, K., Heginbottom, J.A. and Brown, J. 2008. Statistics and characteristics of permafrost and ground-ice distribution in the northern hemisphere. Polar Geography 31:47-68.

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Smith, R.E., Veldhuis, H., Mills, G.F., Eilers, R.G., Fraser, W.R. and Lelyk, G.W. 1998. Hudson Plains Ecozone. In Terrestrial ecozones, ecoregions, and ecodistricts of Manitoba: an ecological stratification of Manitoba's natural landscapes. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Branch, Brandon Research Centre, Land Resource Unit. Brandon, MB. pp. 277-300. (map at 1:1,500,000 scale).

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Crins, W.J., Gray, P.A., Uhlig, W. and Webster, M. 2009. The ecosystems of Ontario, part 1: ecozones and ecoregions. Technical Report SIB TER IMA TR-01. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Inventory, Monitoring and Assessment Section. Peterborough, ON. 71 p.

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Reference 99

Riley, J.L. 2003. Flora of the Hudson Bay Lowland and its postglacial origins. NRC Press. Ottawa, ON. 236 p.

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Reference 100

Ganter, B., Cooke, F. and Mineau, P. 1996. Long-term vegetation changes in a snow goose nesting habitat. Canadian Journal of Zoology 74:965-969.

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Sammler, J.E., Andersen, D.E. and Skagen, S.K. 2008. Population trends of tundra-nesting birds at Cape Churchill, Manitoba, in relation to increasing goose populations. The Condor 110:325-334.

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Iacobelli, A. and Jefferies, R.L. 1991. Inverse salinity gradients in coastal marshes and the death of stands of Salix : the effects of grubbing by geese. Journal of Ecology 79:61-73.

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Abraham, K.F., Jefferies, R.L. and Rockwell, R.F. 2005. Goose-induced changes in vegetation and land cover between 1976 and 1997 in an Arctic coastal marsh. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 37:269-275.

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Abraham, K. (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources). 2009. ATV damage to tundra in the Ontario portion of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. Personal observation.

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Reference 105

Scott, P.A., Hansell, R.I.C. and Fayle, D.C.F. 1987. Establishment of white spruce populations and responses to climatic change at the treeline, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Arctic and Alpine Research 19:45-51.

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Harsch, M.A., Hulme, P.E., McGlone, M.S. and Duncan, R.P. 2009. Are treelines advancing? A global meta-analysis of treeline response to climate warming. Ecology Letters 12:1040-1049.

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Parkinson, C.L. and Cavalieri, D.J. 2008. Arctic sea ice variability and trends, 1979-2006. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans 113, C07003, 28 p.

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Gagnon, A.S. and Gough, W.A. 2005. Trends in the dates of ice freeze-up and breakup over Hudson Bay, Canada. Arctic 58:370-382.

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Reference 110

Rouse, W.R. 1991. Impacts of Hudson Bay on the terrestrial climate of the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Arctic and Alpine Research 23:24-30.

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Reference 111

COSEWIC. 2008. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the polar bear Ursus maritimus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa, ON. vii + 75 p.

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Reference 112

Hersteinsson, P. and Macdonald, D.W. 1992. Interspecific competition and the geographical distribution of red and arctic foxes Vulpes vulpes and Alopex lagopus . Oikos 64:505-515.

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Reference 113

Stirling, I., Lunn, N.J. and Iacozza, J. 1999. Long-term trends in the population ecology of polar bears in western Hudson Bay in relation to climatic change. Arctic 52:294-306.

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Reference 114

Stirling, I., Lunn, N.J., Iacozza, J., Elliott, C. and Obbard, M. 2004. Polar bear distribution and abundance on southwestern Hudson Bay coast during open water season, in relation to population trends and annual ice patterns. Arctic 57:15-26.

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Gough, W.A., Cornwell, A.R. and Tsuji, L.J.S. 2004. Trends in seasonal sea ice duration in southwestern Hudson Bay. Arctic 57:299-305.

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Reference 116

Heginbottom, J.A., Dubreuil, M.A. and Harker, P.A.C. 1995. Permafrost, 1995. In The national atlas of Canada. Edition 5. National Atlas Information Service, Geomatics Canada and Geological Survey of Canada. Ottawa, ON. Data to reproduce map obtained from Geogratis. © Department of Natural Resources Canada. All rights reserved.

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Smith, S.L., Burgess, M.M., Riseborough, D. and Nixon, F.M. 2005. Recent trends from Canadian permafrost thermal monitoring network sites. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 16:19-30.

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Smith, S. 2011. Trends in permafrost conditions and ecology in Northern Canada. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 9. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. iii + 22 p. Technical Reports.

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Kershaw, G.P. 2010. Climate change at the Arctic's edge: field report. Earthwatch Institute. Edmonton, AB. 12 p.

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Sladen, W.E., Dyke, L.D. and Smith, S.L. 2009. Permafrost at York Factory national historic site of Canada, Manitoba, Canada. Current Research 2009-4. Natural Resources Canada, Geological Survey of Canada. Ottawa, ON. 10 p.

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Stewart, H. (Parks Canada). 2009. Permafrost monitoring in Wapusk National Park, Manitoba. Personal communication.

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Obbard, M. (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources). 2009. Permafrost monitoring in the Ontario portion of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. Personal communication.

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Reference 123

Camill, P. 2005. Permafrost thaw accelerates in boreal peatlands during late- 20th century climate warming. Climatic Change 68:135-152.

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Thibault, S. and Payette, S. 2009. Recent permafrost degradation in bogs of the James Bay area, Northern Quebec, Canada. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 20:383-389.

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Gagnon, A.S. and Gough, W.A. 2005. Climate change scenarios for the Hudson Bay region: an intermodel comparison. Climate Change 69:269-297.

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Ho, E., Tsuji, L.J.S. and Gough, W.A. 2005. Trends in river-ice break-up data for the western James Bay region of Canada. Polar Geography 29:291-299.

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Bonsal, B.R., Prowse, T.D., Duguay, C.R. and Lacroix, M.P. 2006. Impacts of large-scale teleconnections on freshwater-ice break/freeze-up dates over Canada. Journal of Hydrology 330:340-353.

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Duguay, C.R., Prowse, T.D., Bonsal, B.R., Brown, D.G., Lacroix, M.P. and Ménard, P. 2006. Recent trends in Canadian lake ice cover. Hydrological Processes 20:781-801.

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Latifovic, R. and Pouliot, D. 2007. Analysis of climate change impacts on lake ice phenology in Canada using the historical satellite data record. Remote Sensing of Environment 106:492-507.

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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
1939-1940240
1941-19562,368
19572,402
1958-19592,407
19602,408
1961-19682,408
19692,593
1970-198226,044
1983-198826,072
1989-199526,288
199636,949
1997-200237,434
200339,244
200440,239
2005-200740,314
2008-200941,123
-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
Stewardship

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
Contaminants

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
19790.21.00.6
19810.21.42.2
19840.52.61.9
19860.52.12.1
19880.62.72.8
19900.53.12.7
19920.62.62.5
19940.42.62.3
19960.42.11.5
20000.31.41.6
20040.31.51.3
20070.31.5-
---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:
YearsManitobaOntarioQuebec
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
19979651,1741,339
19988599971,375
19991,4355371,044
20001,0561,035798
20011,2719001,728
20026794711,193
2003932610951
2004817634912
20051,2171,2681,198
20064643651,655
20076983561,299
   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:
YearsEastmainWaskaganish
19776564
19785543
19794941
19804338
19814237
19823731
19833224
19843724
19853535
19863031
19872930
19882228
19892428
19902125.5
19911422
19921620.5
19931421
199412.519
19951217
199613.512
19971411
19981511.5
19991311
20001111
200112.511
20021311
20031211
20049.510
20051010
200699.5
--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)
Peatlands:
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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References

Reference 4

Abraham, K.F., McKinnon, L.M., Jumean, Z., Tully, S.M., Walton, L.R. and Stewart, H.M. (lead coordinating authors and compilers). 2011. Hudson Plains Ecozone+ status and trends assessment. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Ecozone+ Report. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. xxi + 445 p.

Return to reference 4 referrer

Reference 5

Ecological Stratification Working Group. 1995. A national ecological framework for Canada. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Branch, Centre for Land and Biological Resources Research and Environment Canada, State of the Environment Directorate, Ecozone Analysis Branch. Ottawa, ON/Hull, QC. 125 p. Report and national map at 1:7 500 000 scale.

Return to reference 5 referrer

Reference 6

Rankin, R., Austin, M. and Rice, J. 2011. Ecological classification system for the ecosystem status and trends report. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 1. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. ii + 14 p. Technical Reports.

Return to reference 6 referrer

Reference 7

Zhang, X., Brown, R., Vincent, L., Skinner, W., Feng, Y. and Mekis, E. 2011. Canadian climate trends, 1950-2007. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 5. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. iv + 21 p. Technical Reports.

Return to reference 7 referrer

Reference 14

Abraham, K.F. and Keddy, C.J. 2005. The Hudson Bay Lowland: a unique wetland legacy. In The world's largest wetlands: ecology and conservation. Edited by Fraser, L.H. and Keddy, P.A. Cambridge University Press. New York, NY. pp. 118-148.

Return to reference 14 referrer

Référence 17

World Resources Institute. 2010. Map of the state of the world's forests. http://www.wri.org/map/state-worlds-forests.

Return to reference 17 referrer

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Sauer, J.R., Hines, J.E., Fallon, J.E., Pardieck, D., Ziolkowski Jr., D.J., Link, A. and . 2014. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966-2012. Version 02.19.2014 [online]. U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. (accessed 12 March, 2014)

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Environment Canada. 2013. Amended recovery strategy for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus Urophasianus Urophasianus) in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada. Ottawa, ON. vi + 49 p. 

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Government of Canada. 2013. Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-Grouse [online]. Government of Canada. (accessed 12 March, 2014)

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COSEWIC. 2006. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the burrowing owl Athene cunicularia in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa, ON. vii + 31 p. 

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Canadian Wildlife Service. 2007. Burrowing Owl [online]. Environment Canada. (accessed September, 2008)

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COSEWIC. 2009. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the swift fox Vulpes velox in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa, ON. vii + 49 p. 

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Carbyn, L. 1996. The return of the swift fox to the Canadian prairies. In Proceedings of the Fourth Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Workshop. Edited by Willms, W.D. and Dormaar, J.F. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 23. Provincial Museum of Alberta. Edmonton, AB. pp. 273-280.

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Moehreschlager, A. and Moehreschlager, C. 2006. Population census of reintroduced swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in Canada and northern Montana 2005/2006. Centre for Conservation Research Report No. 1 No. 1. Centre for Conservation Research, Calgary Zoo. Calgary, AB. 

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Jelks, H.L., Walsh, J., Burkhead, N.M., Contreras-Balderas, S., Díaz-Pardo, E., Hendrickson, D.A., Lyons, J., Mandrak, N.E., McCormick, F., Nelson, J.S., Platania, S.P., Porter, B.A., Renaud, C.B., Schmitter-Soto, J.J., Taylor, E.B. and Warren, Jr.M.L. 2008. Conservation status of imperiled North American freshwater and diadromous fishes. Fisheries 33:372-407.

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Sherriff, K.A. 2006. Modeling temporal and spatial variation in pronghorn antelope population dynamics in southern Alberta in relation to environmental gradients. Thesis (M.Sc.). University of Calgary, Faculty of Environmental Design. Calgary, AB. 196 p.

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Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildfire. 1990. Management plan for pronghorn antelope in Alberta. Wildlife Management Planning Series No. 3. Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife, Fish and Wildlife Division. Edmonton, AB. xii + 115 p. 

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Arsenault, A.A. 2008. Management strategy for pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, Fish and Wildlife Branch. Regina, SK. 34 p. 

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England, R.E. and De Vos, A. 1969. Influence of animals on pristine condition on the Canadian grasslands. Journal of Range Management 22:87-94.

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Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. 2008. Data on ungulate trends in Alberta provided by D. Eslinger. Unpublished data.

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Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. 2008. Data on elk population in Alberta provided by E. Hofman. Unpublished data.

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Kramer, A. 1971. A review of the ecological relationships between mule and white-tailed deer. Wildlife Technical Bulletin No. 3. Alberta Department of Lands and Forests, Fish and Wildlife Division. Edmonton, AB. 54 p. 

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Thorpe, J. and Godwin, R.C. 1992. Regional vegetation management plan for Douglas Provincial Park and Elbow PFRA Pasture. SRC Publication No. E-2520-1-E-92. Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. 

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Alberta Environmental Protection. 1995. Management plan for white-tailed deer in Alberta. Wildlife Mangement Planning Series No. 11. Alberta Environmental Protection, Natural Resources Service. Edmonton, AB. xv + 142 p. 

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Theme: Habitat, wildlife, and ecosystem processes

Theme Habitat, wildlife, and ecosystem processes

Intact landscapes and waterscapes

Intact landscapes and waterscapes was initially identified as a nationally recurring key finding and information was subsequently compiled and assessed for the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. In the final version of the national report,Reference 3 information related to intact landscapes and waterscapes was incorporated into other key findings. This information is maintained as a separate key finding for the Hudson Plains Ecozone+.

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is one of Canada's ecozones+ with the least human influence to date. It is characterized by a small human population (see Ecozone+ Basicson page 2), a near-absence of commercial forestry (see Forestsbiome on page 13) and agricultureReference 252, and relatively little development in hydroelectric (see Lakes and rivers on page 16) or mining sectors (for more information on the ecozone+ 's single mine, see Wetlands on page 14). As such, the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is comprised mostly of relatively intact landscapes and waterscapes, where ecosystem processes are presumed to be functioning well. Pressure for additional resource and transportation developments is, however, mounting and cumulative impacts from roads and hydroelectric developments are a concern.

Intact landscapes

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is the most intact (least anthropogenically fragmented) of all forested ecozones+ in Canada, with 97% of its area covered with "intact terrestrial landscape fragments" (i.e., intact landscape patches or units) of more than 10,000 haReference 253 in 2006 (Figure 20). Linear, anthropogenic fragmentation of the landscape is limited to a relatively small number of transportation and hydroelectric transmission corridors,Reference 14, Reference 76, Reference 164 including a major new transmission line that services the Victor mine.Reference 37 The western and eastern extremities of the ecozone+ are transected from the south by two railway lines (one each in Manitoba and Ontario) that terminate near the coast, but the ecozone+ is still nearly roadless. Winter roads seasonally connect the coastal communitiesReference 14, Reference 76, Reference 164 and one all-season road (James Bay Road) connects the coastal communities of Eastmain (1995) and Waskaganish (2001) in Quebec with the highway system in the south.Reference 166

Intact landscape fragments

Figure 20. "Intact landscape fragments" larger than 10,000 ha in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, 2006.
In this analysis an "intact landscape fragment" is defined as a contiguous mosaic, naturally occurring, and essentially undisturbed by human influence. It is a mosaic of various natural ecosystems including forest, bog, water, tundra, and rock outcrops. The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is covered by intact landscape fragments over 97% of its total area as of 2006.
Intact landscape fragments
Source: adapted from Lee et al., 2006Reference 253 using the ecozone+ boundaries
Long description for Figure 20

This is a map showing "intact landscape fragments" larger than 10,000 ha in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ in 2006. "Intact landscape fragments" are defined as contiguous, naturally occurring, and essentially undisturbed by human influence. It is a mosaic of various natural ecosystems including forest, bog, water, tundra, and rock outcrops. The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is covered by intact landscape fragments over 97% of its total area as of 2006. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

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The large tracts of intact natural landscapes found in this ecozone+ have high biodiversity value. The ecozone+ still supports top predator species such as grey wolf, as well as species of national conservation concern such as polar bear (see Polar bear on page 54), woodland caribou (see Caribou on page 56), and wolverine that require large tracts of unfragmented and/or unroaded landscape and are especially vulnerable to human disturbance. In fact, aerial surveys in the ecozone+ from 2003 to 2010 suggest further expansion of wolverine east (along with some likely increase in its population numbers), continuing the trend observed since 1970 of this species recolonizing its historical range.Reference 254, Reference 255 Wolverines in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ represent the eastern extension of the national Western population, which is assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as Special Concern.Reference 256 As such, they are strategically important for maintaining the Western population and recovering the Eastern population.

As well, the coastal habitats of Hudson and James bays are extremely important as spring and fall staging areas and migration corridors for many waterfowl, shorebirds, and other birds en route to and from their nesting grounds in the eastern and central Canadian arctic.Reference 73 Sea ducks (for example, scoters) and brant are known to follow the large rivers flowing into the south end of James Bay,Reference 257, Reference 258 which is critical moulting and staging habitat for them. Many Hudsonian godwits are thought to fly directly from the James Bay area to stopover areas in South AmericaReference 259 and James Bay is also a key area for the Endangered red knot.Reference 72, Reference 260 American white pelican (Threatened in Ontario) and double-crested cormorant are increasingly reported in the ecozone+ and both began breeding in Akimiski Strait in the last decade.Reference 261 -Reference 263

Intact waterscapes

Rivers and lakes in the ecozone+ are relatively healthy and undisturbed compared to ecozones+ in more developed areas of Canada.Reference 45, Reference 46 While some of the ecozone+ 's large river systems are fragmented or otherwise affected by hydroelectric developments (see Lakes and rivers on page 16), other relatively large rivers remain unregulated.Reference 35, Reference 54 Such rivers include the Hayes, Severn, Winisk, Attawapiskat, Harricana, and Broadback rivers.

The many intact natural rivers and streams remaining in the ecozone+ are particularly important to anadromous fish species such as brook trout, lake whitefish, and cisco (found in coastal rivers and streams) and other migratory fish species such as lake sturgeon (found in all major rivers, their main tributaries, and connecting large lakes). Dams and other hydroelectric structures, unless constructed on existing natural barriers such as waterfalls, fragment waterscapes and affect these and other fish species by physically blocking their movements and restricting access to habitats important for critical life stages such as spawning.Reference 34 The ecozone+ is notably important for lake sturgeon, a species of national conservation concern that tends to be more deeply in decline or extirpated in more developed locales (see Lake sturgeon on page 61).

Development pressure

Although the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is highly intact at present, pressure for new resource developments is mounting, particularly in mining,Reference 148 , Reference 164 , Reference 264 -Reference 266 hydroelectric,Reference 35, Reference 55, Reference 57, Reference 58and wind-farmingReference 267-Reference 269 sectors. Recent discovery of world-class chromite deposits inland, within the Ring of Fire mineral field,Reference 264, Reference 266 especially portends more major mining-related infrastructure.Reference 148 Although likely to bring additional jobs to the ecozone+ 's wage economy, the high potential for additional resource developments in this ecozone+ is of ecological concern because it drives the establishment of roads and other infrastructureReference 37, Reference 164, Reference 166 that will increasingly fragment the landscape and facilitate further human access, along with associated influences on ecozone+ health.Reference 32, Reference 61, Reference 270 Similarly, cumulative impacts from multiple hydroelectric developments within the Hudson Bay watershed is a concern.Reference 59-Reference 63, Reference 189.

Irrespective of future resource developments, feasibility planning is in progress for an all-season road that would run along the western edge of the ecozone+ , from Gillam to Churchill, Manitoba and beyond to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.Reference 271, Reference 272 Likewise, a pre-feasibility study is in progress in Ontario to assess possible routes for an all-season road that would connect communities along the coast of James Bay with the provincial highway system in the south.Reference 273

Key finding 17
Species of special interest: economic, cultural, or ecological

Theme Habitat, wildlife, and ecosystem processes

National key finding

Many species of amphibians, fish, birds, and large mammals are of special economic, cultural, or ecological interest to Canadians. Some of these are declining in number and distribution, some are stable, and others are healthy or recovering.

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ has relatively few species considered to be of conservation concern nationally by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and most are migratory birds.Reference 30 Three species of conservation concern and otherwise of particular ecological interest are profiled below that are also culturally important to Aboriginal peoples in the ecozone+. The three species, polar bear, woodland caribou, and lake sturgeon, represent the marine-terrestrial interface, terrestrial landscapes, and waterscapes, respectively. Birds are also profiled as a group, given the high importance of this ecozone+ to migratory birds in general. Data are largely insufficient for assessing status and trends in species of lower taxa, including amphibians.

Polar bear

The polar bear is assessed as a species of Special Concern nationally by COSEWIC (2008).Reference 111, Footnote §As an apex predator in the marine system, it is a species that has already been negatively affected by climate change,Reference 274 making continued monitoring of polar bear populations critical. Polar bear is also of cultural significance to Aboriginal peoples.

Some 4,000 polar bears, or about 20% of the total world population, occur in the entire Hudson Bay region, of which about 1,800 individuals are associated with the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ .Reference 275 Polar bears use sea ice as a platform for catching prey (primarily ringed sealsReference 183). When sea ice in Hudson and James bays melts in the summer, the bears come ashore where they spend up to five months (eight months for pregnant females) before the sea ice re-forms.Reference 114 Polar bears of the Western Hudson Bay (WHB) subpopulation summer on land in ManitobaReference 276 and those of the Southern Hudson Bay (SHB) subpopulation summer on land in Ontario and on islands in Southern Hudson Bay and James Bay (Nunavut).Reference 277 The polar bears that use the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ are at the southern edge of the species' range, where the first effects of climate change on the species were predicted to occur.Reference 223

The WHB subpopulation of polar bears has already declined in abundance by 22% from about 1,194 individuals in 1987 to 935 in 2004.Reference 274 Coincident with this population decline, there were indications of declining body condition and reduced survival rates in some age classes.Reference 113, Reference 274 The adjacent SHB subpopulation of polar bears has shown significant declines in body conditionReference 225 (Figure 21) as well as evidence of declines in survival rates of all age and sex classes.Reference 217 Together, these observations suggest that this subpopulation, whose numbers have been stable from the mid-1980s until last assessed in 2003-2005, is likely to decline in abundance in the future.Reference 217 Under respective provincial legislation, Manitoba declared the WHB subpopulation Threatened in February 2008, and Ontario declared the SHB subpopulation Threatened in September 2009.

Figure 21. Mean Body Condition Index for polar bears of the Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation, 1984-1986 and 2000-2005.
Abbreviations: SF, solitary adult females; AF, adult females with young; M, adult males; SA, subadults; ALL, all classes combined. See Cattet et al., 2002Reference 278 for a description of the Mean Body Condition Index.
Mean Body Condition Index for polar bears
Source: redrawn from Obbard et al., 2006 Reference 225 under license with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, © Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2006
Long description for Figure 21
This bar graph shows the following information:
Age and reproductive class1984-19862000-2005
SF1.420.5
AF0.48-0.27
M0.830.29
SA0.88-0.01
ALL0.840.03
--Body condition index

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The declines in body condition, survival, and abundance of the polar bear subpopulations that use the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ are correlated with significant trends toward earlier break-up of sea iceReference 113, Reference 216, Reference 225, Reference 274 that are, in turn, attributed to climate change (see Ice across biomes on page 26). These trends in sea ice in Hudson and James bays are projected to continue (see Climate change on page 42) and will have negative impacts on polar bears.Reference 215 A reduction in the annual duration of sea ice decreases the time that polar bears have on the ice to hunt and feed on seals and, therefore, to put on fat stores for their seasonal period on land, where they eat only opportunistically (for example, berries, goose eggs, and flightless geeseReference 279 -Reference 283 ). Changes in diet as a result of reduced sea ice duration may also be responsible for higher concentrations of some contaminants in the bears (see Contaminants on page 38). Some evidence of changing prey relationships is discussed in the Food webssection on page 66. Though harvest is currently not the key factor affecting population trends, harvest is a recognized anthropogenic stressor on polar bear subpopulations, and it must be closely monitored in the future. Harvest will be particularly challenging to manage in the future, when these subpopulations are projected to decline in abundance in association with climate change.Reference 284

Caribou

Woodland caribou are ecologically and culturally important in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. Ecologically, their status serves as an indicator of general ecosystem integrity. In general, they require large patches of undisturbed, mature coniferous forest and are sensitive to human disturbance.Reference 285-Reference 287 Within the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ they also require undisturbed coastal and tundra habitats, which are used from calving through rut.Reference 254, Reference 288 Woodland caribou are also culturally important to local Aboriginal peoples, forming an important part of their traditional subsistence lifestyle.Reference 238

Two ecotypes of woodland caribou regularly inhabit the Hudson Plains Ecozone+: the more southerly and sedentary, forest-dwelling ecotype and the more northerly and migratory, forest-tundra ecotype (Figure 22). During some winters, barren-ground caribou from the Qamanirjuaq herd occasionally migrate into the western part of the ecozone+ Reference 289 (Figure 22), but this herd may be only minimally influenced by its limited use of the ecozone+ and it is not discussed further here.

Figure 22. Approximate distribution of caribou herds in and around the Hudson Plains Ecozone+.
The ecozone+ is denoted with green shading.
All herds shown are woodland caribou herds, except the Qamanirjuaq herd, which is a herd of barren-ground caribou that only occasionally migrates into the ecozone+. The Pen Islands herd of woodland caribou (a migratory forest-tundra ecotype) is represented on the map as the Hudson Bay Coastal Lowland herd. Caribou rarely occur on Akimiski Island.
Approximate distribution of caribou
Source: Abraham et al., 2011Reference 4
Long description for Figure 22

This map presents the approximate distribution of caribou herds in and around the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. The Qamanirjuaq Herd (barren-ground caribou) are distributed along the Hudson Bay through Nunavut and Northern Manitoba. Forest-dwelling woodland caribou, including the Jamésie Herd, are distributed through central Manitoba, central and northern Ontario and Quebec, and the south portion of Labrador. The Cape Churchill Herd (migratory forest-tundra woodland caribou) is distributed over a small region in north western Manitoba. The Rivière-aux-Feuilles Herd (migratory forest-tundra woodland caribou) is distributed all along the east side of Hudson Bay and James Bay. The Rivière-George Herd (migratory forest-tundra woodland caribou) is distributed throughout northern Quebec and Labrador. The Hudson Bay Coastal Lowland Herd (migratory forest-tundra woodland caribou) is distributed along the south coast of the Hudson Bay, from York Factory to James Bay.

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Forest-dwelling ecotype of woodland caribou

In 2002, COSEWIC assessed the Boreal population of the forest-dwelling ecotype of woodland caribou as Threatened, due to population declines throughout most of the range and threats from habitat loss and increased predation, possibly facilitated by human activities.Reference 290 This population occurs in both the Ontario and Quebec portions of the ecozone+ Reference 291, Reference 292 (Figure 22).

There is currently no information to suggest range recession or population decline of this ecotype in the relatively remote Hudson Plains Ecozone+, as there is elsewhere in Canada.Reference 254, Reference 287, Reference 290, Reference 293, Reference 294 Winter densities of 0.015 to 0.141 caribou/km² were reported from systematic surveys conducted periodically since 1959 throughout the Ontario portion of the ecozone+. Reference 254 Although it was not possible to detect any trends or changes during that period because study areas and methods varied among surveys, preliminary data from a 2008 winter survey in the southern part of the ecozone+ in Ontario, in which methods and study areas were similar to earlier work, suggests that caribou densities have increased there from 0.01 caribou/km2 Reference 295 to 0.04 caribou/km2, Reference 296 since 1983-1984. The western range of the Jamésie herd (~600 animals) also occurs within the ecozone+ Reference 297 (Figure 22) and this herd is currently considered stable.Reference 298

Forest-tundra ecotype of woodland caribou

The migratory forest-tundra ecotype of woodland caribou has not been assessed by COSEWIC. This ecotype occurs in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec portions of the ecozone+ and includes the Cape Churchill, Pen Islands (represented in Figure 22 as Hudson Bay Coastal Lowland), George River, and Leaf River herds. The ecozone+ comprises only the western periphery of the annual ranges of the latter two herds (Figure 22) and they are not considered further here (see the Taiga Shield Ecozone+ Key Findings SummaryReference 33 for more information on these herds).

The Cape Churchill herd has not been well studied but no recent changes are suggested. In 1997/98 its minimum population size was estimated to be 3,013 adults.Reference 299   Parks Canada conducted an aerial survey on May 28/29, 2005 and along flight lines over the known calving area counted 644 animals.Reference 300 Three counts of an opportunistic aerial photograph survey taken on July 20, 2007 averaged 2,937 adult animals, suggesting no change in the minimum population size of this herd from 1997/98.

Conversely, a recent eastward shift and possible decline is suggested for the Pen Islands (Hudson Bay Coastal Lowland) herd. This herd increased from a minimum of 2,300 animals in 1979 to a high of 10,798 animals in 1994,Reference 288 but numerous aerial surveys conducted since 2000 have shown that these animals are no longer present in large aggregations in their traditional area (Manitoba-Ontario border region) (as defined in the 1990s) at calving time or during the summer as previously documented, raising uncertainty as to the current status of this herd.Reference 254 An eastern shift in summer use of coastal areas by forest-tundra caribou has been occurring since the late 1990s,Reference 254 with 2008 and 2009 systematic surveys showing >80% of observed forest-tundra caribou now near Cape Henrietta Maria.Reference 301 These surveys also suggest the possibility of a significant decline in the number of these forest-tundra caribou, with observed numbers of just 3,529 (2008) and 3,304 (2009).Reference 301 These results (eastward shift and lower numbers) may represent: a shift in range use and behaviour of the Pen Islands herd within the broader Hudson Plains Ecozone+ ; an independent decrease in numbers of caribou in the former Pen Islands range coupled with an independent increase in numbers in the east; or some combination of those and other population or behavioural changes.

Multiple factors (not examined) may be responsible, including deterioration of range condition in the Pen Islands area leading to decreased food availability, increased predator densities, disturbance, and harvest. However, the learned avoidance of areas of high harvest pressure and/or high disturbance is suspected to be contributing because of the pattern of change (see Abraham et al., 2011Reference 4 ). Still, no comprehensive estimate of forest-tundra caribou population size or true population trend currently exists for this ecozone+. Therefore, the sustainable harvest level is unknown, and no clear cause-effect relationship can be ascribed.

Future landscape fragmentation associated with a high potential for new resource development in this ecozone+ (see Intact landscapes and waterscapes on page 51) is a concern for the long-term health of both ecotypes of woodland caribou. Human developments, including linear disturbances such as electricity transportation corridors and winter and all-season roads, allow hunters and predators greater access to caribou, and can also create barriers to their movement and distribution.302-305 Another emerging issue is the effect of climate change on caribou habitat in the ecozone+ with the potential consequence of changing caribou status.Reference 306 , Reference 307

Birds

As Canada's largest wetland complex and the third largest in the world, the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ provides critical habitat for many breeding bird populations.Reference 28 The large and diverse assemblage of birds (over 340 species) supported by this ecozone+ is comprised of mostly migratory species in four basic groups: landbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, and waterbirds (including seabirds)Reference 14 , Reference 90 , Reference 151 , Reference 308 , Reference 309 (but see Niemi et al., (2010)Reference 15 regarding seabirds in the pelagic portion of the geographic area). Populations of such migratory species are also affected by anthropogenic factors outside the ecozone+ , along migration routes and in their wintering areas further south. There are no ecozone+-wide bird trend monitoring programs in place; bird monitoring activity is a mixture of programs undertaken by various agencies.Reference 4 Waterfowl is the best monitored of the four bird groups, and waterbirds probably the least well monitored. Some changes or trends in bird populations are evident (see below) but northward shifts in species breeding distributions are not apparent in this geography.Reference 151

Landbirds

In Ontario, the draft Bird Conservation Region (BCR) 7 conservation plan for landbirdsReference 309 lists 124 species that regularly breed or winter in the ecozone+ (no comparable plans have been prepared for the Manitoba or Quebec portions of the BCR). Five species are assessed by COSEWIC as species at riskReference 130 : olive-sided flycatcher (Threatened), Canada warbler (Threatened), common nighthawk (Threatened), rusty blackbird (Special Concern), and short-eared owl (Special Concern). Another two species are listed as species at risk by the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO)Reference 310 : golden eagle (Endangered) and bald eagle (Special Concern). In Quebec, golden eagle, bald eagle, and peregrine falcon are species at risk.Reference 311 In Manitoba, the only landbird regularly occurring in the ecozone+ that is listed is the peregrine falcon (Endangered).Reference 312 The bald eagle has increased in the ecozone+ since the 1980s, both as a breeding species in the southern portion and as non-breeding birds along the coasts during summer.Reference 313 , Reference 314

Waterfowl

Most species of waterfowl breeding in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ have stable or increasing populations. The Canada geese that use the ecozone+ belong to four populations: two populations (Eastern Prairie and Mississippi Valley) have increased over the past four decades but they have been stable (Eastern Prairie) or declining (Mississippi Valley) in recent years, and two populations (Southern James Bay and Atlantic) declined from the 1970s to 1990s but have been stable since.Reference 315 , Reference 316 Lesser snow goose nests in the ecozone+ in discrete colonies, of which there were three in the 1970s,Reference 318 , Reference 318 but, with the quadrupling over the last four decades of the Mid-Continent population of lesser snow goose to which these colonies belong, there has been much expansion of those as well as establishment of three more colonies.Reference 318 -Reference 320 Intensive foraging by this increased population has led to much damage to the ecozone+ 's coastal salt marshes over the same period (see the Coastalbiome on page 20). Three of the Canada goose populations (Eastern Prairie, Mississippi Valley, and Southern James Bay) have been affected locally in terms of reproductive success or nesting density by the growth of the lesser snow goose population.

Although it does not breed in the ecozone+, the entire Atlantic population of brant stages there and relies on the eelgrass beds and salt marshes of the coastal zone of James Bay during spring and fall migrations.Reference 321 Its dependence on eelgrass, which has shown a decline in the ecozone+ (see the Coastalbiome on page 20), suggests a re-distribution of brant within the ecozone+ over the past two decades.

Species or groups of ducks that occur in the ecozone+ and for which there is continental concern about declining populations include greater and lesser scaup, northern pintail, and sea ducks (for example, scoters).Reference 151 , Reference 315 There are insufficient data to analyze trends of scaup and pintail in the ecozone+. However, surveys of the Atlantic subpopulation of black scoters that moults in the nearshore areas of James Bay suggest that its numbers have not changed significantly between 1977 and 2009.Reference 315 , Reference 322

Shorebirds

The vast lowlands lying behind the coastlines of Hudson and James bays support a number of breeding species of shorebirds. Very little information is available on their breeding population trends. Shorebirds have, however, been studied extensively at Churchill and nearly all studies have reported widespread declines.Reference 323 , Reference 324 Declines were particularly notable in the semipalmated sandpiper, which used to be the most abundant breeding shorebird in the Churchill region up to the 1940s, but by 2004 could no longer be found breeding in that area.Reference 325 -Reference 327 Breeding whimbrel, for which the ecozone+ is of particular importance, are also thought to have declined in abundance in the Churchill region.Reference 90 , Reference 323

The coasts of Hudson and James bays remain a key migration area for arctic breeding shorebirds of many species. The vast mudflats and coastal lagoons and wetlands provide critical resting habitat and food resources for replenishing fat and protein reserves needed for migration to breeding areas in the spring and for migration to wintering areas in the fall. James Bay remains a key migration area for Hudsonian godwit and red knot, the latter species assessed by COSEWIC as Endangered.Reference 72 , Reference 73 , Reference 259 , Reference 260

Waterbirds

Waterbirds are a mixed group that includes loons, grebes, gulls, terns, jaegers, herons, pelicans and cormorants, rails, and cranes. Overall, as a group about two thirds of the regularly occurring species are stable or increasing.Reference 90 , Reference 308 In terms of species assessed by COSEWIC,Reference 30 Ross's gull (Threatened) has declined in the Manitoba portion of the ecozone+ ,Reference 313 and yellow rail (Special Concern) may have declined in the Ontario portion Reference 328 and locally in the Manitoba portion. Reference 90 In both provinces snow goose habitat degradation may be affecting local nesting densities of yellow rail. American white pelican recently established breeding in Akimiski Strait, illustrating the easterly expansion of this species that is designated by COSSARO (Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario) as Threatened. Reference 263 Double-crested cormorants also established a breeding colony in Akimiski Strait. Reference 261

Lake sturgeon

Lake sturgeon reaches the northern limit of its range near the northern most extent of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ in Manitoba and Ontario, and just north of the ecozone+ in Quebec.Reference 329 -Reference 331 Within the ecozone+ it occurs in all major rivers and their main tributaries and connecting large lakes. Reference 34 , Reference 64 , Reference 65 , Reference 330 , Reference 332 , Reference 333 The species is a culturally important and valued food resource for local Aboriginal peoples. Reference 37 , Reference 334 , Reference 335

Ecologically, lake sturgeon is a sensitive indicator of the health of aquatic environments because it is a long-lived species thought to have strong site fidelity for spawning and other habitat requirements. Reference 330 Because it commonly migrates up to 100 km or more between these sites, Reference 336 it is sensitive to river fragmentation. The slow growth rate of this species, late age to maturity (15 to 25 years), and infrequent spawning behaviour also make it very vulnerable to over-harvest and habitat change more generally. Reference 329 , Reference 337

Through most of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, lake sturgeon is assessed by COSEWIC as Special Concern.Reference 330 However, reduced populations of the Churchill and Nelson rivers are assessed as Endangered, due to historic harvest activities and current hydroelectric development. Reference 330 The segment of the Nelson River within the ecozone+, downstream of the Limestone Dam, is the longest stretch (100 km) of unimpounded water remaining on that river and the lake sturgeon there may represent perhaps the last true riverine stock on the river. Reference 338 The lack of older, larger fish and low numbers of larvae, however, suggest a stressed population with low recruitment. Reference 330 At least one additional hydroelectric development is proposed for that segment of the river. Reference 55 , Reference 56

Deterioration of lake sturgeon populations is also evident near hydroelectric developments elsewhere in the ecozone+. The abundance of lake sturgeon strongly declined in the Eastmain and Opinaca rivers following diversion of most of the flow from these rivers north to the La Grande River (see Lakes and rivers on page 16). Reference 32 , Reference 34 Declines in lake sturgeon abundance in the Eastmain and Opinca rivers are attributed to very low recruitment, believed to result from reduced quality of, and/or access to, spawning grounds, along with increased harvest (new road access and increased ease of net fishing associated with the reduced flow).Reference 32 , Reference 34 The species was almost totally absent from catches in 1998. Reference 339

Still, lake sturgeon is thought to be in comparatively good condition in the ecozone+ as a whole, owing to the overall limited amount of human disturbance there and presence of many rivers still free from hydroelectric development, especially in the majority of the ecozone+ that lies in Ontario (see Intact landscapes and waterscapes on page 51). Certainly, the species tends to be more deeply in decline or even extirpated in more developed areas of North America, Reference 340 due primarily to habitat degradation and loss and over-exploitation. Reference 341

The high potential for additional hydroelectric development in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ (see Lakes and rivers on page 16and Intact landscapes and waterscapes on page 51) is a concern for the long-term health of the lake sturgeon populations found there, as such development may further fragment lake sturgeon habitat and facilitate other human disturbance.

Key finding 18
Primary productivity

Theme Habitat, wildlife, and ecosystem processes

National key finding

Primary productivity has increased on more than 20% of the vegetated land area of Canada over the past 20 years, as well as in some freshwater systems. The magnitude and timing of primary productivity are changing throughout the marine system.

Remote sensing analyses based on leaf area index and land cover type across the entire Hudson Plains Ecozone+ have estimated net primary productivity (NPP) there at 138 ± 84 g C/m² /yr (based on the year 1994). Reference 342 This estimate falls within the range of the ground-based measurements of NPP from the eastern part of the ecozone+ (~50 to 100 g C/m² /yr) Reference 343 and northern Manitoba (~125 to 275 g C/m² /yr). Reference 221

A complementary analysis of trends in the Normalized-Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI, a measure of gross primary photosynthesis and a proxy for green leaf area based on remote sensing) found that over the period 1985 to 2006 NDVI increased significantly over 4.9% of this ecozone+ 's land surface and decreased over 0.1% of its land surface. Reference 9 , Reference 334 Some increase in primary productivity may also be suggested by observations of increased tree and shrub cover above the treeline (in the tundra), as near Churchill.Reference 107 Overall, however, to date increases in productivity appear to be much less in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ than for some other areas of Canada, including the eastern portion of the neighbouring Taiga Shield Ecozone. Reference 9 , Reference 344 Changes in primary productivity in the north are likely to be climate-driven, given the few changes in land use.Reference 344

Note that satellite observations cannot provide information on belowground processes affecting soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics. Reference 345 Understanding carbon-cycling in this ecozone+ (complex and currently poorly understood) is critically important because of the implications any changes in the massive store of carbon in this ecozone+ have for regional and global carbon budgets and climate change (see Climate change on page 42and Climate regulation, a regulating ecosystem service on page 49).

Key finding 19
Natural disturbances

Theme Habitat, wildlife, and ecosystem processes

National key finding

The dynamics of natural disturbance regimes, such as fire and native insect outbreaks, are changing and this is reshaping the landscape. The direction and degree of change vary.

There is little evidence to suggest that the extent, frequency, or severity of natural disturbances from fire, native insect oubreaks, or extreme weather have changed in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ to date. Information about these types of natural disturbances is, however, very limited, most notably for native insect outbreaks. Such disturbances are expected to occur more frequently in the future in association with climate change.

Fire

The fire regime of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is effectively natural, with a strong predominance of lightning-caused firesReference 8 and almost no fire suppression. Reference 346 , Reference 347 Although data are limited, fire frequency tends to increase inland, away from the coast. Reference 8 , Reference 348 Large fires in this ecozone+ tend, however, to be less frequent and of smaller maximum size than in neighbouring Boreal Shield and Taiga Shield ecozones+, Reference 347 , Reference 349 , Reference 350 presumably owing to an overall humid, cool climate and a predominance of wetlands and related effects on horizontal fuel discontinuity and overall fire resistance. Reference 350

Early data from the Canadian Large Fire Database are inaccurate for this area until the mid-1970s.Reference 349 Based on available data from 1980 onward, no trends are apparent in analyzed elements of the large fire (≥ 2 km² ) regime, including: annual area burned, 1980 to 2007 (highly variable; Figure 23); causes of fire, 1980 to 1999 (predominantly lightning, ~92%); seasonality of fire, 1980 to 1999 (May-August, with activity peaking mid-period); and duration of the active fire season, 1980 to 1999 (~55 days). Reference 8 Although the available data and analysis are limited in terms of temporal scale, the results are consistent with studies of long-term trends in the July monthly drought code, an indicator of wildfire risk across circumboreal forests. Reference 351 , Reference 352 The apparent stability in the overall fire regime in this ecozone+ since the early 1900s contrasts with other areas in Canada, of which the southeastern and southwestern boreal show diminishing wildfire risk and area burned, and other areas show increases. A trend towards decreasing dryness (reduced wildfire risk) is evident at the extreme southern end of the Hudson Plains Ecozone for the period 1901 to 2002, but not for the more recent period since 1951. Reference 351

Figure 23. Annual area burned by large fires (≥ 2 km² ) in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+, 1959-2007.
Data from 1960-1979 are screened-out to denote probable inaccuracy; these data are from a period when fire detection was non-existent or limited in this Ecozone+. Reference 349
Annual area burned by large fires
Source: Krezek-Hanes et al., 2011Reference 8
Long description for Figure 23
This bar graph presents the following information:
YearsArea burned (km²)
19590.0
19600.0
196162.2
1962932.4
19636.1
1964182.3
19650.0
19660.0
19670.0
1968129.4
19690.0
19702.0
1971278.5
1972756.2
197360.7
197438.2
197549.4
1976178.5
1977297.8
19780.8
197914.1
198078.5
1981606.6
19820.0
19831,026.5
198417.5
19850.0
198650.4
198724.9
1988154.9
19894,572.4
1990680.6
1991492.7
1992895.9
19938.0
1994385.4
19951,318.0
19962,342.0
1997448.0
19982,080.0
19991,859.0
2000151.0
2001201.0
20021,088.0
20033,455.0
200473.0
20051,291.0
2006354.0
2007144.0

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If climate change leads to an increase in the annual area burned in the ecozone+ as projected, Reference 214 , Reference 233 the increased fire activity could exacerbate the release of carbon as well as mercury from the ecozone+ 's extensive peatlands (see Climate change on page 42), in addition to altering vegetative succession (shifting forests to younger age classes) and other ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling. Limited evidence for the southern part of the ecozone suggests that the projected increase in future fire risk in this area may, by 2100, move the burn rate towards the upper limit of its range of natural variability during most of the Holocene (over at least the last ~ 7,000 years). Reference 214

Native insect outbreaks

The role of insects as disturbance agents in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is poorly understood. Few forest insect surveys have been conducted there and they were limited to the most southerly portion of the ecozone+. Reference 353 These surveys, along with available tree ring studies, Reference 354 , Reference 355 do, however, suggest that spruce budworm and larch sawfly are the two main (but not only) defoliators in this ecozone+ .

The available forest insect surveys report occasional episodes of defoliation by spruce budworm and forest tent caterpillar in the southern part of the ecozone+. Reference 353 However, these episodes would be considered too short, too scattered, and too separated in time to expect substantial tree mortality or otherwise be considered an important disturbance if they had occurred further south. Reference 356 , Reference 357

Conversely, tree ring studies suggest that larch sawfly (distributed widely over the ecozone+ Reference 358 ) sporadically produces substantial impacts on eastern larch right up to the treeline. Reference 359 Moreover, the eastern larch beetle tends to follow outbreaks of the larch sawfly, further increasing the mortality of eastern larch when it does. Indeed, Langor and Raske (1989) Reference 360 reported widespread mortality of eastern larch in 1960 between Englehart and James Bay, Ontario, which includes part of the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. Although not confirmed, eastern larch beetle may be the cause of recent mortality of eastern larch in the Churchill area, an observation made by Manitoba provincial staff in 2008. Reference 361

Clearly, it is difficult to assess current trends in insect outbreaks (types, severity, frequency, etc.) for this ecozone+ directly from the limited information available. Even if this were possible, it becomes dangerous to extrapolate such trends into the future because they ignore climate change, and climate change will almost certainly be a major driver of future such trends (for example, Soja et al., (2007); Reference 362 Volney and Fleming (2007); Reference 356 see also Climate change on page 42); increases in insect disturbance are likely.

Extreme weather

Direct information about extreme weather events and the impacts of such events is very limited for the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. Reference 4 The only trend information available is for indicators or indices of extreme weather derived from daily temperature and precipitation data, which suggest limited potential changes in extreme weather to date.Reference 351 , Reference 352 , Reference 363 -Reference 367 At both ecozone+ and sub-ecozone+ scales, the occurrence rate of extreme drought years did not increase over the period 1901 to 2002 when estimated from July monthly drought code. Reference 351 , Reference 352 However, over the period 1950 to 2003, climate stations at Churchill and Moosonee both showed significant increases in diurnal temperature range (with Churchill additionally showing an increase in the standard deviation of temperature mean) and the Moosonee station showed significant trends for more warm days (days with daily maximum temperature, Tmax >90th percentile) and more summer days (Tmax >25 °C) (but not cold or frost days). Reference 365 Unlike temperature indices, precipitation indices showed no significant trends over the 1950 to 2003 period at either Churchill or Moosonee stations, Reference 365 albeit some increase in precipitation intensity is suggested for at least part of the ecozone+ if station-level indices are area-averaged across the ecozone+ by grid-interpolation. Reference 365 Like elsewhere, the frequency of extreme weather events in this ecozone+ is forecast to increase with climate change Reference 368 (see also Climate change on page 42).

Key finding 20
Food webs

Theme Habitat, wildlife, and ecosystem processes

National key finding

Fundamental changes in relationships among species have been observed in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments. The loss or reduction of important components of food webs has greatly altered some ecosystems.

There is little evidence for broad-scale changes in primary production (base of foodwebs) in the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ (see Primary productivity on page 62) and the ecozone+ still supports large predator species such as polar bear and grey wolf (top of foodwebs). However, some changes in food webs, including fundamental changes in relationships among species, have been observed in the ecozone+. Loss or serious reduction of several important components of the coastal salt marsh food web is evident, reflecting the severe damage that has occurred to these salt marshes over the last four decades. As well, changed predator-prey relationships involving polar bear are evident that are implicated with climate change and associated changes in wildlife phenology. However, predator-prey cycles are not being monitored and food web structures otherwise remain largely unstudied.

Coastal salt marsh food web

The severe damage caused to much of the ecozone+ 's coastal salt marsh habitat by the excessive grazing and grubbing of a greatly increased lesser snow goose population has led to an apparent trophic cascade, creating a bare sediment alternate state along much of the coast (see the Coastalbiome on page 20). Several components of the food web have been affected by the changes to vegetation, soils, and water as a result. Invertebrate abundance and community diversity have been altered. A sharp decline in soil invertebrate abundance, especially spiders and beetles, has occurred.Reference 369 In shallow ponds in the supratidal marsh, five species of five genera of Chironomidae were found in brackish ponds in undamaged salt marsh, while only one species was represented in the hypersaline ponds of damaged salt marsh. Reference 370 These changes affect foraging opportunities of passerine birds and shorebirds, which are primarily insectivorous during the breeding season. The herbivorous Canada goose has also been adversely affected. On Akimiski Island, for example, gosling Canada geese raised in areas with greater damage have significantly smaller body size and lower first year survival than those raised where snow geese do not occur. Reference 371

Predator-prey relationships and cycles

There is a paucity of detailed information on most predator-prey relationships and cycles in the ecozone+,Reference 4 because monitoring of predator-prey interactions has not been part of a regular wildlife management program there. The general relationships are recognized but the drivers and regularity of cycles, where present, are largely unknown. Changed predator-prey relationships involving polar bear are, however, evident (see below).

Climate change may be affecting the relationship between polar bear and ringed seal, its primary prey. Reference 183 As already noted, deteriorating trends in polar bear are correlated with the shortening sea-ice season in Hudson and James bays, implying that the effect is related to less total time available for polar bears to hunt seals on the sea ice each year (see Polar bear on page 54). However, trends in polar bears may, to some extent, also reflect synchronous changes in both the population numbers and reproductive rates of ringed seals, Reference 372 , Reference 373 which are also dependent on the sea ice and may be affected by similar climatic patterns. Reference 374 , Reference 375 In Hudson Bay, the sea-ice regime, snowfall patterns, and spring temperatures may be driving a decadal cycle in ringed seal abundance and reproductive performance, with lows in the 1990s and improvements again in the 2000s. Reference 374 -Reference 378

Reduced sea ice duration may also be responsible for changes in the relative amounts of ice-associated bearded seals and open water-associated harbour and harp seals in the diet of polar bears, which may in turn have affected contaminant concentrations in the bears (see Contaminants on page 38). Ice-associated ringed seals (primary prey), however, continue to make a relatively steady contribution to the diet of these bears, suggesting that other species may not be sufficiently abundant or available to replace ringed seals in the polar bear's diet. Reference 170 , Reference 183 Thus, if the abundance or reproductive rates of ringed seals declines over the long-term due to continued and projected climatic warming in the Hudson Bay region (see Climate change on page 42), additional declines in the body condition, reproductive success, and abundance of polar bears might be expected. Reference 224 Currently, however, the effect of climate change on this predator-prey relationship remains uncertain. Reference 183 , Reference 216 , Reference 224 , Reference 284 , Reference 375

New or uncommonly reported predator-prey relationships are being increasingly documented by people who live in or frequent the Hudson Plains Ecozone+. Reference 281 , Reference 379 , Reference 380 Polar bear is observed stalking and chasing woodland caribou in Wapusk National Park Reference 379 and consuming eggs from lesser snow goose and Canada goose nests as well as moulting geese and flightless goslings along the coast. Reference 281 , Reference 282 As demonstrated at Cape Churchill Peninsula, mean hatching date of lesser snow goose is advancing more slowly than the advance of sea ice break-up, such that the earlier arrival of polar bears from sea ice onto land may be increasingly coinciding with the period when snow geese are still incubating eggsReference 283 (Figure 24). This may provide early arriving polar bears with an exploitable and abundant food source not utilized in the past, Reference 280 , Reference 281 , Reference 283 albeit the significance of this food source for altering the observed deteriorations in polar bear subpopulations is unknown. Near-term forecasting (25 years into the future) with a stochastic model suggests that all but trivial rates of polar bear egg predation will, however, reduce (but not eliminate) the size of the local nesting population of lesser snow goose. Reference 283 Canada goose nesting dates are also advancing, on the order of 0.5 days/yr over the period 1993 to 2010 at Akimiski Island. Reference 210 Most of these observations have been indirectly attributed to a changing climate as, for example, goose nest initiation is correlated with temperature and snow cover and, therefore, occurs earlier in earlier years of melt. Reference 381 As the climate continues to change and environmental components are altered, predator-prey dynamics are likely to change through all trophic levels of the subarctic food web. Reference 382

Figure 24. Diagrammatic representation of polar bears beginning to overlap the nesting period of lesser snow geese on the Cape Churchill Peninsula.
As the advance of onshore arrival of polar bears is much faster than the advance in the nesting period of the geese (~4.5 times in this analysis, or 3.7 times faster when assessed with a stochastic regression model in Rockwell et al., 2010 Reference 283 ), the amount of energy available to the bears from snow goose eggs will increase as the overlap with the nesting period becomes earlier. The energy profile of eggs and the date on which the first polar bear was seen in the nesting area are averages for the period 2000 to 2007. The mean hatching date is June 21 and mean date for the first bear's arrival is June 23.
Diagrammatic representation of polar bears
Source: redrawn from Rockwell and Gormezano, 2009 Reference 281 (p 544, fig 4) with permission from Springer Science+Business Media
Long description for Figure 24
This graph shows the following information:
Julian DateAvailable kilocalories (millions)
1420.00
1430.62
1442.36
1455.95
14612.62
14720.51
14828.40
14935.04
15038.58
15140.27
15240.85
15340.81
15440.77
15540.72
15640.64
15740.52
15840.34
15940.09
16039.76
16139.32
16238.77
16338.09
16437.27
16536.29
16635.13
16733.79
16832.25
16930.49
17027.22
17122.82
17217.02
1738.99
1744.24
1751.45
1760.00

The mean date of first polar bear in the nesting area is shown on the graph to be on Julian day 174, advancing faster (0.72 day/yr) than the onset of snow goose egg availability (0.16 day/yr).

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Footnotes

Footnote §

Although this report considers status and trends up to December 2010 only, note that the polar bear was listed as a species of Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act (Schedule 1) in November 2011 (see Canada Gazette Part II 145 (23): 2232-2384).

Return to footnote § referrer


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Pines, I. (Manitoba Conservation). 2010. Mortality of eastern larch in the Churchill area. Personal communication.

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Christensen, J.H., Hewitson, B., Busuioc, A., Chen, A., Gao, X., Held, I., Jones, R., Kolli, R.K., Kwon, W.-T., Laprise, R., Magaña Rueda, V., Mearns, L., Menéndez, C.G., Räisänen, J., Rinke, A., Sarr, A. and Whetton, P. 2007. Regional climate projections. In Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Edited by Solomon, S., Quin, D., Manning, M., Chen, Z., Marquis, M., Averyt, K.B., Tignor, M. and Miller, H.L. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY. pp. 847-940.

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Theme: Science/policy interface

Key finding 21
Biodiversity monitoring, research, information management, and reporting

Theme Science/policy interface

National key finding

Long-term, standardized, spatially complete, and readily accessible monitoring information, complemented by ecosystem research, provides the most useful findings for policy-relevant assessments of status and trends. The lack of this type of information in many areas has hindered development of this assessment.

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ has received comparatively little inventory, monitoring, and research owing to its remoteness, limited access, harsh climate, wet edaphic conditions, and associated low amount of resource development interest to date. With certain exceptions such as climate station monitoring and some studies of waterfowl, polar bear (and sea ice in the broader geographic area), and fish mercury levels in areas affected by hydroelectric development, inventory and related work has been episodic and without continuity over the long term.Reference 4 The available scientific information is contained in disparate sources of variable accessibility, with Aboriginal traditional knowledge being even less accessible in a form suitable for incorporation into this type of reporting framework. The usefulness of remote sensing has been limited in this geography by the dynamic nature of interannual changes found there (for example, seasonality of swamps) and the paucity of ground truthing in this largely inaccessible terrain. A geographical bias to information is also evident, with most information pertaining to coastal areas (including the ecozone+ ’s limited number of climate stations), while inland areas remain largely unstudied, although this is changing.

In short, a relative paucity of status and trends information currently exists for this ecozone+. Reference 4 In this assessment there was, therefore, inherent difficulty in detecting changes, trends, and thresholds; describing natural ranges of variability; and, in many cases, even providing quantitative, baseline or other point-in-time measures of ecosystem attributes. Furthermore, much of the available information is now dated because it was generated during a hydroelectric development phase in the 1970s to early 1980s.

While there is a general assumption that the ecozone+ remains relatively healthy because of limited ecosystem conversion, minimal anthropogenic fragmentation, and other human influences to date, the human imprint is changing. Climate change is manifesting and resource development interests are increasing. Base data and tracking are now critically needed to inform land use and environmental conservation planning, and related policy and management decisions. Permafrost, hydrology, and carbon flux are particularly notable and important among knowledge gaps but better information is needed on most fronts, including cumulative impacts and climate modeling.Reference 4

Although not outwardly evident in this assessment, the state of knowledge about the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is currently in a state of flux. Collection of new information about the ecozone+ is currently being driven both by interests in climate change in the north and increasing interest in major economic development there. Some major research programs with components relevant to the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ are in their last phases (for example, Arcticnet, International Polar Year) and associated results are becoming available and more should be available within a few years. In addition, much new inventory, monitoring, and research is being generated in association with, for example, Manitoba’s Biodiversity Conservation program, Wapusk National Park, and Ontario’s relatively new Far North Land Use Planning Initiative. Future needs for trends assessment, including identification of rapid and unexpected changes (see section below), centre around long-term monitoring at ecologically relevant scales, across jurisdictions where needed. Research remains critical for identifying mechanistic causes of change and, thus, for informing adaptive management. Ecosystem components of particular importance because of their susceptibility to impacts from anticipated changes in human imprint (climate change and industrial development) include permafrost; hydrology; carbon cycling; coastal and tundra ecosystems; river and lake ecosystems; wetlands and bird populations; plant communities; and sensitive fish and wildlife species. The valuation of ecosystem services also requires advancement, so that non-market services can be adequately considered in policy and management decisions.

Key finding 22
Rapid changes and thresholds

Theme Science/policy interface

National key finding

Growing understanding of rapid and unexpected changes, interactions, and thresholds, especially in relation to climate change, points to a need for policy that responds and adapts quickly to signals of environmental change in order to avert major and irreversible biodiversity losses.

A somewhat anomalous finding for a relatively remote and undisturbed ecozone+ such as the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is that a large amount of its coastal biome (~30% of the salt marsh habitat) has been severely damaged (see the Coastalbiome on page 20). Note, however, that this persistent, cumulative damage that has been occurring since the 1970s is not related to human influences in the ecozone+ itself, but rather to land use changes and other human influences outside the ecozone+ that have caused the migratory Mid-Continent population of lesser snow goose to quadruple over the last four decades. It is excessive foraging by these overabundant geese that is causing an apparent trophic cascade in the ecozone+ , leading to an alternate stable state of bare, hypersaline sediment along much of the coast, from which recovery may take decades.

Thresholds and natural ranges of variability are poorly understood for this ecozone+ but notable in reference to rapid changes are the correlated changes in sea-ice season in Hudson and James bays (shortening) (see Sea ice on page 26) and the deteriorating status of two polar bear subpopulations that use the ecozone+ (see Polar bear on page 54). Reductions in sea ice are already ahead of the projected rate of the summer retreat of the ice by nearly all of the general circulation model (GCM) projections used by the Arctic Climate Impact AssessmentReference 383 and the 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AssessmentReference 250 (for example, Stroeve et al., 2007Reference 384 ; Allison et al., 2009Reference 385 ). The significant trends in sea ice signal impending change in the ecozone+ , given the strong influence that sea ice has on this ecozone+ ’s climate. Already the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation of polar bears, which occurs in the part of Hudson Bay where sea ice changes are the greatest, has declined in number (see Polar bear on page 54). The Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation has not declined in number (up until last assessed in 2003-2005), but shows significant declines in body condition and evidence of declining survival rates that together suggest that this subpopulation too may soon decline in abundance. Changes in polar bear subpopulations are attributed to the much shorter period they have on sea ice to put on fat stores for their seasonal period on land. Shifts in the relative amounts of ice-associated and open-water seal species consumed by the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation of polar bears (also associated with changes in sea ice) have interacted with pollution to affect contaminant levels in the bears (see Contaminants on page 38). On land, unexpected or little reported trophic interactions are now occurring between the earlier arriving bears and species such as geese (see Food webs on page 66).

Although permafrost data are currently insufficient to examine trends, rapid degradation of permafrost is expected in this ecozone+ as a lagged dynamic of sea ice loss. Permafrost is maintained in this ecozone+ largely due to the influence that the seasonal ice cover on Hudson and James bays has on the ecozone+ ’s climate. The projected degradation of permafrost will significantly affect the hydrology of this saturated peat plain, with significant consequences for biodiversity (see Climate change on page 42).

A responsive, adaptive management framework, supported by a sustained commitment to the collection, management, and sharing of both scientific and Aboriginal information (for example, to detect early warning signals and rapid changes before thresholds are crossed), will be key to the effective future management of this ecozone+. Reference 4 , Reference 148


References

Reference 4

Abraham, K.F., McKinnon, L.M., Jumean, Z., Tully, S.M., Walton, L.R. and Stewart, H.M. (lead coordinating authors and compilers). 2011. Hudson Plains Ecozone+ status and trends assessment. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Ecozone+ Report. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. xxi + 445 p.

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Reference 148

Goulet, S. and Kenkel, N. 1997. Habitat survey and management proposal for Manitoba populations of western spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis). Department of Botany, University of Manitoba. Winnipeg, MB. 89 p. 

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Reference 250

Alberta Environmental Protection. 1995. Management plan for white-tailed deer in Alberta. Wildlife Mangement Planning Series No. 11. Alberta Environmental Protection, Natural Resources Service. Edmonton, AB. xv + 142 p. 

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Reference 383

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. 2005. ACIA scientific report. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK. 1042 p.

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Reference 384

Stroeve, J., Holland, M.M., Meier, W., Scambos, T. and Serreze, M. 2007. Arctic sea ice decline: faster than forecast. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L09501, 5 p.

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Reference 385

Allison, I., Bindoff, N.L., Bindschadler, R.A., Cox, P.M., de Noblet, N., England, M.H., Francis, J.E., Gruber, N., Haywood, A.M., Karoly, D.J., Kaser, G., Le Quéré, C., Lenton, T.M., Mann, M.E., McNeil, B.I., Pitman, A.J., Rahmstorf, S., Rignot, E., Schellnhuber, H.J., Schneider, S.H., Sherwood, S.C., Somerville, R.C.J., Steffen, K., Steig, E.J., Visbeck, M. and Weaver, A.J. 2009. The Copenhagen diagnosis, 2009: updating the world on the latest climate science. The University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre. Sydney, Australia. 60 p.

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Conclusion: Human Well-being and Biodiversity

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ remains a relatively pristine natural area, with generally clean air and water, healthy wildlife populations, and a number of unregulated large rivers. With its comparatively intact wildlife populations, relatively few introduced (potentially invasive) species, and habitat that provides an important refuge for a number of species of national conservation concern, the ecozone+ represents a significant store of Canada’s native biodiversity. The land and its resources are also vital to the traditional lifestyles and financial well-being of the largely Aboriginal and mostly coastal communities in the region. Some significant protected areas have been established to protect the ecozone+ ’s flora and fauna. Recreational opportunities and economic benefits come from fishing and hunting and a currently limited amount of tourism, principally at Churchill and Moosonee-Moose Factory.

The high probability of continuing resource development, while likely to bring additional jobs to the wage economy, is a concern for the ecozone+ ’s biodiversity. However, ample opportunity still exists in this ecozone+ to conduct land use and conservation planning in advance of major development, including the careful planning of roads and other infrastructure from which more human access, use, and development inevitably follows.

Modelling projects that warming associated with climate change will be amplified in the Hudson Bay region relative to other regions in Canada and it will irreversibly change the ecosystems around it. A changing climate is already threatening some of the more vulnerable sea-ice associated species. Rapid warming may also have potentially serious implications for carbon storage in the ecozone+ ’s vast peatlands. Loss of this important store of carbon could significantly affect the Earth’s climate system and biodiversity. Local Aboriginal communities will be forced to adapt to the changed climate and altered ecosystem because their culture and traditional and wage-based economies have been shaped by the local environment and are still tied very closely to the land, and because they mostly live near the coast where increased storm surges (inundation) and wave action are anticipated as waters in Hudson and James bays become increasingly open (ice-free).

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