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Prairies Ecozone+ Evidence for Key Findings Summary

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Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010

Evidence for Key Findings Summary Report No. 4
Published by the Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers

Document Information

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Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Prairies Ecozone+ evidence for key findings summary.

Issued also in French under title:
Sommaire des éléments probants relativement aux constatations clés pour l'écozone+ des Prairies.
Electronic monograph in PDF format.
Cat. no.: En14-43/0-4-2014E-PDF
ISBN: 978-1-100-23608-7

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Cover photos: Prairie wheat field, © istockphoto.com / tbob; Prairie potholes, © Ducks Unlimited Canada.

This report should be cited as:
ESTR Secretariat. 2014. Prairies Ecozone+ evidence for key findings summary. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Evidence for Key Findings Summary Report No. 4. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. ix + 115 p.

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2014
Aussi disponible en français

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Preface

The Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers developed a Biodiversity Outcomes Framew orkFootnote1 in 2006 to focus conservation and restoration actions under the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy.Footnote2 Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010Footnote3 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 Ecozones+ Status and Trends Assessment Report Series). More than 500 experts participated in data analysis, writing, and review of these foundation documents. Summary reports were also prepared for each terrestrial ecozones+ to present the ecozones+-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).

2010 Ecosystem Status and Trends Report (ESTR)
Report

This report, Prairies Ecozones+ Evidence for Key Findings Summary, presents evidence from the Prairies Ecozones+ Status and Trends AssessmentFootnote4 related to the 22 national key findings and highlights important trends specific to this ecozones+. It is not a comprehensive assessment of all ecosystem-related information. The level of detail presented on each key finding varies and important issues or datasets may have been missed. Although this is intended to be a comprehensive analysis, some issues may require further exploration. Some emphasis has been 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.

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Ecological Classification System – Ecozones+

A slightly modified version of the Terrestrial Ecozones of Canada, described in the National Ecological Framework for Canada,Footnote5 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.Footnote6 The boundary for the Prairies is the same in both frameworks.

Ecological Classification System - Ecozones+
Map
Long description for Ecological Classification System – Ecozones+

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; Prairies; 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).

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Acknowledgements

The ESTR Secretariat acknowledges Trish Hayes, Melanie Dubois (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), and Jeff Thorpe (Saskachewan Research Council) for the preparation of various drafts of the report. This report was overseen and edited by Trish Hayes and Patrick Lilley. Kelly Badger was the lead graphics designer. Additional support was provided by Jodi Frisk, Ellorie McKnight, Michelle Connolly, and others. It is based on the draft Prairies Ecozone+ Status and Trends Assessment.4 Other experts made significant contributions to that draft report and are listed below. Reviews were provided by scientists and resource managers from relevant provincial/territorial and federal government agencies. The Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution also coordinated reviews with external experts.

Prairies Ecozone+ Draft Status and Trends Assessment acknowledgements

Lead authors:
J. Thorpe and B. Godwin

Contributing authors:
T. Hayes, M. Dubois, J. Frisk

Contributing authors, specific sections or topics:
Wetlands: J. DeVries
Grassland birds: B. Dale
Ecosystem services case studies: S. Hay
Climate change: N. Henderson
Stewardship/Restoration/Conservation: J. Karst, S. Michalsky

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. Mekis
Wildlife pathogens and diseases in Canada: F.A. Leighton
Trends in breeding waterfowl in Canada: M. Fast, B. Collins and M. Gendron
Landbird trends in Canada, 1968-2006: C. Downes, P. Blancher and B. Collins
Trends in Canadian shorebirds: C. Gratto-Trevor, R.I.G. Morrison, B. Collins, J. Rausch and V. Johnston
Trends in wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in Canada, 1986-2006: S.K. Javorek and M.C. Grant
Trends in residual soil nitrogen for agricultural land in Canada, 1981-2006: C.F. Drury, J.Y. Yang and R. De Jong
Soil erosion on cropland: introduction and trends for Canada: B.G. McConkey, D.A. Lobb, S. Li, J.M.W. Black and P.M. Krug
Monitoring biodiversity remotely: a selection of trends measured from satellite observations of Canada: F. Ahern, J. Frisk, R. Latifovic and D. Pouliot
Inland colonial waterbird and marsh bird trends for Canada: D.V.C. Weseloh
Climate-driven trends in Canadian streamflow, 1961-2003: A. Cannon, T. Lai and P. Whitfield
Biodiversity in Canadian lakes and rivers: W.A. Monk and D.J. Baird

Review conducted by scientists and renewable resource and wildlife managers from provincial and federal government agencies through a review process administered by the ESTR Steering Committee. Additional reviews of specific sections were conducted by external experts in their field of expertise.

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

Editing, synthesis, technical contributions, maps and graphics, and report production by the ESTR Secretariat of Environment Canada.

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

Figure 1. Overview map of the Prairies Ecozone+
Map
Long description for Figure 1.

This map of the Prairies Ecozone+ shows the location of cities/towns and bodies of water which are referred to within this report. This ecozone+ encompasses southeastern Alberta, the southern half of Saskatchewan, and southwestern Manitoba. The ecozone+'s southern boundary is defined by the Canada–U.S. border. In Alberta, Edmonton is the northernmost city encompassed by the ecozone+ and is located in its northwestern corner. The cities of Red Deer and Calgary are located just within the ecozone+'s western edge. The southeastern part of the ecozone+ includes the Cypress Hills and the cities of Brooks, Medicine Hat, and Lethbridge. In Saskatchewan, the northern boundary of the ecozone+ runs just north of the Saskatchewan River and the cities of Lloydminster, North Battleford, Saskatoon and Yorkton. Swift Current, Moose Jaw, and Regina are also found in the Saskatchewan portion of the ecozone+. In Manitoba, the ecozone+ boundary encompasses Lake Manitoba, the Assiniboine River, the Red River, Delta Marsh, and the cities of Portage la Prairie, Winnipeg, and Brandon, all located south of Lake Manitoba. Winnipeg is located within the eastern edge of the ecozone+, but Lakes Winnipegosis and Winnipeg are located north of the ecozone+'s northern boundary.

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Footnotes

Footnote 1

Environment Canada. 2006. Biodiversity outcomes framework for Canada. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. 8 p.

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Footnote 2

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.

Return to footnote 2

Footnote 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.

Return to footnote 3

Footnote 4

Thorpe, J. and B.Godwin. 2013. Prairies Ecozone+ status and trends assessment. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Ecozone+ Report. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Draft report.

Return to footnote 4

Footnote 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. vii + 125 p. 

Return to footnote 5

Footnote 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.

Return to footnote 6

Return to Table of Contents

Ecozone+ Basics

The Prairies Ecozone+, shown in Figure 1 and described in Table 1, is characterized by a semi-arid to sub-humid climate supporting vast, temperate grasslands. Most of the Ecozone+ was glaciated and consequently much of the land surface is made up of glacial deposits of varying thicknesses. The predominant land use is agriculture (Figure 2), of which the primary use is cultivation of annual crops, with areas of remaining native and tame grasslands used for livestock grazing and hayland. Small areas of forest remain, mainly in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion. The Prairies are known for the many wetlands, or potholes, across the landscape. Figure 3 shows the seven ecoregions that comprise the Ecozone+.

Table 1. Prairies Ecozone+overview.
Area465,094 km2 (4.7% of Canada)
TopographyModest relief, from 200 m above sea level in the east to 1,200 m in the west.
Exceptions are the Cypress Hills on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border which rise almost 1,500 m above sea level and the Rocky Mountain foothills reaching 1,700 m above sea level. Part of the Great Plains.
ClimateVariable, with cool to very cold winters (average of -6 to -17oC), and warm, moist summers (average of 15 to 19oC).
Precipitation varies from less than 280 mm/yr in the dry core area to 540 mm/yr in the east, with high number of cloud-free days.
River basinsFalls within 14 sub-drainages of the Nelson River Drainage and a small part of the Mississippi River Drainage.
Major rivers include the North and South Saskatchewan, Bow, Red and Assiniboine.
GeologyDeposition directly from glacial ice creating rolling landscapes of medium-textured glacial till, with meltwater streams depositing sandy plains, and glacial lakes resulting in beds of clay soil.
Underlain by horizontally bedded sandstones and shales of Tertiary and Cretaceous age, with some Paleozoic limestone in the east.
SettlementTraditional territories for over a dozen Aboriginal groups.
European influence began with the fur trade in the 18th century, agricultural settlement beginning in the 19th century.
Major cities include Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Brandon, and many other growing urban centres.
EconomyAgriculture, oil, natural gas, coal, and resource extraction such as potash.
Development83 large dams, primarily for irrigation.
Dense network of roads, both urban and rural; extensive network of drainage works in the east.
Extensive oil and gas development in some areas.
Potash and coal mining in some areas.
National/global significanceTwo national parks: Elk Island and Grasslands.
One biosphere reserve: Redberry Lake (SK).
Five Ramsar sites (wetlands of international significance): Beaverhill Lake, Quill Lakes, Last Mountain Lake, Delta Marsh, and Oak Hammocks Marsh.
Four Western Hemisphere Shorebird Network Reserve sites: Quill Lakes, Chaplin-Old Wives-Reed Lakes, Beaverhill Lake, and Last Mountain Lake.
Two World Heritage sites: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (Aboriginal hunting) and Dinosaur Provincial Park (dinosaur fossils).
Northernmost extension of Great Plains of North America and largest area of grassland in Canada.
Most altered of all the ecozones+ in Canada as a result of widespread conversion of natural grasslands to agriculture.
Remaining remnant grasslands support a unique assemblage of prairie species, including several species at risk.
Figure 2: Land cover of the Prairies Ecozone+, 2005
Graph
Source: Ahern et al., 2011Footnote7using data from Latifovic and Pouliot, 2005Footnote8
Long description for Figure 2:

This graphic presents a map and a stacked bar graph of the land cover of the Prairies Ecozone+ in 2005. The predominant land cover was agricultural land (88%), evenly distributed throughout the ecozone+. Grassland comprised 10% of the land cover and was located primarily in two large areas in the west-central and south-central parts of the ecozone+ along the Alberta–Saskatchewan border, although there were small patches of grassland scattered throughout. Both forest and shrubland each covered 1% of the ecozone+, scattered throughout but often found clustered together, and with larger areas found mostly in the southeastern part of the ecozone+.

Figure 3: Ecoregions of the Prairies Ecozone+.
Graph
Source: Ecological Stratification Working Group, 1995Footnote5
Long description for Figure 3:

This map shows the eight different ecoregions that make up the Prairies Ecozone+. The Cypress Uplands Ecoregion is the smallest ecoregion in the ecozone+ and encompasses the Cypress Hills area straddling the southern Alberta–Saskatchewan border. The Mixed Grassland Ecoregion surrounds the Cypress Uplands Ecoregion and includes Alberta's southeast corner and Saskatchewan's southwest corner south to the Canada-U.S. border. The Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion extends out from and surrounds the Mixed Grassland Ecoregion, forming a border around it. The Aspen Parkland Ecoregion extends out from and surrounds the Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion, forming much of the ecozone+'s western and northern boundaries and extending as far east as Manitoba. The Fescue Grassland Ecoregion is a small ecoregion located in southern Alberta, forming part of the ecozone+'s southwestern boundary and extending about halfway up the latitude of the ecozone+. The Lake Manitoba Plain Ecoregion is found entirely in Manitoba and encompasses Lake Manitoba and the Red River.  It forms the eastern boundary of the ecozone+. The Aspen Parkland and Southwest Manitoba Uplands ecoregions are very small ecoregions also located in Manitoba. The Aspen Parkland Ecoregion is located immediately west of Lake Manitoba and makes up a small section of the ecozone+'s northeastern boundary, while the Southwest Manitoba Uplands Ecoregion encompasses two small and roughly equally-sized patches, one of which is located on the Canada–U.S. border in southwestern Manitoba, and the other which is located equidistant between Brandon and Winnipeg.

One of the most striking facts about the Prairies Ecozone+ is the extent of landscape alteration and the speed with which it was altered. Natural vegetation, which covered essentially all of the ecozone+ in the late 19th century, was reduced to about 30% (and much less in some areas) by the late 20th century, largely due to the conversion of natural grassland to agriculture. Conversion appears to have levelled off in the last few decades but threats from growing cities, residential and industrial development, drainage projects, and agriculture continue. Remaining areas are becoming increasingly fragmented by cultivated fields, roads, and energy developments.
Most of the natural biodiversity of the ecozone+ is embedded in and supported by the natural vegetation.

Jurisdictions: The Prairies Ecozone+includes the southeast portion of Alberta (AB), the southern portion of Saskatchewan (SK), and the southwest portion of Manitoba (MB).

Population: The population of the Prairies Ecozone+ has been steadily increasing and reached 4.5 million in 2006 (figure 4). It has shifted from being predominately rural to predominately urban.

Figure 4: Human population in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1971–2006.
Graph
Source: Environment Canada, 2009Footnote9
Long description for Figure 4:

This bar graph shows the following information:

YearPopulation
19712,917,475
19763,122,528
19813,499,494
19863,681,926
19913,850,268
19963,979,522
20014,222,569
20064,514,106

 

Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
© istockphoto.com / 4loops
Grasslands National Park
Canola field, Manitoba
© istockphoto.com / graphicjackson
Canola Field
Example of closed-basin lakes
in southern Saskatchewan
© dreamstime.com / A. Nantel
Lakes

Northern Pintail
© istockphoto.com / J. Lugo (lugo)
Pintail

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Footnotes

Footnote 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. vii + 125 p. 

Return to footnote 5

Footnote 7

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.

Return to footnote 7

Footnote 8

Latifovic, R. and Pouliot, D. 2005. Multitemporal land cover mapping for Canada: methodology and products. Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing 31:347-363.

Return to footnote 8

Footnote 9

Environment Canada. 2009. Unpublished analysis of population data by ecozone+ from: Statistics Canada Human Activity and the Environment Series, 1971-2006. Community profile data was used to make adjustments due to differences in the ecozone/ecozone+ boundary.

Return to footnote 9

Return to Table of Contents

Key Findings at a Glance: National and Ecozone+ Level

National and Ecozone+ Level

Table 2 presents the national key findings from Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010Footnote3 together with a summary of the corresponding trends in the Prairies Ecozone+. Topic numbers refer to the national key findings in Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010. Topics that are greyed out were identified as key findings at a national level but were either not relevant or not assessed for this ecozone+ and do not appear in the body of this document. Evidence for the statements that appear in this table is found in the subsequent text organized by key finding. For many topics, additional supporting information can also be found in the full Prairies Ecozone+ Status and Trends Assessment.Footnote4 See the Preface on page i.

Table 2. Key findings overview

2.1 Theme : Biomes
Themes and topicsKey findings: NationalKey findings: Prairies Ecozone+
1. 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.Forests cover a small proportion of the Prairies Ecozone+ (1–5%). Between European settlement and the 1960s, tree cover expanded into grasslands in many parts of the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion, due in part to changes in the fire regime. Nevertheless, no changes in vegetation zones were detected. Between 1941 and 1981, tree cover in agricultural areas declined from 10 to 3%. From 1985 to 2001, there was a further 6% decline in naturally treed habitat but a 3% increase in tall shrubs. Variability in the growth rates of trees has been attributed to drought years and outbreaks of forest tent caterpillars.
2. 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.Native grasslands cover less than 25% of the Prairies Ecozone+. An estimated 70% of native vegetation (mostly grasslands) was lost prior to the 1990s. Losses have slowed but not stopped; in some areas, 10% of remaining native grasslands were lost between 1985 and 2001. About 8% of the native rangelands and tame pastures assessed in Alberta and Saskatchewan were considered "unhealthy" as a result of overgrazing and invasion by non-native plants. Grassland birds declined by 35% as a group from the 1970s to 2000s with declines of greater than 60% for several species.
3. 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.Wetlands cover 3% or less of the Prairies Ecozone+. Estimates of historic wetland loss varied from 40 to 71%, depending on the region. At the ecozone scale+, 6% of wetland basins were lost between 1985 and 2001. Wetland drainage and filling remains an ongoing ecological stress, with impacts to continental waterfowl populations.
4. 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.Water availability is an important driver and issue in this ecozone+, with potential impacts to crop production, rangeland productivity, and wetland conditions for waterfowl. Between the 1940s and 2005, spring melt shifted earlier and seasonal (March–October) runoff volume and peak flows decreased. Average flow declined in several Prairie rivers over the past 50 to 100 years. Water levels in closed-basin lakes declined by four to ten metres from the 1920s to 2006. Construction of large dams peaked between the 1950s and 1970s and fragmentation of river and lake systems continues through small drainage and water control projects.
5. 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.Not relevant
6. 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.Not relevant
7. 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.Lake and river ice break up has become earlier on particular lakes and rivers. Data on ice in the Prairies Ecozone+, however, was limited.
DunesFootnotea1Dunes are a unique biome with a very limited distribution in Canada. As a result, information on dunes was not identified as a nationally recurring key finding nor was it included in one of the other key findings in the national report.3 However, because of their significance to biodiversity in the Prairies Ecozone+, information on dunes is included as a separate ecozone+-specific key finding in this report.Active (unstablized) sand dune habitat declined from 1944 to 1991, although losses varied widely across the landscape. At least five species at risk are threatened by alteration of dune habitat.
2.2 Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions
Themes and topicsKey findings: NationalKey findings: Prairies Ecozone+
8. 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.Total area protected increased from between 0.4 and 3.8% in 1992 to 4.5% in 2009. This included 1.2% of the ecozone+ in protected areas classified as IUCN categories I-IV, areas protected for natural and cultural conservation rather than sustainable use by established cultural tradition.
9. 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.Stewardship programs and initiatives, particularly those aimed at farmers and ranchers, grew rapidly in the 1990s and 2000s. The National Environmental Farm Plan Initiative and Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk have helped to encourage stewardship activities on private lands. In 2007, approximately 90% of the land under conservation easements in Canada was in the Prairies Ecozone+. Under the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture, winter wheat seeding, which reduces disturbance and provides cover for early-nesting waterfowl species, increased over 600% from 1992 to 2007.
Ecosystem conversionFootnotea1Ecosystem conversion was initially identified as a nationally recurring key finding and information was subsequently compiled and assessed for the Prairies Ecozone+. In the final version of the national report,Footnote3 information related to ecosystem conversion was incorporated into other key findings. This information is maintained as a separate key finding for the Prairies Ecozone+.Approximately 70% of the ecozone+ has been converted, mainly due to agriculture since European settlement. Wetlands, grasslands, and treed habitats all declined between 1985 and 2001.
The landscape is highly fragmented and most remaining natural habitat fragments are less than 10 ha in size. Roads and infrastructure associated with energy development continue to increase fragmentation of the landscape.
10. 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.Both numbers of invasive species and their geographic extent have increased. Native grasslands have been particularly altered by invasive non-native plants, with up to 95% non-native biomass in some areas. Non-native grasses and forbs have reduced native grassland diversity and cover and altered habitat for birds and species at risk. Aquatic ecosystems are also seriously threatened by invasive non-native fish, invertebrates, and plants.
11. 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.Herbicides use on agricultural land and the area treated increased rapidly from 1971 to 2006. Measurable pesticide residue was found in 92% of sampled wetlands in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion in 2002. No data on contaminants in wildlife is included at this time.
12. 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.Eutrophication in lakes and rivers accelerated in the 20th century due to increased phosphorus and nitrogen inputs. Risk of residual soil nitrogen on agricultural land, however, remains the lowest in Canada and phosphorous levels in some rivers declined in response to improved sewage treatment.
13. 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+
14. 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.From 1950 to 2007, spring temperature increased by 2.3°C and winter precipitation decreased by 18%. The number of days with snow cover decreased by 16 days. The growing season ended 6 days earlier and trembling aspen flowered 26 days earlier between 1901 and 1997. Some migratory bird species have shown earlier arrival dates of between 0.6 and 2.6 days per degree temperature increase.
15. 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.Ecosystem services in the Prairies include water, crop pollination, and nutrient cycling which are necessary for food production and potable water. Important provisioning services include traditional food, fish, and wildlife. The majority of primary productivity is now being used for crop production, impairing the ability of ecosystems to deliver some of these services. Ecosystem services have not been systematically quantified for their economic value, although natural capital in the Upper Assiniboine River Basin was valued in 2004.
2.3 Theme: Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Processes
Themes and topicsKey findings: NationalKey findings: Prairies Ecozone+
16. 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.In 1986, 1996, and 2006, wildlife habitat capacity was low or very low on over 80% of the agricultural landscape (which covers 93% of the ecozone+). From 1986 to 2006, wildlife habitat capacity on the agricultural landscape was constant on 92% of agricultural land, increased on 5%, and decreased on 3%. The dominance of cultivated land and the relatively small proportion of higher value habitat types was the primary reason for the low overall habitat capacity.
17. Species of special economic, cultural, or ecological interestMany 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.Historic land conversion and human persecution has resulted in declines of many species including birds, freshwater fish, ungulates, and other mammals. Some species, including pronghorn, moose, and several raptors have recovered. Significant declines in grassland and open habitat birds and shorebirds have continued since the 1970s. In constrast, populations of some birds (e.g., Canada geese) have increased rapidly over the same period. Range shifts have been found for some ungulates as a result of changes in competition, tree cover, and hunting pressure.
18. 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.From 1985–2006, primary productivity, as measured by the Normal Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), increased for 157,491 km2 (35.1%) and decreased for 1,116 km2 (0.2%; in southeastern Alberta) of the Prairies. NDVI in this ecozone+ is affected by precipitation and land cover change, thus the increasing trend is complicated by drought years and the large proportion of land area in cropland in which changes in cropping practices affect index and trend.
19. Natural disturbanceThe 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.Historically, the main agents of natural disturbance were fire, drought, heavy grazing, and insect infestations. Fire suppression and human-caused changes to the landscape resulted in a decline in fire leading to woody invasion of some grasslands. However, grassland productivity may have increased as a result. Outbreaks of two major insects, grasshoppers and forest tent caterpillar, were tied to warm, dry summers. Defoliation due to forest tent caterpillar increased in the 1980s and 1990s compared to the 1940s to 1970s.
20. 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.Patchy, variable grazing by free-roaming bison herds has been replaced by more uniform grazing by confined bison herds and domestic livestock. Large predators such as grey wolf and grizzly bear were nearly eliminated leading to an increase in mesopredators, such as coyotes.
Wildlife diseases and parasitesFootnotea1Wildlife diseases and parasites was initially identified as a nationally recurring key finding and information was subsequently compiled and assessed for the Prairies Ecozone+. In the final version of the national report,Footnote3information related to wildlife diseases and parasites was incorporated into other key findings. This information is maintained as a separate key finding for the Prairies Ecozone+.A wide variety of diseases affect wildlife including waterfowl, cervids, rodents, carnivores, and amphibians. Chronic Wasting Disease is a serious threat to wild deer, elk and moose, and has also caused financial losses to game-farm operations. Type-C Botulism is a disease of waterfowl, especially ducks, which favours alkaline wetlands and dry summers. Dutch Elm Disease threatens the wild elm populations in the eastern part of the Prairies Ecozone+, as well as planted elms in most cities.
2.4 Theme: Science/Policy Interface
Themes and topicsKey findings: NationalKey findings: Prairies Ecozone+
21. 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.Biodiversity monitoring and research vary among provinces. Alberta has field monitoring programs for species diversity and rangeland productivity, but comparable programs are lacking in the other provinces. All provinces have targeted surveys for species of special interest and all provinces have Conservation Data Centres that list plant and animal species and maintain data on their occurrences.
22. Rapid change 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.Climate change is predicted to lead to increased frequency of drought years, with major implications for agriculture, grassland productivity, and wetlands.
Note of Table 2

This key finding is not numbered because it does not correspond to a key finding in the national report.Footnote3

Return to notea1 referrer of table 2

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Footnotes

Footnote 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.

Return to footnote 3

Footnote 4

Thorpe, J. and B.Godwin. 2013. Prairies Ecozone+ status and trends assessment. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Ecozone+ Report. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Draft report.

Return to footnote 4

Return to Table of Contents

Theme: Biomes

Forests

Key finding 1
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.

Woodlands make up a small percentage of the land cover in the Prairies Ecozone+, mainly in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion and other moister ecoregions. Woody cover has increased within areas of natural vegetation, but has decreased overall. Compared to other ecozone+ in Canada, the Prairies have only a small amount of forest cover. The Canadian National Forest Inventory found that forests comprised approximately 195 km2 (4.2%) of the area of the Prairies Ecozone+ in 2001. Based on 2005 remote sensing data, Ahern et al.Footnote7 estimated forest cover in the Prairies Ecozone+ at approximately 0.9%. Differences between the two estimates reflect different methodologies and definitions of forest rather than a change in the area of forest in the ecozone+ (The Canadian National Forest InventoryFootnote10 Footnote11 used inventory data from provincial, territorial, and other forest management agencies as well as remote sensing data to estimate forest cover. In contrast, Ahern et al.Footnote7 (Figure 2) is based solely on remote sensing data (and defines Forest as areas with tree crown density >10%)).

Tree cover has expanded into grasslands in many parts of the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion between settlement and the 1960s.Footnote12 Footnote13 Footnote14 Footnote15 This expansion has usually been attributed to the reduction in fire frequency since European settlement,Footnote16 Footnote17 although some authors have linked it to the extirpation of bisonFootnote14 (Bison bison) and to nitrogen deposition.Footnote18 Tree cover expansion, primarily stands of trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), has sometimes been interpreted as indicating southward shifts in vegetation zones since European settlement (e.g., the shift of Aspen Parkland into areas that were formerly continuous grassland).Footnote19 Thorpe,Footnote20 however, reviewed historical sources from the 19th century and found that many of these sources clearly described parkland vegetation in places that now fall within the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion. For example, a map produced by the Palliser Expedition (1857–1860) shows the transition from the partially wooded "fertile belt" to the treeless "true prairie" near the same position as the southern edge of the Aspen Parkland on modern maps.Footnote21 ZoltaiFootnote22 also concluded that the boundary between Boreal Forest and Aspen Parkland ecoregions has not shifted, based on range limits and ages of boreal conifers and peatlands. The key difference is that before European settlement, recurrent fires kept the aspen groves smaller in area and shorter in stature than at present.

While expansion of tree cover has been documented within areas of natural vegetation, tree cover has undoubtedly been lost in areas converted to cropland. Based on Census of Agriculture data for a portion of the Aspen Parkland, CouplandFootnote23 showed that the percentage of woodland decreased from 10% in 1941 to 3% in 1981. Watmough and SchmollFootnote24 found a 6% decline in naturally treed habitats from 1985-2001 on 153 transects widely distributed across the ecozone+ (although more weighted towards more settled parts of the Prairies). Declines ranging from 1 to 12% were found in five ecoregions (Boreal Transition, Cypress Upland, Lake Manitoba Plain, Southwest Manitoba Uplands, and Interlake Plain) while increases were found in the other three ecoregions ranging from 13 to 18% (Southwest Manitoba Uplands, Cypress Upland, and Fescue Grassland). Tall shrub habitat increased by 3% overall, however, this was the result of regrowth of woody cover in wetland-upland transition areas and in cut blocks in the Aspen Parkland.Footnote24

HoggFootnote25 Footnote26 showed that most of the variability in aspen growth between 1951 and 2002 could be attributed to climate variation (occurrence of drought years) and outbreaks of the forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria).
Climate change is predicted to result in increasing aridity that will cause expansion of the grasslands and a reduction in extent of Aspen Parkland vegetation. If the aridity results in increased fire frequency, this will also result in reductions to aspen grove area and extent (see Climate change key finding on page 52).

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Grasslands

Key finding 2
Theme: Biomes

National key finding
Native 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.

Extent

Grasslands covered most of the Prairies Ecozone+ under natural conditions, and have decreased greatly since European settlement.

Based on an analysis of remote sensing data from Riley et al.,Footnote27 an estimated 70% of the natural vegetation on the Canadian Prairies was lost prior to the 1990sFootnote27 (see Ecosystem conversion key finding on page 39). Much of this would have been native grasslands and most of the loss occurred prior to the 1980s.Footnote27 In the mid-1990s, a study of land cover by Agriculture and Agri-food CanadaFootnote28 based on satellite imagery found that native grasslands comprised 23% of the landscape while Riley et al.Footnote27 found that native grasslands covered 25% of the ecozone+.Footnote27 While the data from both studies have sources of error, there is strong agreement between their results

Figure 5 shows the conversion of rangeland to cultivated land for selected areas of farmland in Alberta and Saskatchewan from 1941 to 2006 (excluding protected areas). Most of the native grassland in the Prairies Ecozone+ is "mixed prairie" with communities a mixture of mid-sized grasses and short grasses. The second broad type of grassland is "fescue prairie" which is much more restricted in area and of relatively greater conservation concern. Conversions were highest from the 1940s to 1970s. Losses were relatively more severe for fescue prairie compared to mixed prairie, and in Saskatchewan compared to Alberta.

Figure 5. Trends in rangeland as a percentage of total farmland for parts of the Prairies Ecozone+, 1941–2006.
graph
Source: Coupland, 1987Footnote23 for 1941–1981 data, Statistics Canada, 2003Footnote29 for 2001 data, and Statistics Canada, 2008Footnote30 for 2006 data.
Long description for Figure 5

This line graph shows the following information:

Percentage
YearMixed prairie(AB)Fescue prairie(AB)Mixed prairie(SK)Fescue prairie(SK)
1941--4240
1946--4239
1951--4133
195653404031
196152423931
196651393731
197151373630
197649363629
198141313125
1986----
1991----
1996----
200144293020
200643283120

No value indicates not significant

For the Prairies Ecozone+ as a whole, the loss of rangeland has levelled off in recent decades (Figure 6), with the percentage of rangeland declining from 27 to 24% from 1971 to 1986, and changing only slightly after that.

Figure 6. Trend in rangeland as a percentage of total farmland in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1971–2006.
graph
Source: adapted from Statistics Canada, 2008Footnote30
Long description for Figure 6

This line graph shows the following information:

Percentage of total farmland
19711976198119861991199620012006
7%-26%24%24%23%24%24%

However, in some parts of the Prairies Ecozone+, losses have continued. Along 153 sampling transects that were weighted to the more settled parts of the Prairies, Watmough and SchmollFootnote24 found an overall 10% loss of native grasslands from 1985 to 2001. Area lost was greatest in the Aspen Parkland (15%), Fescue Grassland (13%), and Boreal Transition (13%) ecoregions (Figure 7). Most losses were remnant fragments on field margins (mean size was 2 ha; largest fragment lost was 64 ha). Forty-eight percent of the losses were to tame grass, 37% to annual crops, 10% to built cover (roads, houses, etc.), 4% to tree or shrub, and 1% to artificial water developments.Footnote24

Figure 7. Percent change of native grasslands by ecoregion in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1985–2001.
graph
Source: Watmough and Schmoll, 2007Footnote24
Long description for Figure 7

This bar graph shows the following information:

Figure 7. Percent change of native grasslands by ecoregion in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1985–2001.
EcoregionPercentage
Boreal transition-13
Aspen parkland-15
Moist mixed grasslands-8
Mixed Grasslands-7
Fescue Grasslands-13
Cypress Upland-5
Lake Manitoba Plain-6
Southwest Manitoba Uplands-12
Overall-10

Large areas of intact grasslands remain in some agricultural areas that are used for grazing. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, through its Community Pasture Program, has managed 9,390 km2 of community pastures across the three Prairie provinces, 7,920 km2 (84%) of which are in native vegetation. Originally created in the 1930s to reclaim land that was badly eroded by drought, the program has returned over 145,000 ha of poor-quality cultivated lands to grass cover.Footnote31 Saskatchewan also has 2,260 km2 of existing provincial community pastures and Manitoba has 640 km2 of pasture conservation lands.Footnote32 Alberta has provincial grazing reserves totalling 1,260 km2.Footnote33 While the primary use of these areas is to provide livestock grazing, many of them are located in the remaining areas of native vegetation and their management practices emphasize conservation. Starting in 2012, the federal Community Pasture Program is being phased out with management of pastures in the program returned to the provinces over a six-year period.Footnote31

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Tallgrass prairie

A small but unique area of grassland is the tallgrass prairie, which occurs mostly in the United States (U.S.) but extends into Canada in the Lake Manitoba Plain Ecoregion (Figure 3). It is North America's most endangered grassland type. Tallgrass prairie provides habitat for a number of distinctive animals and plants including two endangered orchids--western prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara) and small white lady's slipper (Cypripedium candidum)--and a threatened butterfly--Poweshiek skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek).Footnote34 Footnote35 Tallgrass prairie had been reduced to less than 1% of its original range in Manitoba by 1989. Footnote36 Koper et al.Footnote37 surveyed 65 remnant tallgrass prairie patches in 2007 and 2008 that had been previously surveyed in 1997 and 1998. They found that most patches, especially smaller ones, declined in quality. Furthermore, richness of native plants was negatively corrected with the cover and richness of non-native species. Also, 14% of prairie patches were so severely degraded by non-native species that they could no longer be recognized as tallgrass prairie. Footnote37 Most remnant patches are unlikely to be sustained without active management.

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Rangeland condition

Natural disturbance regimes that historically maintained grasslands are highly altered in the Prairies Ecozone+ (see Natural disturbance key finding on page 82), particularly from the suppression of fire and replacement of free-ranging bison with confined cattle. Historically, the Prairies were part of the plains bison's range,Footnote38 and bison grazing was a significant driver of grassland composition and structure, maintaining short-grass prairie in areas climatically suitable for taller growth.Footnote39 Bison impact was spatially and temporally patchy, with intense damage in some areas and years, and less in others, creating a mosaic of habitats.Footnote39 Wild bison were extirpated by about 1870.Footnote14 Bison grazing has been replaced by domestic livestock grazing, mainly by beef cattle (Bos taurus).. Although bison have certain advantages over cattle for open-range grazing,Footnote38 Plumb and DoddFootnote40 argued that the biggest difference between bison and cattle impacts is that bison were free-roaming but cattle are confined in pastures and moved throughout the year to achieve a uniform level of grazing across the landscape. In confined pastures, both animals have similar impacts. Truett et al.Footnote39 argued that the patchy impact that occurred under historic bison grazing was better for prairie biodiversity than the uniform utilization sought by modern range managers and recommended recreating the earlier type of grazing regime for conservation purposes.

Grazing affects grassland biodiversity, but the relationship between the two is complex. Plant species diversity is usually higher in grazed grasslands compared to ungrazed grasslands, and may be highest at intermediate levels of range condition.Footnote41 Footnote42 Footnote43 McCanny et al.Footnote44 examined diversity of plants, songbirds, and large insects at Grasslands National Park and found that some species occur in grazed habitats and others in ungrazed ones. Similarly, in a review of Great Plains grasslands in the U.S., Bock et al.Footnote45 found that nine species of birds respond positively to grazing and eight respond negatively. These results suggest that maximizing regional biodiversity requires the presence of a wide range of grazing intensities, while the least desirable situation is uniform grazing management.

Using data on species composition to indicate change, ThorpeFootnote46 found that most Saskatchewan rangelands were similar to their potential composition or only moderately altered (Figure 8). However, 12% of plots overall were significantly or severely altered, mainly due to overgrazing and invasion by non-native plants. Rangelands were more altered in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion than in the Mixed Grassland Ecoregion, because of higher levels of non-native invasion in the Aspen Parkland, and more conservative grazing management in the Mixed Grassland.

Figure 8. Degree of alteration of Saskatchewan grasslands from their potential composition as a result of grazing and non-native invasion (percentage of plots surveyed between 1980 and 2006).
Graph
Source: Thorpe, 2007Footnote46
Long description for Figure 8

This bar graph presents the degree of alteration of Saskatchewan grasslands from their potential composition as a result of grazing and invasion by non-native plants. The graph shows that approximately 52% of grasslands were similar to their potential composition or only minorly altered, approximately 35% of grasslands were moderately altered, and approximately 11% of grasslands were significantly/severely altered.

Health assessments for native rangelands and tame pastures in SaskatchewanFootnote47 and AlbertaFootnote33 showed similar results. About 8% of rangelands were "unhealthy", while another 43% were "healthy with problems", indicating early warning signs of a negative trend (Figure 9). Native rangelands had similar results to tame pasture. The results for Saskatchewan were similar for all ecoregions, whereas the results for Alberta indicated a lower proportion of healthy scores in the Aspen Parkland and Foothill Fescue ecoregions. Factors affecting range health include grazing intensity and invasion of non-native species.

Figure 9. Percentage of native rangeland and tame pasture plots in each health category for Alberta and Saskatchewan, 2008.
Graph
Source: adapted from Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, 2008Footnote33(Alberta) and Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, 2008Footnote47 (Saskatchewan)
Long description for Figure 9

This stacked bar graph shows the following information:

Percentage
-HealthyHealthy with problemsUnhealthy
Native (AB)50428
Native (SK)29619
Tame pasture (AB)53398
Tame pasture (SK)38539

As discussed under the Species of special economic, cultural, or ecological interest key finding on page 70, elk and moose populations are expanding as grassland areas experience woody vegetation expansion and reduction in hunter numbers.

Grassland birds

Loss of native grasslands affects grassland birds. Current landbird populations are also affected by habitat degradation caused by the intensification of grazing, expansion of woody cover due to fire suppression, continued fragmentation, and invasion of invasive non-native plants (see page 43).Footnote48 There was an overall loss of 35% of grassland bird populations from the 1970s to 2000s.Footnote49 (Figure 10) with several species showing declines of greater than 60%. Some species, however, also increased (Table 3). Some of the birds showing long-term declines--horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), McCown's longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii), and upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda)--did not decline on recent (1996 to 2006) survey routes that have more than 50% grassland, but did decline on routes with less grassland. Habitat loss or fragmentation may be a major factor for these species as they are still doing well where habitat is common and in large blocks. Other species (e.g., Sprague's pipit) are showing greater declines where grassland is common, which may reflect decreased habitat quality.Footnote49

Figure 10. Annual indices of population change in grassland birds in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1969–2006.
Graph
Source: Downes et al., 2011Footnote49 using data from the Breeding Bird SurveyFootnote50
Long description for Figure 10

This line graph shows the following information:

YearAbundance index
1969269.9
1970237.6
1971239.1
1972241.6
1973259.5
1974253.2
1975244.2
1976260.8
1977221.4
1978221.3
1979212.3
1980238.6
1981240.3
1982242.5
1983226.4
1984216.7
1985214.3
1986205.6
1987223.3
1988215.3
1989209.0
1990222.4
1991217.7
1992214.0
1993202.3
1994185.9
1995169.1
1996162.9
1997156.0
1998157.9
1999150.9
2000151.1
2001139.2
2002149.0
2003148.0
2004162.6
2005161.3
2006171.6
Table 3. Trends in abundance of grassland birds for the Prairies Ecozone+, 1970s to 2000s.
Grassland birdsPopulation
Trend (%/yr)
PBBS abundance index
1970s
BBS abundance index
1980s
BBS abundance index
1990s
BBS abundance index
2000s
Change
McCown's longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii)-11.0%*6.102.050.770.24-96%
Chestnut-collared longspur (Calcarius ornatus)-5.4%*18.8714.807.972.58-86%
Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus)-5.0%n0.470.210.090.10-78%
Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)-4.0%*1.491.730.470.53-64%
Sprague's pipit (Anthus spragueii)-3.8%*6.685.352.092.04-69%
Horned lark (Eremophila alpestris)-3.3%*81.1577.0348.8131.38-61%
Northern harrier (Circus cyaneus)-3.0%*2.071.701.140.92-55%
Western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)-1.3%*60.2149.2543.2343.67-27%
Baird's sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii)-1.1%-3.532.883.101.39-61%
Vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)0.8%-22.0026.8827.0328.4129%
Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)1.0%*27.7729.3235.1033.9222%
Le Conte's sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii)1.6%-1.141.222.011.2611%
Sedge wren (Cistothorus platensis)5.7%*0.310.230.700.94199%

Source: Downes et al., 2011Footnote49 using data from the Breeding Bird SurveyFootnote50

P is the Statistical significance: * indicates P< 0.05; n indicates 0.05< P< 0.1; no value indicates not significant.
Species are listed in order from those showing most severe declines to those showing the most positive increases.
"Change" is the percent change in the average index of abundance between the first decade for which there are results (1970s) and the 2000s (2000-2006)

 

The relative stability of the grassland guild as a whole in the past decade (Figure 10) reflects the strong influence of some common (vesper sparrow, savannah sparrow) or wet meadow-associated (LeConte's sparrow, sedge wren) grassland birds. These species are more widely distributed and may be tolerant of, or even helped by, tall non-native plant species associated with linear development and farm programs that plant tall non-native grasses on crop fields.Footnote51 Footnote52 Footnote53 Declining species (e.g., Sprague's pipit, McCown's longspur, chestnut-collared longspur, Baird's sparrow) are those needing moderate or short, preferably native, cover and make little or no use of planted cover.Footnote51 Although some grassland birds will use hay-fields, 50–60% of ground nests, eggs, young, and fledglings are typically lost during a haying operation.Footnote54 Footnote55 One large study found 100% nest failure from haying operations as the remaining nests were abandoned.Footnote56

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Wetlands

Key finding 3
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.

Although wetlands only cover 3% of the Prairies Ecozone+, they contribute disproportionately to prairie biodiversity. The majority of wetlands in this ecozone+ are known as "potholes", small, shallow seasonal wetlands that form every spring. Numbering in the millions, these wetlands are a result of the unique glacial history of the region combined with its cold semi-arid climate. Thus, conditions in these wetlands each year are determined by year-to-year variation in precipitation and snowmelt. Prairie potholes have the greatest capacity of all the wetland types to return water back to the soil and atmosphere, significantly reducing the impacts of floods.Footnote57

The potholes and their surrounding uplands in both the U.S. and Canada form what is known as the Prairie Pothole Region, an area that is the most productive waterfowl breeding habitat in the world. The region supports 50% of annual continental duck production,Footnote58 Footnote59 and between 50 to 88% of the North American breeding populations of several species.Footnote60 Footnote61 Footnote62 Availability and condition of wetlands are primary factors determining the number and diversity of these waterfowl. Although these factors are influenced greatly by climate variation,62 land use change is also important.

Extensive areas and numbers of wetlands in the Prairies Ecozone+ have been drained although there are no comprehensive data on historic loss. There are many small studies that have examined loss but they are very localized, most are over 30 years old, and they vary in scale.Footnote24 Footnote63 Footnote64 Footnote65 As an example of a newer study, Ducks Unlimited Canada analyzed the watershed of Broughton's Creek, a tributary of the Assiniboine River located northwest of Brandon, MB. From 1968 to 2005, 5,921 wetland basins or 70% of the total number in the watershed, were degraded or totally lost due to drainage (Figure 11). This resulted in the loss of 21% of the watershed's wetland area and the loss of the various ecological functions played by those wetlands.Footnote66

Figure 11. Changes in the extent of wetlands in a portion of Manitoba's Broughton's Creek watershed, 1968–2005.
Graph
Source: Ducks Unlimited, 2008Footnote66
Long description for Figure 11

This graphic is composed of three maps. The first presents the location of the Broughton Creek Watershed in Manitoba, located just northwest of Brandon, Manitoba. The other two maps show the extent of wetlands, drained wetlands, and drainage ditches in the Broughton Creek watershed in 1968 and 2005. Between 1968 and 2005, 70% of the total number of wetland basins in the watershed were degraded or drained. This resulted in the loss of 21% of the watershed's wetland area. The number of drainage ditches also significantly increased over time. The majority of the remaining wetlands in 2005 are in the northern part of the watershed.

A review of these localized studies shows the high variability of wetland loss across the landscape and across time. Estimates for overall wetland loss since European settlement range from 40 to 71%.Footnote24 Footnote67 Footnote68 However, percent loss varies considerably between locations.Footnote24 Footnote64 Some of the greatest losses were near major urban areas, with 76 to 96% lost by 1966 and a further 17% lost between 1966 and 1981.Footnote69
Watmough and SchmollFootnote24 provided the best estimate of the recent rate of wetland loss on a larger scale. Between 1985 and 2001, 6% of wetland basins were lost, representing 5% of the total estimated wetland area. Although all ecoregions showed declining trends, losses were not uniform (Figure 12). The Aspen Parkland Ecoregion accounted for 45% of wetland area lost and half the total number of basins lost. The Mixed Grassland Ecoregion had the highest relative area lost, however, at 7%. The average size of lost wetland basins was 0.2 ha, with 77% being less than 0.26 ha in size. Fifty percent of the total area of wetland lost was in the grass/sedge cover type, and 40% was within the cultivated landscape. Sixty-two percent of the area drained was used for cultivation, 21% for perennial grass, 6% for development, and 8% was in transition.Footnote24

Figure 12. Percent change in wetland area and number of wetland basins for selected ecoregions in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1985–2001.
Graph
Source: adapted from Watmough and Schmoll, 2007Footnote24
Long description for Figure 12

This bar graph shows the following information:

Percentage
-Net change in wetland areaNet change in number of wetland basins
Fescue Grassland-4%-7%
Aspen Parkland-4%-5%
Moist Mixed Grassland-4%-3%
Mixed Grassland-7%-7%
Lake Manitoba Plain-2%-5%
Cypress Upland-1%-4%

When examined on a municipality-by-municipality basis, the highest rates of wetland loss between 1985 and 2011 were in parts of southeastern Saskatchewan (Figure 13). Areas of highest loss were generally correlated with areas of high wetland density.Footnote70

Figure 13. Estimated rates of wetland loss by municipality, 1985–2001.
Graph
Source: adapted from Prairie Habitat Joint Venture, 2008Footnote70 and Watmough and Schmoll, 2007Footnote24
Long description for Figure 13

This map presents the estimated rates of wetland loss by municipality in the Prairies Ecozone+ between 1985 and 2001. The highest rates of wetland loss (25 to 45%) over the time period were in four municipalities located just south and northeast of Regina. The majority of municipalities which experienced significant decreases (5 to 25%) were also near these areas. Several municipalities on the ecozone+'s western boundary, near Edmonton and Calgary, also experienced significant (5 to 15%) wetland loss.

Watmough and Schmoll'sFootnote24 study also recorded changes to wetlands that did not result in total loss, but that may have caused a loss of wetland function, such as partial drainage or limited filling. The percent of the wetland area affected by these factors was similar in 1985 (6%) and 2001 (7%), although results show a decline in wetlands affected in the Fescue Grassland Ecoregion and an increase in the Lake Manitoba Plain Ecoregion (Figure 14). The analysis also found that the edges of wetlands were impacted more than wetland basins. Although the rate of impact for edges declined over the period, the rate of recovery was slower, indicating an increasing overall impact. The percent of edges impacted ranged between 82 and 97% in 1985, depending upon location, and stabilized in the early 1990s at between 90 and 95%.Footnote71

Figure 14. Percent of wetland area affected by partial drainage and limited filling for selected ecoregions in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1985 and 2001.
Graph
Source: adapted from Watmough and Schmoll, 2007Footnote24
Long description for Figure 14

This bar graph presents the following information:

Percentage
-19852001
Fescue Grassland10%8%
Aspen Parkland7%8%
Moist Mixed Grassland4%6%
Mixed Grassland5%6%
Lake Manitoba Plain8%11%

Through an analysis of other studies, Watmough and SchmollFootnote24 found that their results were consistent with estimates of the rate of loss from other localized studies from previous time periods. They concluded that wetland loss is variable across the landscape but that there has been a continuous slow decline overall with large losses in localized areas.


Trends in wetland distribution and abundance directly affect continental waterfowl populations and research indicates that, overall, smaller wetlands support a greater number of waterfowl than larger ones on a per area basis.Footnote57 For example, data on waterfowl use of wetlands indicate that ten 1-ha wetlands will support approximately three times as many waterfowl as one 10-ha wetland.Footnote57 A study of a representative sample of prairie wetlands found 91% were 1 ha or smallerFootnote24 and these small wetlands also suffer the greatest losses. From 1985 to 2001, the average size of wetland basins lost was 0.2 ha, with 77% smaller than 2.6 ha.Footnote24 Research also found that, between 1985 and 2005, shallow ephemeral wetlands located in agricultural fields had the highest rate of impact and slowest recovery rates relative to other wetland types.Footnote71 Wetland habitat, together with changes in the agricultural landscape, drive waterfowl populations. These trends are discussed in the Birds section of the Species of special economic, cultural, or ecological interest key finding on page Footnote75.


As an example of the impacts of wetland loss on waterfowl populations and indirect impacts from upland habitat changes, a recent analysis estimated the deficit in waterfowl productivity for 1971 to 2006 relative to the 1970s. Results showed that while wetland loss resulted in an estimated decrease in waterfowl carrying capacity of just under 100,000 pairs from 2001 to 2006, upland changes substantially reduced the hatched nest "deficit" from ~150,000 to ~113,000 hatched nests (Figure 15).

Figure 15. Estimated "deficit" in waterfowl productivity due to wetland and upland change as modelled by estimated carrying capacity (estimated pair population for five species) and estimated nests hatched, 1971–2006.
Graph
Source: updated from Devries, 2004Footnote72 with Ducks Unlimited Canada, unpublished dataFootnote73

Note: Decline in pair population over time is based on model relating habitat changes to carrying capacity for waterfowl.

Long description for Figure 15

This bar graph presents the following information:

Estimated number
Year1971198620012006
Estimated pair population4,248,9043,920,6023,662,8973,564,018
Estimated total nest hatch1,160,8971,034,5221,009,4261,047,874
Nest "deficit" (relative to 1971)0-126,376-151,472-113,024

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Lakes and rivers

Key finding 4
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.

Water availability is an important driver and issue in the Prairies Ecozone+ and the anticipated changes in moisture regimes as a result of climate change will exacerbate the challenges.

Streamflow

It is not possible to determine trends in streamflow for the Prairies Ecozone+ from the national hydrometric data because there are too few stations that are suitable. This is largely because many of the stations are only monitored seasonally.Footnote74 Footnote75 As discussed below, there are also a large number of Prairie streams that are dammed and channelized, altering their normal flow pattern making them unsuitable for the trend analysis on natural streamflow.
There are data from other analyses focused on the Prairie provinces. GanFootnote76 analyzed streamflow trends on streams in the Prairies that were unaffected by dams from the late 1940s or early 1950s to 1993 and found that significant decreases were much more common than increases (overall, 61 significant negative trends vs. 16 positive trends). Fifty-six percent of the positive trends were in March and were related to the earlier onset of spring melt. All other months showed greater declining trends, particularly May and June flow. Burn et al.Footnote77 looked at 25 streams across the Prairies and also found decreasing trends in the spring snowmelt runoff volume and peak flow from 1966 to 2005. They found an earlier spring snowmelt peak and decreasing trends in seasonal (March–October) runoff volume.

Schindler and DonahueFootnote78 also found a decline in average flow of Prairie rivers over the past 50 to 100 years, including (Figure 16):

  • a 20% reduction from 1958 to 2003 for the Athabasca River at Fort McMurray, Alberta;
  • a 42% reduction from 1915 to 2003 for the Peace River near Peace River, Alberta;
  • a 57% reduction from 1912 to 2003 for the Oldman River at Lethbridge, Alberta; and
  • an 84% reduction from 1912 to 2003 for the South Saskatchewan River at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Figure 16. Trends in summer flows of four rivers in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1910–2006.
Graph
Source: adapted from Schindler and Donahue, 2006Footnote78
Long description for Figure 16

This graphic presents four line graphs showing trends in the summer flows of four rivers in the Prairies Ecozone+ : the Athabasca River, the Peace River, the Oldman River, and the South Saskatchewan River. Summer flows are represented in percent flow from the start of the timeline. The Athabasca River data begins in 1960. Flows on the Athabasca River showed a general increasing trend to 120% of original flow in 1980, and then a decreasing trend to approximately 80% of original flow in 2006. The Peace River data begins in 1915. A decreasing trend was observed until 1930 when the flow was at approximately 90% of what it was in 1915. Data were missing between 1930 and 1958. Between 1958 and 2006, flows fluctuated but showed a general decreasing trend to approximately 60% of original flow in 2006.  The Oldman River data begins in 1910. Flows fluctuated but showed a general decreasing trend to approximately 75% of its original flow in 1949. Data were missing between 1949 and 1958. Between 1958 and 2006, flow fluctuated but showed a general decreasing trend to approximately 48% of its original flow in 2006. The South Saskatchewan River data begins in 1910. Flows fluctuated but showed a general decreasing trend to approximately 20% of its original flow by 2006.

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Lake levels

In the Prairies, the combination of glaciation and the dry climate has resulted in numerous closed-basin lakes (that is, lakes with no outlet). They are very sensitive to climate, with water levels and salinity driven by precipitation on the lake, local runoff to the lake, and evaporation off the lake. Changes in land use, such as water control structures that change the amount of water being delivered to the lake, also have significant effects on lake levels. Aquatic communities within these closed-basin lakes are sensitive to chemical changes that result from changes in water levels. For example, water levels affect salinity and the diversity of aquatic species declines as salinity increases. When salinities reach very high values, species diversity becomes very low.Footnote79

To provide a regional overview of lake level changes, van der Kamp et al.Footnote80 analyzed long-term water level changes in 16 closed-basin lakes with little or no groundwater interactions and no strong influence by large water control structures. Their results show an overall decrease in most lake levels of approximately 4--10 m from ca. 1920 to 2006, with more rapid declines since the late 1970s (Figure 17). There was, however, a rise in the level of four lakes in the east-central area since the 1960s (three other lakes in this area had declining levels). These increases have been linked to either higher precipitation or lower evaporation, in addition to sensitivity to agricultural drainage and changing land use due to low-lying relief. No lakes were included in the study from the south-central part of the ecozone+ because all lakes with long-term data records were highly affected by water control structures and diversions. Oro Lake was included as an attempt to fill the gap and results show that water levels in this region may not have declined.

 

Figure 17. Water level changes in selected closed-basin lakes in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1910–2006.
Graph
Source: van der Kamp et al., 2008Footnote80
Long description for Figure 17

This series of ten line graphs presents water level changes (in metres) in ten selected closed-basin lakes in the Prairies Ecozone+ between 1910 and 2006: Muriel Lake, Little Fish Lake, Manito Lake, Redberry Lake, Waldsea Lake, Big Quill Lake, Oro Lake, Kenosee Lake, Lower Mann Lake, and Upper Mann Lake.

Collection of water level data for Muriel Lake began in 1955. From 1955 to 1980, the water level in Muriel Lake increased by nearly one metre, after which water levels decreased approximately four meters from 1980 to 2006. Water level data collection for Little Fish Lake began in 1938. The data show a fluctuating but decreasing trend in water levels until 2006, when the water level was nearly 7 m less than in 1955. Data for Manito Lake begins in 1918; water levels were relatively stable until 1980, after which water levels steadily decreased until 2006, with a total decrease in water level of approximately 7 m. Using air photos or survey, water level data for Redberry Lake was reconstructed back as far as 1918. Results showed that water levels decreased steadily from 1918 to 2006, with a total decrease of approximately 10 m. Data for Waldsea Lake begins in 1964 and shows a fluctuating but increasing trend in water levels from 1964 to 2008, with a total increase of approximately 5 m. Data for Big Quill Lake begins in 1918 and shows a fluctuating but general decreasing trend in water level until 2006, with a total decrease in water level of approximately 4 m. Water level data for Oro Lake was reconstructed back to 1948 and shows an increasing trend in water levels until 1982, by approximately 3 m, after which water levels steadily decreased until 2006. In 2006, the water level was still approximately one meter higher than it was in 1948. Water level data for Kenosee Lake was reconstructed back to 1930. Between 1930 and 1950, water levels decreased 4 m. Water levels rose again by 2 m by 1960, and remained stable until 1980. Between 1980 and 2006, water levels decreased by a total of 4 m. Data for Lower Mann Lake begins in 1972. Water level in Lower Mann Lake fluctuated but generally decreased, with a total decrease of approximately 3 m by 2006. Data for Upper Mann Lake begins in 1962. Water levels in Upper Mann Lake remained relatively stable from 1962 until the mid-1980s, after which water levels fluctuated but generally decreased, with a total decrease of approximately 3 m by 2006.

The declines observed can be explained, at least in part, by climate. The early part of the 20th century was wet, contributing to the high lake levels.Footnote80 Significant increases in spring temperatures from 1950 to 2007Footnote81 could have led to increased evaporation rates and declining stream runoffFootnote82 could also have contributed. Nevertheless, the declines in lake levels were not completely consistent with climate. For example, with the exception of declines at two stations in south-central Saskatchewan, there was no significant change in precipitation from 1950 to 2007.Footnote81 Also, Zhang et al.Footnote81 found no significant change in Palmer Drought Severity Index from 1950 to 2007 to explain the recent declines, and Bonsal and RegierFootnote83 found that most droughts over the past century were between 1915 and 1930, a time when lake levels were higher.

Other contributing factors that reduce surface runoff to the lakes include land use changes such as dams, ditches, wetland drainage and dugouts,Footnote80 as well as changes in agricultural use and practices, such as the decline in summer fallow,Footnote84 increased conservation tillage (see Agricultural landscapes as habitat key finding on page 64),Footnote85 and increased continuous cropping.Footnote80

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Alteration of hydrology through water control structures

Water control structures are one of the greatest threats to freshwater ecosystems. In addition to being barriers to movement of fish and wildlife, they alter natural hydrological regimes, changing water depths and flows, and resulting in changes to the availability and distribution of habitat for in-stream communities.Footnote86 Footnote87 Disruption of the natural regime can occur as a result of both lateral barriers (such as dams, weirs, roads) or riparian barriers (such as gaps in riparian buffers).Footnote88 Footnote89

Most major prairie streams are dammed. As of 2008, there were 83 large dams (greater than 10 m in height) in the ecozone+Footnote90 – at least 73% of them with reservoirs less than 1,000,000 m3.Footnote91 Only two dams (those forming Lake Diefenbaker on the South Saskatchewan River) have reservoirs greater than 10,000,000 m3.The number of large dams is highest in the Mixed Grassland (34), Moist Mixed Grassland (22), and Aspen Parkland (18) ecoregions, with only one in the Cypress Uplands.Footnote90 Footnote91 In the Prairies Ecozone+, where agricultural production is limited by low rainfall, irrigation was the most common reason that dams were constructed. The majority of these large dams were built in the 1950s and 1960s (Figure 18).

Figure 18. Distribution of dams greater than 10 m in height within the Prairies Ecozone+, grouped by year of completion, pre-1900 to 2005.
Graph
Source: adapted from Canadian Dam Association, 2003Footnote90
Long description for Figure 18

This map shows the location and age class of dams greater than 10 m in height within the Prairies Ecozone+. Ages are shown in 20-year increments by year of completion from pre-1900 to 2005. The dams are scattered throughout the ecozone+ but are mostly concentrated in its southern portion. The majority of the dams were completed between 1940 and 1999, with no dams completed between 2000 and 2005 and only a few completed prior to 1939.

While these large dams are the most visible, there are also a large number of smaller dams and water control structures. For example, the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration constructed approximately 12,000 dams in the Prairie provinces although few new ones are being built due to the lack of suitable sites and because of environmental concerns.Footnote92

Damming to create a reservoir also impacts terrestrial habitats in the flood zone. This impact is particularly important because it is concentrated on riparian zones, which contribute disproportionately to biodiversity. For example, the creation of Lake Diefenbaker flooded a significant area of riparian cottonwood (Populus deltoides) forest, an ecosystem that is relatively restricted in range in the Prairies Ecozone+. Damming can also have downstream effects on riparian ecosystems by eliminating flooding events that are important to these ecosystems. For example, it is thought that riparian cottonwoods are failing to regenerate on some dammed Prairie rivers because they require flood-deposited silt.Footnote93

Another important cause of hydrological alteration and corresponding impacts on biodiversity is channelization, which is very common on the Prairies. However, data on the number of streams and the kilometres of channelization are not available.

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Ice across biomes

Key finding 7
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.

There is very little long term trend data on freeze-up and break-up of lake and river ice in the Prairies Ecozone+. What data there is shows mixed trends for freeze-up.Footnote75 Some significant changes to earlier break-up were found--Duguay et al.Footnote94 found that ice on Lake Diefenbaker broke up ten days earlier between 1971 and 2000, and RannieFootnote95 found that, from 1815 to 1981, ice on the Red River at Winnipeg broke-up 12 days earlier. RannieFootnote95 also found that the Red River froze ten days later.

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Dunes

Ecozone+-specific key finding
Theme: Biomes

National key finding
Dunes are a unique biome with a very limited distribution in Canada. As a result, information on dunes was not identified as a nationally recurring key finding nor was it included in one of the other key findings in the national report.Footnote3 However, because of their significance to biodiversity in the Prairies Ecozone+, information on dunes is included as a separate ecozone+-specific key finding in this report.

Sand dunes are important habitats in the Prairies Ecozone+, and in recent decades many of the active dunes have shifted to stabilized dunes as a result of vegetation growth. In southeastern Alberta's Middle Sand Hills, the total area of active sand dunes declined at a rate of 40% per decade and the number of active dunes declined by seven per decade since 1950; all dunes could become stabilized by 2014.Footnote96 In southwestern Saskatchewan's Seward Sand Hills, a 70% decline in active dune area between 1944 and 1991 was documented;Footnote97 however, while active sand area declined from 1944 to 1979 in part of Saskatchewan's Great Sand Hills, it increased from 1988 to 1991 to the extent that in 1991, the active area was equivalent to that of 1944.Footnote97The authors attributed this increase to the drier and hotter conditions of the mid- to late 1980s. In general, climate drives dune activity, which increases in dry periods (low ratio of precipitation to potential evapotranspiration) and decreases in moist periods.Footnote98 Fire suppression may also contribute to sand-dune stabilizationFootnote99 (see Natural disturbance key finding on page 82).

The decline in active sand dunes poses a threat to the nationally Endangered Ord's kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii)Footnote96, in addition to several other species that depend on dune activity, including western spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) (Threatened),Footnote100 small-flowered sand-verbena (Tripterocalyx micranthus) (Endangered),Footnote101 dusky dune moth (Copablepharon longipenne) (Endangered),Footnote102 and pale yellow dune moth (Copablepharon grandis) (Special Concern).Footnote103

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Footnotes

Footnote 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.

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Footnote 7

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.

Return to footnote 7

Reference 10

Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. 2001. Canada's National Forest Inventory (CanFI) [online]. https://nfi.nfis.org/canfi.php?page=summaries&lang=en 

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Reference 11

Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. 2006. Criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management in Canada: national status 2005. Canada Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada. Ottawa, ON. 154 p.  + appendices.

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Reference 12

Bailey, A.W. and Wroe, R.A. 1974. Aspen invasion in a portion of the Alberta parklands. Journal of Range Management 27:263-266.

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Reference 13

Scheffer, E.J. and Bailey, A.W. 1972. Ecology of aspen groves and their invasion into grasslands. In 51st Annual Feeder's Day Report. University of Alberta, Department of Animal Science. Edmonton, AB. pp. 49-50.

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Reference 14

Campbell, C., Campbell, I.D., Blyth, C.B. and McAndrews, J.H. 1994. Bison extirpation may have caused expansion in Western Canada. Ecography 17:360-362.

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Reference 15

Maini, J.S. 1960. Invasion of grassland by Populus tremuloides in the northern Great Plains. Thesis (Ph.D.). University of Saskatchewan. Saskatoon, SK.

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Reference 16

Wright, H.A. and Bailey, A.W. 1982. Fire ecology: United States and southern Canada. John Wiley and Sons. New York, NY. 501 p.

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Reference 17

Anderson, H.G. and Bailey, A.W. 1980. Effects of annual burning on grassland in the aspen parkland of east-central Alberta. Canadian Journal of Botany 58:985-996.

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Reference 18

Kochy, M. and Wilson, S.D. 2001. Nitrogen deposition and forest expansion in the northern great plains. Journal of Ecology 89:807-817.

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Reference 19

Scott, G.A.J. 1996. Manitoba's ecoclimatic regions. In The geography of Manitoba: its land and its people. Edited by Welsted, J., Everitt, J. and Stadel, C. University of Manitoba Press. Winnipeg, MB. Chapter 4. pp. 43-59. 

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Thorpe, J. 1993. The life: vegetation and life zones. In Three hundred prairie years: Henry Kelsey's "inland country of good report". Edited by Epp, H. Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina. Regina, SK. Chapter 4. pp. 11-16. 

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Reference 21

Spry, I.M. 1968. The papers of the Palliser Expedition, 1857-1860. The Champlain Society. Toronto, ON. xix + 694 p.

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Zoltai, S. 1975. Southern limit of coniferous trees on the Canadian prairies. Information Report No. NOR-X-128. Environment Canada, Canadian Forestry Service, Northern Forest Research Centre. Edmonton, AB. 12 p. + maps.

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Coupland, R.T. 1987. Endangered prairie habitats: the mixed prairie. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Endangered Species in the Prairie Provinces. Edmonton, AB, 24-26 January, 1986. Edited by Holroyd, G.L., McGillivray, W.B., Stepney, P.H.R., Ealey, D.M., Trottier, G.C. and Eberhart, K.E. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 9. Alberta Culture, Historical Resources Division. Edmonton, AB. pp. 35-42.

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Reference 24

Watmough, M.D. and Schmoll, M.J. 2007. Environment Canada's Prairie & Northern Region Habitat Monitoring Program Phase II: recent habitat trends in the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture. Technical Report Series No. 493. Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service. Edmonton, AB. 135 p. 

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Hogg, E.H., Brandt, J.P. and Kochtubajda, B. 2005. Factors affecting interannual variation in growth of western Canadian aspen forests during 1951-2000. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 35:610-622.

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Hogg, E.H., Brandt, J.P. and Michaellan, M. 2008. Impacts of a regional drought on the productivity, dieback, and biomass of western Canadian aspen forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 38:1737-1984.

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Riley, J.L., Green, S.E. and Brodribb, K.E. 2007. A conservation blueprint for Canada's prairies and parklands. Nature Conservancy of Canada. Toronto, ON. 226 p. and DVD-ROM.

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Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 1996. Circa 1995 landcover of the Prairies [online]. Government of Canada. (accessed 29 October, 2013)

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Statistics Canada. 2003. 2001 census of agriculture [online]. Government of Canada. (accessed 8 August, 2008)

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Joyce, J. and Morgan, J.P. 1989. Manitoba's tall-grass prairie conservation project. In Proceedings of the Eleventh North American Prairie Conference. Prairie pioneers: ecology, history and culture. Lincoln, NE, 7-11, August, 1988. August, 1988. Edited by Bragg, T.B. and Stubberndieck, J. University of Nebraska Printing. Lincoln, NE. pp. 71-74.

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Truett, J.C., Phillips, M., Kunkel, K. and Miller, R. 2001. Managing bison to restore biodiversity. Great Plains Research 11:123-144.

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Plumb, G.E. and Dodd, J.L. 1993. Foraging ecology of bison and cattle on a mixed prairie: implications for natural area management. Ecological Applications 3:631-643.

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Bai, Y., Abouguendia, Z. and Redmann, R.E. 1999. Effect of grazing on plant species diversity of grasslands in Saskatchewan. In Proceedings of the Fifth Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference. Saskatoon, SK, February, 1998. Edited by Thorpe, J., Steeves, T.A. and Gollop, M. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 24. Provincial Museum of Alberta. Edmonton, AB. pp. 210-218.

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Groskorth, L.C. and Gauthier, D.A. 1999. The suitability of range condition measures for determining plant diversity within the Mixed-Grass Ecoregion of Saskatchewan. In Proceedings of the Fifth Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference. Saskatoon, SK, February, 1998. Edited by Thorpe, J., Steeves, T.A. and Gollop, M. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 24. Provincial Museum of Alberta. Edmonton, AB. pp. 119-130.

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Bai, Y., Abouguendia, Z. and Redmann, R.E. 2001. Relationship between plant species diversity and grassland condition. Journal of Range Management 54:177-183.

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McCanny, S.J., Fargey, P., Sutter, G.C. and Finnamore, A. 1999. The effect of cattle removal on biodiversity in Grasslands National Park. In Proceedings of the Fifth Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Workshop. Saskatoon, SK, February, 1998. Edited by Thorpe, J., Steeves, T.A. and Gollop, M. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 24. Provincial Museum of Alberta. Edmonton, AB.109.

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Thorpe, J. 2009. Unpublished analysis of source data from: Thorpe, J. 2007. Saskatchewan rangeland ecosystems, publication 1: ecoregions and ecosites. SRC Publication No. 11881-1E07. Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan. 40 p. 

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Saskatchewan Watershed Authority. 2008. Data on range conditions in Saskatchewan provided by H. Davies. Saskatchewan Watershed Authority. Moosejaw, SK. Unpublished data.

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Askins, R.A., Zuckerberg, B. and Novak, L. 2007. Do the size and landscape context of forest openings influence the abundance and breeding success of shrubland songbirds in southern New England? Forest Ecology and Management 250:137-147.

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Downes, C., Blancher, P. and Collins, B. 2011. Landbird trends in Canada, 1968-2006. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 12. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. x + 94 p.

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McMaster, D.G. and Davis, S.K. 2001. An evaluation of Canada's permanent cover program: habitat for grassland birds? Journal of Field Ornithology 72:195-210.

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Bellrose, F.C. 1980. Ducks, geese and swans of North America. Stackpole Books. Harrisburg, PA. 540 p.

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Batt, B.D.J., Anderson, M.G., Anderson, C.D. and Caswell, F.D. 1989. The use of prairie potholes by North American ducks. In Northern prairie wetlands. Edited by Vander, V. Iowa State University Press. Ames, IA. pp. 204-227. 

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Conly, F.M. and Van der Kamp, G. 2001. Monitoring the hydrology of Canadian prairie wetlands to detect the effects of climate change and land use changes. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 67:195-215.

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Lynch-Stewart, P. 1983. Land use change on wetlands in southern Canada: review and bibliography. Working Paper No. 26. Lands Directorate, Environment Canada. Ottawa, ON. 115 p. 

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Dahl, T.E. and Watmough, M.D. 2007. Current approaches to wetland status and trends monitoring in prairie Canada and the continental United States of America. Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing 33:S17-S27.

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Ducks Unlimited Canada, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 2008. The impacts of wetland loss in Manitoba. Ducks Unlimited Canada. Stonewall, MB. 4 p.

Return to footnote 66

Reference 67

Mosquin, T., Whiting, P.G. and McAllister, D.E. 1995. Canada's biodiversity: the variety of life, its status, economic benefits, conservation costs and unmet needs. Canadian Centre for Biodiversity, Canadian Museum of Nature. Ottawa, ON. xxiv + 293 p. 

Return to footnote 67

Reference 68

Government of Saskatchewan. 1999. Conserving Saskatchewan's biodiversity: a progress report. Government of Saskatchewan. 44 p. 

Return to footnote 68

Reference 69

Environment Canada. 1986. Wetlands in Canada: a valuable resource. Fact Sheet No. 86-4. Environment Canada, National Wetlands Working Group. Ottawa, ON. 8 p. 

Return to footnote 69

Reference 70

Prairie Habitat Joint Venture. 2008. PHJV implementation plan: 2007-2012. Environment Canada. Edmonton, AB. 34 p. (Revised May 2009).

Return to footnote 70

Reference 71

Bartzen, B.A., Dufour, K.W., Clark, R.G. and Caswell, F.D. 2010. Trends in agricultural impact and recovery of wetlands in prairie Canada. Ecological Applications 20:525-538.

Return to footnote 71

Reference 72

Devries, J.H., Guyn, K.L., Clark, R.G., Anderson, M.G., Caswell, D., Davis, S.K., McMaster, D.G., Sopuck, T. and Kay, D. 2004. Prairie Habitat Joint Venture (PHJV) waterfowl habitat goals update: phase 1. Prairie Habitat Joint Venture Working Group. 74 p. 

Return to footnote 72

Reference 73

Ducks Unlimited Canada. 2008. Data on waterfowl productivity. Unpublished data.

Return to footnote 73

Reference 74

Cannon, A., Lai, T. and Whitfield, P. 2011. Climate-driven trends in Canadian streamflow, 1961-2003. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 19. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. Draft report.

Return to footnote 74

Reference 75

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. 19. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. Draft report.

Return to footnote 75

Reference 76

Gan, T.Y. 1998. Hydroclimatic trends and possible climatic warming in the Canadian prairies. Water Resources Research 34:3009-3015.

Return to footnote 76

Reference 77

Burn, D.H., Fan, L. and Bell, G. 2008. Identification and quantification of streamflow trends on the Canadian prairies. Hydrological Sciences Journal 53:538-549.

Return to footnote 77

Reference 78

Schindler, D.W. and Donahue, W.F. 2006. An impending water crisis in Canada's western Prairie provinces. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103:7210-7216.

Return to footnote 78

Reference 79

Last, W.M. and Ginn, F.M. 2005. Saline systems of the Great Plains of Western Canada: an overview of the limnogeology and paleolimnology. Saline Systems 1:1-10.

Return to footnote 79

Reference 80

Van der Kamp, G., Keir, D. and Evans, M.S. 2008. Long-term water level changes in closed-basin lakes of the Canadian prairies. Canadian Water Resources Journal 33:23-38.

Return to footnote 80

Reference 81

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.

Return to footnote 81

Reference 82

Zhang, X.B., Harvey, K.D., Hogg, W.D. and Yuzyk, T.R. 2001. Trends in Canadian streamflow. Water Resources Research 37:987-998.

Return to footnote 82

Reference 83

Bonsal, B. and Regier, M. 2007. Historical comparison of the 2001/2002 drought in the Canadian prairies. Climate Research 33:229-242.

Return to footnote 83

Reference 84

Javorek, S.K. and Grant, M.C. 2011. Trends in wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in Canada, 1986-2006. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 14. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. vi + 46 p.

Return to footnote 84

Reference 85

Elliott, J.A., Cessna, A.J. and Hilliard, C.R. 2001. Influence of tillage system on water quality and quantity in prairie pothole wetlands. Canadian Water Resources Journal 26:165-181.

Return to footnote 85

Reference 86

Revenga, C., Brunner, J., Henninger, N., Kassem, K. and Payne, R. 2000. Pilot analysis of global ecosystems - freshwater systems. World Resources Institute. Washington, DC. 64 p. 

Return to footnote 86

Reference 87

Jones, S.N. and Bergey, E.A. 2007. Habitat segregation in stream crayfishes: implications for conservation. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 26:134-144.

Return to footnote 87

Reference 88

Reid, S.M., Wilson, C.C., Mandrak, N.E. and Carl, L.M. 2008. Population structure and genetic diversity of black redhorse (Moxostoma duquesnei) in a highly fragmented watershed. Conservation Genetics 9:531-546.

Return to footnote 88

Reference 89

Lévesque, L.M. and Dubé, M.G. 2007. Review of the effects of in-stream pipeline crossing construction on aquatic ecosystems and examination of Canadian methodologies for impact assessment. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 132:395-409.

Return to footnote 89

Reference 90

Canadian Dam Association. 2003. Dams in Canada. International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD). Montréal, QC. CD-ROM.

Return to footnote 90

Reference 91

Manitoba Conservation. 2008. Data on distribution of large dams in the Prairies Ecozone+ provided by K. Murray. Unpublished data.

Return to footnote 91

Reference 92

Filson, H. 1998. Personal communication. Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration. Saskatoon, SK.

Return to footnote 92

Reference 93

Bradley, C.E. and Smith, D.G. 1986. Plains cottonwood recruitment and survival on a prairie meandering river floodplain, Milk River, Southern Alberta and Northern Manitoba. Canadian Journal of Botany 64:1433-1442.

Return to footnote 93

Reference 94

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

Return to footnote 94

Reference 95

Rannie, W.F. 1983. Breakup and freezeup of the Red River at Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada in the 19th century and some climatic implications. Climatic Change 5:283-296.

Return to footnote 95

Reference 96

COSEWIC. 2006. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Ord's kangaroo rat Dipodomys ordii in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa, ON. vii + 34 p. 

Return to footnote 96

Reference 97

Wolfe, S.A., Huntley, D.J. and Ollerhead, J. 1995. Recent and late Holocene sand dune activity in southwestern Saskatchewan. In Current Research 1995-B. Geological Survey of Canada. pp. 131-140. 

Return to footnote 97

Reference 98

Wolfe, S.A. 1997. Impact of increased aridity on sand dune activity in the Canadian prairies. Journal of Arid Environments 36:421-432.

Return to footnote 98

Reference 99

Gummer, D.L. and Barclay, R.M.R. 1997. Population ecology of Ord's kangaroo rats (Dipodomys ordii) in the proposed Suffield National Wildlife Area, Alberta. Report prepared for the Endangered Species Recovery Fund, World Wildlife Fund Canada. Toronto, ON. 

Return to footnote 99

Reference 100

COSEWIC. 2002. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the western spiderwort Tradescantia occidentalis in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa, ON. vi + 25 p. 

Return to footnote 100

Reference 101

COSEWIC. 2002. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the small-flowered sand-verbena Tripterocalyx micranthus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa, ON. v + 26 p. 

Return to footnote 101

Reference 102

COSEWIC. 2007. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the dusky dune moth Copablepharon longipenne in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa, ON. vii + 31 p. 

Return to footnote 102

Reference 103

COSEWIC. 2007. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the pale yellow dune moth Copablepharon grandis in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa, ON. vii + 28 p. 

Return to footnote 103

Return to Table of Contents

Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions


Protected areas

Key finding 8
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 amount of natural vegetation protected in parks and other designated conservation areas is relatively small, accounting for only about 4.5% of the Prairies Ecozone+in 2009 (Figure 19). This included two national parks (Elk Island and Grasslands) totaling 1,100 km2, and numerous provincial parks totaling 1,600 km2. Prior to 1992 (the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity), between 0.4 and 3.8% of the ecozone+ was protectedii.By May 2009, the percentage of the ecozone+ protected had increased to 4.5% and included (Figure 20):

  • 5,544 km2 in 194 protected areas (1.2% of the ecozone+) classified as IUCN categories I-IV, categories that include nature reserves, wilderness areas, and other parks and reserves managed for conservation of ecosystems and natural and cultural features, as well as those managed mainly for habitat and wildlife conservation;Footnote104 and
  • 15,290 km2 in 94 protected areas (3.3% of the ecozone+) classified as IUCN categories V-VI, categories that focus on sustainable use by established cultural tradition.Footnote104
Figure 19. Distribution of protected areas in the Prairies Ecozone+, May 2009.

Map
Source: Environment Canada, 2009Footnote105 using data from the Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS), v.2009Footnote105, 2009;Footnote106 data provided by federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions.

Long description for Figure 19.

This map shows the distribution of protected areas within the Prairies Ecozone+ as of May 2009. In 2009, there were 288 protected areas that covered 4.5% of the land base. The largest total area of protected areas is located within Saskatchewan, and the highest concentration of protected areas is in southwestern Saskatchewan.


Figure 20. Growth of protected areas in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1913–2009.

Map

Data provided by federal and provincial jurisdictions, updated to May 2009. Only legally protected areas are included. IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) categories of protected areas are based on primary management objectives (see text for more information).
The last bar marked 'TOTAL' includes protected areas for which the year established was not provided.
Source: Environment Canada, 2009Footnote105 using data from the Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS), v.2009.Footnote105, 2009Footnote106; data provided by federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions.

Long description for Figure 20.

This bar graph shows the following information:

YearIUCN Categories I-IV>(km2)IUCN Categories V-VI (km2)
1913-19242410
1925-19295810
1930-19475940
1948-195060532
195181832
195283232
1953-195484032
195592032
195692032
195795132
1958-196196432
1962-196496732
1965-196696832
196797232
196897332
196999532
19701,01432
1971-19741,02232
1975-19761,03632
1977-19781,03957
19791,04557
19801,05057
1981-19861,05157
19871,125156
19881,125207
19891,294207
1990-19951,294393
19961,295413
19971,787431
19981,934431
19991,991809
20002,0951,062
20013,0321,062
20023,0321,062
20033,4911,062
20043,4921,063
20053,5061,063
20063,6141,063
20073,6141,063
20083,6281,063
20093,6281,063
Total5,54415,290

Elk Island National Park of Canada was created in 1913, Old Wives Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Lenore Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary and Redberry Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary in 1925, Cypress Hills Provincial park in 1951, Spruce Woods Provincial Park in 1997, Grasslands National Park of Canada in 2001 and CFB Suffield National Wildlife Area in 2003.

Stewardship

Key finding 9
Theme Human/ecosystem interactions

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

While protected areas are often the most visible form of ecosystem conservation, they represent only a small fraction of the land base. Much of the habitat important to biodiversity in the Prairies Ecozone+ is found on land where the predominant use is agriculture, and much of it is privately held.Thus, stewardship is increasingly seen as an important complement to environmental regulation and policy, particularly to encourage conservation on privately managed land. Examples of stewardship initiativesin the Prairiesinclude: managed crown grazing lands, major conservation initiatives such as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Prairie Conservation Action Plan, integrated resource management plans, speciesatrisk landowner contact programs, and several programs aimed at landowner stewardship.

TheNational Environmental Farm Plan Initiative, launched in 2003, included a set of nationally consistent principles and program elements for developing environmental farm plans (EFP). An EFP is a voluntarily prepared, formal written assessment of environmental issues or risks on a farm such as soil erosion, potential sources of water contamination, or pesticide drift. An EFP contains an action plan detailing the beneficial management practices (BMP) that should be put in place to mitigate or eliminate those risks. These potential on-farm agri-environmental risks and practices are identified by the farmer in consultation with agrologists, EFP facilitators/coordinators, and supporting materials (e.g., EFP workbooks and Footnote manuals). In 2011, 23% of farms in Alberta, 26% of farms in Saskatchewan, and 28% of farms in Manitoba had a formal Environmental Farm Plan. Of the farms with an EFP, more than 90% had either fully or partially implemented the practices recommended in their EFP.Footnote107

The federal Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) for Species at Riskfosters partnerships and provides funding for implementing activities that protect or conserve habitats for species at risk on private lands, provincial Crown lands, Aboriginal lands, or in aquatic and marine areas across Canada.For example, in the Prairies Ecozone+, HSP has supported actions to conserve species at risk in the tallgrass prairie and aspen parkland region of Manitoba, and habitat protection efforts benefiting plant and bird species at risk, such as the small white lady's-slipper (Cypripediumcandidum) and Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii). It has also funded educational activities of the Prairie Conservation Action Plan in Saskatchewan.

Over the last couple of decades, private conservation organizations have been increasingly involved in stewardship of private properties. One approach is through voluntary conservation easements registered on the land title that imposerestrictions on current and future land uses.Of the approximately 1,200 km2 of land under 1,400 conservation easements registered across Canada in 2007, approximately 90% of the land (and 70% of thenumber of easements) was in the Prairies Ecozone+. More than 90% of conservation easements in the ecozone+are on agricultural land where some agricultural uses, such as grazing, continue under the easement.The number of conservation easements registered annually has increased steadily from 1996 to 2006 (Figure 21). Although the purchasing of easements has accelerated their registration within the Prairies Ecozone+, approximately 30% have been donated by the landowner.Footnote108

Figure 21. Number of conservation easements registered each year in the three Prairies provinces, 1996–2006.
Map
Note: The total includes data for whole provinces, including areas outside of the Prairies Ecozone+.
Source: Good and Michalsky, 2008Footnote108

Long description for Figure 21.

This line graph presents the following information

YearNumber of easements
19963
19976
199816
199940
200037
200161
200284
2003117
2004171
2005186
2006190

North American Waterfowl Management Plan

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan (the Plan) was established in 1986 in response to plummeting waterfowl numbers exacerbated by wetland drainage and drought. An initiative of Canada and the U.S., and joined in 1994 by Mexico, the Plan recognized that waterfowl populations could not be restored without continental cooperation across a broad landscape. Its goal is to restore waterfowl populations to average 1970s levels by conserving habitat through regional public-private partnerships called 'Joint Ventures' that are guided by the best available science and a continental landscape vision.Footnote109 It includes a broad range of approaches with one focus on agriculture and forestry stewardship. For example, the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture works with farmers to encourage waterfowl-friendly cropping practices such as the planting of fall seeded cereals like winter wheat. Winter wheat reduces disturbance and provides cover for early-nesting species like northern pintail. The area seeded to winter wheat increased over 600% from 1992 to 2007 (Figure 22). Declines in the last two years are a result of a late fall harvest related to weather.

Figure 22. Area seeded to winter wheat in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1992–2009.
Map
Source: Statistics Canada, 2010Footnote110

Long description for Figure 22.

This line graph presents the area (in thousands of km2) that was seeded to winter wheat in the Prairies Ecozone+ between 1992 and 2009. The area increased steadily from approximately 500 km2 in 1992 to approximately 1900 km2 in 2004. The area then rose sharply to 6000 km2 in 2007, then dropped down to 2700 km2 in 2009.

Ecosystem conversion

 
Theme Human/ecosystem interactions

National key finding
Ecosystem conversion was initially identified as a nationally recurring key finding and information was subsequently compiled and assessed for thePrairies Ecozone+. In the final version of the national report,3 information related to ecosystem conversion was incorporated into other key findings. This information is maintained as a separate key finding for the Prairies Ecozone+.

Based on analysis of data fromRiley et al.,Footnote27 approximately 70% of the natural vegetation in the ecozone+ (excluding the Lake Manitoba Plain Ecoregion) had been converted to other uses, mainly agriculture, by the mid-1990s. Most land conversion is believed to have occurred between European settlement (mostly prior to 1885) and the 1980s.

Using air photos, digitized data, ground-truthing, and Census of Agriculture data, Watmough and SchmollFootnote24 analyzed changes in land cover from 1985 to 2001 along 153 transects,mainly in the more settled parts of Prairies Ecozone+. They foundthat all native habitats declined - wetlands (see page 24), grasslands (see page 16), and trees (see page 15) - except tall shrub (see page 15) (Figure 23). Much of this loss is small remnants that are not likely detected on broad scale analysis like remote sensing.

Figure 23. Percent change in land cover types in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1985–2001.
Map
Source: adapted from Watmough and Schmoll, 2007Footnote24 Based on the same data from Riley et al,Footnote27
Long description for Figure 23

This bar graph presents the following information:

-Percentage
Natural grassland-10%
Low shrub-7%
Tall shrub3%
Trees-6%
Wetlands-5%

Approximately 30% remaining natural habitatin the ecozone+consisted of 25% grassland, 3% woodland, and 2% wetland, whichvaried among ecoregions (Figure 24).The percentage of natural vegetation remaining varies from 76% in the Cypress Upland Ecoregion to 22% in the Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion and 21% in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion.The higher moisture balance in the latter two ecoregions makes cultivation viable over a greater proportion of the landscape, resulting in a high conversion rate.

Figure 24. Percentage of the total area of each ecoregion covered by major vegetation types, 1990s.
Map
Note: Lake Manitoba Plains are not included as data were incomplete. "Other natural" includes small areas such as mud/sand and saline.
Source: based on an analysis of data from Riley et al., 2007Footnote27
Long description for Figure 24

This stacked bar graph shows the following information:

Percent
-Grassland/shrublandWoodlandWetlandOther naturalNot natural
Fescue Grassland35%1%0%0%64%
Aspen Parkland13%6%3%0%78%
Moist Mixed Grassland19%1%2%0%78%
Mixed Grassland41%0%1%1%57%
Cypress Upland73%3%0%0%24%
SW Manitoba Uplands7%23%-5%65%

Fragmentation

The remaining natural habitat in the Prairies Ecozone+ is highly fragmented, with most remaining patches in the smaller size classes. This is evident from a study in southern Saskatchewan that found 94% of habitat patches remaining in the late 20th century(the timespan was imprecise because this study used maps from a variety of dates) were less than 10 ha in size, with the trend most pronounced in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion.Footnote111 This represents a large change from the pre-European settlement condition of continuous grassland.The Aspen Parkland Ecoregion is particularly fragmented by agriculture because the climate and soils favour cultivation resulting in only a few remaining large patches. Changes in intact patch size also have impacts on birds. Koper and SchmiegelowFootnote112 found that avian populations in southern Alberta responded to habitat characteristics at spatial scales similar to their home range and territory size (with the exception of northern pintail), suggesting that the effects of fragmentation may vary with home range or territory size of individual species.

One cause of fragmentation of the remaining habitat is linear developments such as roads.Even narrow unpaved roads through forest or grasslandprevent the movement of some insect and small mammal species.Footnote113Although no trend data, or comprehensive ecozone+-wide status data was available, an estimate from 1998 for the Saskatchewan portion of the ecozone+ found that roadsaccounted for 2% of the most densely populated ecoregions, and that Saskatchewan's municipal roads increasedbyalmost 2% per four-year period from 1961 to 1996.Footnote114 Data for the Alberta portion of the ecozone+ showed almost 79,000 km of roads in 2008.Footnote115 The amount of roads within the Prairies is continuing to increase.

The infrastructure of energy development, such as the wellpads, pipelines, roads, and powerlines, also results in fragmentation.Footnote116 Both oil and gas drilling activity has increased in the Prairie provinces from 1999 to 2006.Footnote117 For Saskatchewan, extensive oil drilling started after World War IIandincreased around 1980 at the same time that drilling fornatural gas also increased(Figure 25).Footnote118 Studies in the U.S. and Saskatchewan have shown that impacts on animals include direct mortality from collisions on roads, disturbance due to noise, direct loss of habitat from the infrastructure,Footnote116 Footnote119 Footnote120 and perhaps most important, indirect loss of habitat due to avoidance.Footnote119 Natural gas well densities are typically higher than for oil wells (four to eight wells per section vs. two to four wells per section) and require more roads per area to service them.Footnote121

Figure 25. Trends in the number of oil and gas wells completed annually in Saskatchewan,1930–2005.
Map
Source: adapted from Saskatchewan Industry and Resources, 2006Footnote118
Long description for Figure 25.

This line graph presents trends in the number of oil and gas wells completed annually in Saskatchewan between 1930 and 2005. Annual oil well completions were either zero or very low up until 1950. Annual completions then increased to just below 1000 in 1958, and fluctuated between 100 and 1000 until 1980. Annual oil well completions then increased to amaximum of 2750 in 1985, before dropping again to below 500 in 1990. Another peak occurred in 1996 at 2600 well completions before dropping to 750 in 1998 and rising to 1700 in 2005. Annual gas well completions were zero to very low up until 1982. Annual completions then increased to just under 1000 in 1990, fluctuated between 1990 and 1995, and then steadily increased to just over 2000 in 2005.

The loss of intact habitats and the small patch size of remaining habitat leads to a reduction in the ability of the land to support wildlife (see the Wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural landsection of the Agricultural landscapes as habitat key finding on page 66), loss of large predators (see Predatorssection of Food webskey finding on page 85), increases in invasive non-native species (seeInvasive non-native specieskey finding on page 42), and decline in grassland endemic populations.Footnote122 James et al.Footnote111 estimated the percentage of native flora and fauna lost due habitat loss and fragmentation in Saskatchewan in the late 20th century to be 21–34% in the Mixed Grassland Ecoregion, 33–50% in the Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion, and 25–39% in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion.

Invasive non-native species

Key finding 10
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.

Species that inhabit areas outside their natural range are known as alien or non-native species. Most non-native species do not become established, are not detrimental, and can even be beneficial.Footnote123 Invasive non-native species, however, cause considerable harm to the environment, the economy, or to society.Footnote124 The ecological impacts of invasive non-native species are diverse. Non-native animals may outcompete, consume, or transmit diseases to native animals. Non-native plants can decrease the abundance of native plants, increase ecosystem productivity, change fire regimes, and alter the rate of nutrient cycling.Footnote125 Economic impacts of invasive non-native species include lowered real estate values, reduced quality of fish habitat, clogged irrigation pipes, decreased quality of forage by wildlife and livestock, and reduced recreational opportunities.Footnote126 Some species have been introduced intentionally for specific reasons (e.g., agronomic grasses as forage for livestock, fishfor recreational fishing) while others may have been introduced accidentally through human activity. Some may have spread into the area after introduction elsewhere.

Invasive non-native species are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity in the Prairies Ecozone+ and the threat is increasing. In some areas, some invasive non-native species, particularly plants, have become the dominant species and have altered composition of large tracts of native grasslands.

Invasive non-native plants

Thomas and LeesonFootnote127 found that one-third of the 36 most abundant cropland "weed" species in the 2000s were not present in the early 1900s.The proportion of these "weed" species that were non-nativeclimbed from 43% to close to 70% overthe sametime period.Footnote127 However, from the 1970s to 2000s, the density of non-native species declined from approximately 100 to 30/m2.Footnote127 Patterns of invasion have been found to be correlated with proximity to agriculture. Godwin et al.Footnote128 found that the percentage of non-native species in grassland remnants in Saskatchewan increases with proximity to the agricultural field edge.

Non-native species already dominate some habitats and a few non-nativeherbs have already altered large areas of native vegetation in some regions. Non-native plants most impacting native grasslands includeKentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and smooth brome (Bromus inermis) in the more mesic grasslands, and leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) and crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum, A. desertorum) in the drier grasslands. Thorpe and GodwinFootnote129 Footnote130 examined ungrazed areas at four locations along an east-west gradient across Saskatchewan's Aspen Parkland Ecoregion. In general, grassland and Aspen forest habitat was similarly invaded. The proportion of biomass from non-native species varied from 10 to over 95%, with the invasion decreasing from east to west (Figure 26).Kentucky bluegrass was the major invader in these areas, but elsewhere other non-native species-usually grasses-are also important invaders.Footnote130

Figure 26.Proportion of herbaceous biomass from different sources (native plants species, Kentucky bluegrass, and exotic herbs) in grasslands and Aspen forest at four locations in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion, 2000/2001.
Map
Locations are listed on the bar chart from east to west
Source: Thorpe and Godwin, 2001Footnote129 and Thorpe and Godwin, 2002Footnote130
Long description for Figure 26

This stacked bar graph presents the following information:

Biomass (percentage)
-Grasslands
Antler
Grasslands
Wolseley
Grasslands
Strasbourg
Grasslands
Sonningdale
Aspen Forest
Antler
Aspen Forest
Wolseley
Aspen Forest
Strasbourg
Aspen Forest
Sonningdale
Kentucky bluegrass6245257512760
Other exotic herbs715626119338910
Native294474897629190

In the Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion, Godwin et al.Footnote128 found thatnon-native grasses invade from the edges of grassland patches, smaller remnant grasslands are altered more than larger grassland remnants, and non-native speciesbecome highly dominant, reducing the number of native plant species. Remaining native grasslands in the Prairies Ecozone+ are, therefore, particularly vulnerable to invasion as most of what remains is highly fragmented into small patches (see Fragmentationsection of Ecosystem conversion key finding on page 41)

In addition to herbs, there are several non-nativewoody species that have the potential to become major invaders, including common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), caragana (Caragana arborescens), and Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia). Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a significant non-native invader of wetlands.

Many of these non-native speciesappear to spread along road ditches, so the extensive fragmentation by roads is a major concern.

Kentucky bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass became established in the southeast portion of the ecozone+duringearly European settlement and is probably still expanding in areas further west.Footnote130 Kentucky bluegrass was not recorded in native grasslands northeast of Saskatoon in the 1950s but by 1993 it was well established in a grassland reserve in this area.Footnote131Ten years later as the expansion continued, the percentage of the herbaceous biomass that was Kentucky bluegrass had increased from17 to 43% and was having a significant negative impact on the diversity of herbaceous species.Footnote132 Kentucky bluegrass has expanded into the high elevation benchlands of Cypress Hills as well, increasing from 0.2% of above ground graminoid biomass in 1957,Footnote133 to 5.5% in 1993,Footnote134 to 21% in 2000,Footnote135 then decreasing to 17% in 2005.Footnote136 It may still be in the process of becoming established as a dominant species there.

Smooth brome

Smooth brome, desired by hay producers due to its productivity,Footnote137 is considered one of the greatest threats to the moister regions of the ecozone+.It invades heavily grazed or disturbed fescue grasslands,Footnote138 and it, together with crested wheatgrass, suppresses native grasses more than other non-native species sown into disturbed native stands.Footnote139 Wilson and BelcherFootnote140 found that common native grassland species were present in non-native invaded vegetation, but at reduced levels of cover, and that species richness was only half that of areas with onlynative vegetation.Romo et al.Footnote141 found that fescue grasslands invaded by smooth brome were almost devoid of native species.In the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion, Godwin et al.Footnote128 reported that no rough fescue (Festuca hallii) plants became re-established in an old smooth brome stand even though rough fescue completely surrounded the stand.In Saskatchewan, roadsides have been traditionally revegetated using smooth brome or crested wheatgrass.Footnote142 In the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion,smooth brome has spread to become the dominant grass cover on roadsides, railway rights-of-way, and abandoned or otherwise disturbed lands,Footnote141 and it continues to be a problem.Footnote143 There were no data on the total area invaded.

Leafy spurge

Leafy spurge, first noted in Saskatchewan in 1928, has become a prevalent non-native species in native grasslands.Footnote144 Footnote145 Footnote146 Belcher and WilsonFootnote147 found that cover of all common native plant species was negatively correlated with leafy spurge cover and that most native species were absent in areas with the greatest leafy spurge abundance.Leafy spurge is particularly aggressive on sandy soils and is a threat to dune species at risk such as western spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis)Footnote146 Footnote148 and hairy prairie-clover (Dalea villosa).Footnote149 It is also believed to be a threat to two orchids listed as Endangered in Canada, small white lady's-slipper (Cypripedium candidum) and western prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara) in Manitoba's Tall Grass Prairie Reserve.Footnote149 In a related study, Scheiman et al.Footnote147 found that high levels of leafy spurge invasion lowered the density of some grassland birds but improved nesting success for one species. Leafy spurge is one invasive species for which biological control methods have had some success.

Crested wheatgrass

Introduced in the 1930s, crested wheatgrass was promoted as superior to native grasses for cattle grazing because of higher production.Footnote150 By 2002, it covered 40,466 km2 ofthe Prairies.Footnote149 When road ditches seeded to crested wheatgrass are included, there is an extensive network of seed sources for invasion throughout the Mixed and Moist Mixed Grassland ecoregions.Crested wheatgrass is a threat to the habitat of some species at risk including hairy prairie-clover (by stabilizing the semi-active dunes)Footnote151 and Sprague's pipit (Anthus spraguei).Footnote152 Sprague's pipit was significantly less common in crested wheatgrass than in native pastures in Saskatchewan.Footnote153 Chestnut-collared longspurs (Calcarius ornatus) were equally common in native and crested wheatgrass sites in Montana but had significantly lower productivity in the invaded sites.Footnote154

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife is an example of an invasive plant species threatening aquatic ecosystems across the Prairies Ecozone+ as its abundancecontinues to increase. It has invaded every major river system in southern Manitoba and has spread as far north as The Pas. Saskatchewan first reported it in 1971 and it is now widespread in the ecozone+ Footnote155 with heavy infestations near urban areas.

Invasive fish

There were 58 native fish species and 11 non-native fish species known from Saskatchewan lakes and rivers in 2006.Footnote156 One, the common carp (Cyprinus carpeo), first recorded in 1938 in Manitoba's Red River, likely invaded from North Dakota.Footnote157 The other ten non-natives were intentionally introduced through stocking for sport fishing.Footnote156 Fish stocking has been a common practice across the ecozone+. In 2007, Footnote154 water bodies over the three provinces were stocked with three species (and one hybrid) of introduced trout species and 58 were stocked with native species (mainly walleye).Footnote158 Footnote159 Footnote160 In addition to invasive fish, aquatic invertebrates can also be invasive. The zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) isa fast-spreadinginvasive species which forms dense monotypic colonies on the undersides of boats, docks, and other structures. They alsoclog intake pipes and water treatment plants. A huge problem in the Great Lakes, zebra mussels were detected in 2009 in a tributary of the Red River that flows into Lake Winnipeg.Footnote161

Other non-native species

Several non-native bird species have become established in the Prairies Ecozone+ including ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) and gray partridge (Perdix perdix), which were introduced to provide hunting opportunities.

Feral swine (Sus scrofa), also called wild boar, can cause serious ecological impacts due to rooting,Footnote162 which disrupts plant communities, successional patterns, forest-floor habitat, and nutrient cycling. They also frequently concentrate their feeding activity on wetland habitats where they can also cause extensive damage.Footnote163 The provinces have combatted this problem throughculling the animals and, as a result, their populations are declining and they are no longer a concern in some areas.Footnote164 Footnote165

A study of native grasslands in Saskatchewan found that 12 of 157 beetle species were non-native.Footnote166 The best known non-native invertebrate is the seven-spotted lady beetle (Coccinella septempunctata). Introduced to control aphids, it has become the dominant lady beetle in the southern Prairies, probably displacing native lady beetle species.Footnote167

Contaminants

Key finding 11
Theme Human/ecosystem interactions

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

Pesticides

Pesticides, mostly herbicides, are widely used in Prairie agriculture.The area of land to which herbicidesare applied increased rapidly from 1971 to 1986 and more gradually after that (Figure 27 ). The Aspen Parkland Ecoregion accounted for the largest area of herbicide application. GoldsboroughFootnote168 showed that use of phenoxy herbicides such as 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and methylchlorophenoxyacetic acid began after World War II and increased rapidlyin the Prairies in the 1950s and 1960s. Use of specialty herbicides, such as those to control grassy vegetation, increased in the 1970s. Anderson et al.Footnote169 sampled wetlands in Alberta's Aspen Parkland Ecoregion in 2002 and found measurable pesticide residues in 92% of them. The most frequently occurring chemicals were 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and methylchlorophenoxyacetic acid, but glyphosate and picloram were found at higher concentrations. Concentrations were lower than previously found in Saskatchewan prairie wetlands.

Areas treated with insecticides and fungicides are smaller and appear to have been stable from 1996 to 2006 (Figure 27).Usher and JohnsonFootnote170 found that the geographic pattern of insecticide purchase and application in the Prairies Ecozone+ was positively correlated withthe distribution and abundance of grasshoppers. Spray intensity was greatest in the grassland ecoregions (1–5%) and less in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion (<1%).

Figure 27. Trends in farmland area treated with herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1971–2006.
Map
Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2009Footnote171
Long description for Figure 27

This line graph presents the following information:

Total area of farmland treated (km2)
YearHerbicidesInsecticidesFungicides
197160,335--
1976---
1981100,673--
1986162,271--
1991153,714--
1996164,08120,26711,016
2001181,96513,27317,840
2006173,43811,01817,807

Mercury

Mercury is a pollutant of concern due to potential neurotoxicological effects on humans at environmentally relevant concentrations.Footnote172 Footnote173 Footnote174 Footnote175 Footnote176 Footnote177 Anthropogenic activity during the 20th century has tripled the amount of mercury in the environment compared to the global background level.Footnote178 In the Prairies, pollution from the pulp and paper industry, coal burning, paint and battery wastes, and seed treatments used in agriculture have added to natural mercury levels.Footnote179 Footnote180 In waterbodies, mercury can bioaccumulate in fish tissues, with higher concentrations found in older, larger fish and fish that consume other fish, such as walleye and northern pike.Footnote180 Testing found that levels were high enough to warrant consumption advisories for recreationally-angled fish on several major Prairie waterbodies.Footnote179Footnote180 No information on trendsin mercury concentrationswas available.

Nutrient loading and algal blooms

Key finding 12
Theme Human/ecosystem interactions

National key finding
Inputs 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.

Eutrophicationhas accelerated in lakes and rivers in the Prairies Ecozone+over the 20th century due to increased phosphorus and nitrogen inputs. The large rivers running out of the Rocky Mountains generally have good water quality. However, the rivers and lakes receiving runoff from the Prairie landscape tend to be eutrophic, with naturally high nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations that are further elevated by inputs from municipal effluent andagriculture.Footnote181 Some improvement is evident. Phosphorus has decreased in some areas with improved sewage treatment and residual soil nitrogen on agricultural lands remains low.

The lakes along the Qu'appelle River in east-central Saskatchewan are well-studied examples of both natural and anthropogenic eutrophication.Footnote182 Historical trends show a continuous increase in the urban population throughout the 20th century, a steady increase in livestock biomass, and a rapid increase of cultivation of field crops between 1900 and 1920, with more gradual increases thereafter. While the Qu'Appelle Lakes are naturally eutrophic, they have become more so fromEuropean settlementtothe 1990s, with huge blooms of blue-green algae and fish kills.Footnote183

Away from the Qu'Appelle system, Pham et al.Footnote184 analyzed nitrogen isotopes in sediments in 21 lakes across southern Saskatchewan, and concluded that lakes showed substantial increases in nitrogen input during the 20th century as a result of agricultural intensification and, in one case, because of sewage effluent. These lakes showed increases in blue-green algae, consistent with the process of eutrophication.

Residual soil nitrogen on agricultural lands

High levels of the nitrate ion can adversely affect freshwater biodiversity, both directly through toxicity and indirectly through eutrophication. GuyFootnote185 found that levels of nitrate in freshwater in excess of 4.7 mg N/Lhave impacts on development rates and mortality ofinsects, fish, and amphibians. Carmargo et al.Footnote186 found that levelsaboveeven 2 mg N/L can affect many freshwater species. Nitrate concentrations of 6.25 and 25 mg N/Lhave been found to impact the rate of embryo development as well as the fry body size of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)and lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis).Footnote187 These concentrations are in the range found in runoff being released from agricultural land in Canada.Footnote188 Footnote189

The extent to which accelerated lake eutrophication is related to agriculture depends in part on the nutrient status of farm soils. A useful way of determining the risk of increased nitrogen loading to receiving waters is to look at nitrate accumulation in soils. Although the presence of nitrogen in the soil beyond crop requirements increases the probability of its export into water bodies, the risk depends on the volume of water leaving fields through overland flow or leaching.The dry prairie climate means that there is less surplus water compared to British Columbia and eastern Canada, so the risk of nutrient export is comparatively less.Footnote181

Although the Prairies Ecozone+ contained the largest amount of agricultural land in Canada in 2006 (65%; almost 400,000 km2), it had the lowest residual soil nitrogen levels of all ecozones+ with agriculture. The residual soil nitrogen increased from 3.3 kg N/ha in 1981 to 18.0 kg N/ha in 2001, and back to 11.8 kgN/ha in 2006.190 Most of the land in the ecozone+ remained in the same risk class between 1981 and 2006 (Figure 28), although there was an increase in the eastern regionsby at least one risk class. Despite this increase, this still represents very low to low risk. The nitrogen inputs, while increasing substantially from 1981 to 2006, remained lower than all other ecozones+ on average. The major nitrogen input in the Prairies Ecozone+ was fertilizers (44% of the total in 2006),followed by legume fixation (37%),which also increased,Footnote190 particularly in Saskatchewan.Footnote191 Manure was the lowest of these nitrogen sources (15%) but alsoincreased.Nitrogen outputs also increased, although slower than the inputs, due to a combination of increased crop yields as well as decreased areas of summerfallow.Footnote190

Figure 28. Change in Residual Soil Nitrogen (RSN) risk class from 1981 to 2006 (left) and risk classes in 2006 (right) for agricultural land in the Prairies Ecozone+.
Map
Agricultural land shown in this figure includes the Cropland, Improved Pasture, and Summerfallowcategories from Canadian Census of Agriculture.
0.0-9.9 represents a very low risk class and >= 40 represents a very high risk class.
Source: Drury et al., 2011Footnote190

Long description for Figure 28.

This graphic is composed of two heat maps. One map indicates areas where residual soil nitrogren (RSN) increased, decreased, or did not change in the Prairies Ecozone+ between 1981 and 2006 and the other quantifies the residual soil nitrogen level by class in the Prairies Ecozone+ in 2006 in kg of nitrogen per hectare. For the latter map, lands are classified into five categories:  0.0–9.9 kg N/ha, 10.0–19.9 kg N/ha, 20.0–29.9 kg N/ha, 30.0–49.9 kg N/ha and >= 40.0 kg N/ha. Agricultural land shown in this figure includes the Cropland, Improved Pasture, and Summerfallow categories from the Canadian Census of Agriculture. From 1981 to 2006, residual soil nitrogen levels increased on almost half of cultivated lands in the ecozone+ and no change was observed on approximately half. RSN values decreased in only two small areas in southeastern and northern Alberta. Areas with increased RSN values were concentrated in the western and northern parts of the ecozone+ in Alberta, in eastern Saskatchewan, and most of the Manitoba portion of the ecozone+. Most of the Saskatchewanand Alberta portions of the ecozone+ had RSN values in the 0.0–9.9 and 10.0–19.9 kg N/ha categories. Areas withRSN levels from 20.0–49.9 kg N/ha were concentrated largely in the western half of the Alberta portion of the ecozone+ and in the Manitoba portion of the ecozone+.Small areas with RSN values >= 40.0 kg N/ha exist in Alberta and Manitoba.

Phosphorus loading to rivers

Together with nitrogen, the other significant cause of eutrophication is high levels of phosphorus. The primary point source of phosphorous in lakes and rivers in Canada is sewage discharges.Footnote181 Many Prairie cities have secondary sewage treatment and a few have tertiary treatment.Footnote181 Glozier et al.Footnote192 Footnote193 Footnote194 quantified trends in phosphorous concentrations at five monitoring stations on the Bow, North Saskatchewan, and Athabasca rivers to assess the effectiveness of an upgrade to tertiary treatment in communities whose sewage treatment plants discharge into these rivers. Results showed dramatic improvements in concentrations of nutrient and bacteriological parameters observed at downstream sites with phosphorous concentrations in the Bow and Athabasca rivers restored to levels similar to upstream, naturally occurring concentrations by 2007 (Figure 29).

Figure 29. A) Median total phosphorus and B) median total dissolved phosphorusconcentrations in the Bow River, 1975–2010.
Map
Three distinct municipal treatment regimes through the period of record are indicated as: T1–secondary treatment and settling aeration, T2–high rate activated sludge plant with UV disinfection, and T3–tertiary treatment including phosphorus removal.
Source: Glozier, 2004Footnote194 and updated by Glozier with unpublished data
Long description for Figure 29

This figure is composed of two line graphs. The first line graph presents the median total phosphorous concentrations in both downstream (below sewage discharges) and upstream (above sewage discharges) sections of the Bow River between 1975 and 2010. The timeline of the record is divided into three distinct municipal treatment regime periods (with different municipal sewage treatments): T1-secondary treatment and settling aeration, T2-high rate activated sludge plant with UV disinfection, and T3-tertiary treatment including phosphorous removal. The total phosphorous  for the Bow River Downstream site was 0.010 mg/L in 1975 and fluctuated but remained relatively steady until the end of phase T2 (2003) (within mesotrophic and oligotrophic categories), when it drops to 0.0035 mg/L and remains at this level until 2010 (within ultra-oligotrophic category). In constrast, mediantotal phosphorous for the Bow River Upstream site remained between0.001 and 0.0035 mg/Lfor the duration of the study period (within ultra-oligotrophic category).

The second line graph presents the total dissolved phosphorous concentrations in both downstream (below sewage discharges) and upstream (above sewage discharges) sections of the Bow River between 1975 and 2010. The timeline of the record is again divided into the three distinct municipal treatment regime periods (T1–T3). The total dissolved phosphorus for the Bow River Downstream site was just below 0.005 mg/L in 1978, peaked at 0.01 mg/L in 1983, decreased to just above 0.005 mg/L in 1989, and remained steady until 2003 (at the end of T2), when a rapid decrease is observed with a stabilization at 0.001 mg/L in 2005 until 2010. In contrast, total dissolved phosphorous for the Bow River Upstream site remained constant at approximately 0.001 mg/L for the duration of the study period.

Climate change

Key finding 14
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.

Trends in climatic variables

Table 4 summarizes significant trends in climatic variables in the Prairies Ecozone+ from 1950 to 2007.Across the ecozone+as a whole, spring was warmer by 2.3 oC and winter had less precipitation (18%). Thenumber of days with snow cover in the spring decreased by 16 days. Although drought is a recurring characteristic of the Prairies, there was no trend in the Palmer Drought Severity Index from 1950 to 2007.Climate stations are well distributed across theecozone+ and trends at individual stations are generally reflected in the overall ecozone+results. While some variables had no overall trends for the ecozone+, individual stationsshowedtrends when analyzed individually. For example, mean temperature in winter (December–February)increased at eight stations in the ecozone+ while there was no overall trend (see Table 4, Figure 30, Figure 31, and Figure 32).Footnote81

Table 4. Summary of changesin climate variables in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1950–2007.
Climate variableOverall ecozone+ trend (1950–2007)Comments and regional variation
Temperature
  • of 2.3oC in spring relative to 1961–1990 mean
  • No decreasing trends in any station in any season
  • s of >3oC at several stations, particularly in western half of ecozone+ in spring
  • at 8 stations throughout ecozone+ in winter
Precipitation
  • of 18% in winter relative to 1961–1990 mean
  • ing trends in winter were at stations concentrated in western part of the ecozone+, 8 stations have of >40%; 2 stations in eastern end of the ecozone+ showed of >40% in winter
Snow
  • No change in snow to total precipitation ratio
  • No change in maximum snow depth
  • by 16.3 days in the number of days with snow cover from February to July
  • in precipitation that fell as snow at some stations
  • in maximum snow depth for 6 stations, primarily along the northeast border of the ecozone+; for 2 stations in eastern Saskatchewan
  • Trends in snow cover duration consistent across ecozone+
Drought Severity Index
  • No change
  • Moderate drought in 1980 and 1984; severe drought in 1961 and 1988
  • No trend at any station
Growing season
  • End to growing season was 6 days earlier
  • No trend in length or start
  • 4 stations showed an earlier start of the growing season
  • 3 stations in southeast and 1 station in northwest showed in growing degree days

Only significant trends(p<0.05) are shown
Source: Zhang et al., 2011Footnote81 and supplementary data provided by the authors.

Figure 30. Change in mean temperatures in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1950–2007, for: a) spring (March–May), b) summer (June–August, c) fall (September–November), and d) winter (December–February).
Map
Source: Zhang et al., 2011Footnote81 and supplementary data provided by the authors

Long description for Figure 30.

This graphic is composed of four maps which present changes in mean temperatures in the Prairies Ecozone+ between 1950 and 2007 for a) spring (March–May), b) summer (June–August), c) fall (September–November), and d) winter (December–February). Each map includes icons representing individual monitoring stations that indicate an increase or decrease in seasonal temperature relative to the 1961–1990 mean, the degree of change, and whether observed trends were significant. Spring temperatures increased significantly at the majority of stationsinthe ecozone+, with all increases greater than 1.5°C, and several sites with increases greater than 3°C, particularly in the western half of the ecozone+. There were also significant increases in summer temperatures at five sites in the western part of the ecozone+ and significant increases in winter temperaturesat eight sites distributed throughout the ecozone+, although these increases were generally less than 1.5°Cand did not result in seasonal trends for the ecozone+ as a whole.

Figure 31.Change in the amounts of precipitation in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1950–2007, for: a) spring (March–May), b) summer (June–August, c) fall (September–November), and d) winter (December–February).
Map
Expressed as a percentage of the 1961–1990 mean
Source: Zhang et al., 2011Footnote81 and supplementary data provided by the authors
Long description for Figure 31.

This graphic is composed of four maps which present the change in the amounts of precipitation in the Prairies Ecozone+ between 1950 and 2007 for a) spring (March–May), b) summer (June–August), c) fall (September–November), and d) winter (December–February). Each map includes icons representing individual monitoring stations that indicate an increase or decrease in seasonal precipitation relative to the 1961–1990 mean, the degree of change, and whether observed trends were significant.Winter precipitation decreased at eleven sites concentrated in the western part of the ecozone+, eight of which had decreases greater than 40% compared to the 1961–1990 mean. In contrast, two stations in the eastern end of the ecozone+ had increases greater than 40%. Across the ecozone as a whole, winter precipitation decreased by 18%. Other seasons showed few trends. Precipitation increased at two stations in each of spring and fall; trends in these seasons at other stations were not significant. There were no significant trends in summer precipitation for any of the stations.

Figure 32. Change in snow durations (the number of days with >= 2 cm of snow on the ground) in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1950–2007, in: a) the first half of the snow season (August–January), which indicates change in the start date of snow cover, and b) the second half of the snow season (February–July), which indicates changes in the end date of snow cover.
Map
Source: Zhang et al., 2011Footnote81 and supplementary data provided by the authors
Long description for Figure 32.

This graphic is composed of two maps which present the change in snow durations (the number of days with >= 2 cm of snow on the ground) in the Prairies Ecozone+ between 1950 and 2007. The first map shows changes for the first half of the snow season (August–January) (in number of days), which indicate a change in the start date of snow cover. The second map shows changes for the second half of the snow season (February–July), which indicate a change in the end date of snow cover. In the first half of the snow season, only one site,in the southwestern part of the ecozone+, had a significant trend toward shorter snow cover duration. Changes at other stations were variable and not significant. In the second half of the snow season, snow cover duration decreased at sixteen stations distributed widely throughout the ecozone+; declines were greater than 20 days at eleven of those sites. Across the ecozone+ as a whole, the number of days with snow cover in the second half of the snow season decreased by 16.3 days.

Changes in phenology

Between 1950 and 2007, there was no change in the start date or length of the growing season for the ecozone+when measured as days over 5oC,although the season ended 6 days earlier on average.Footnote81 The growing season did start earlier at four individual stations (Table 4).Growing season is specific to individual species, however, and some changes in phenology were noted for this ecozone+. Based on data from the Plantwatch Program,Footnote195 in Edmonton, the firstflowering date of trembling aspen advanced by 26 days from 1901 to 1997 which suggests that spring is occuring earlier.Footnote196 Spring flowering of aspen and prairie crocus (Anemone patens) in Alberta's Aspen Parkland Ecoregion alsoadvanced by two weeks from 1936 to 2006.Footnote197

Changes in spring temperature can also impact arrival dates for migratory birds. For example, Murphy-Klassen et al.Footnote198 analyzed spring arrival dates of 96 migratory bird species at Delta Marsh, Manitoba from 1939 to 2001 and their relationship to temperature. They found that 25 species (26%) had significantly earlier arrival dates (between 6 and 32 days) while only two arrived significantly later.Monthly mean spring temperature increased by 0.6 (in April) to 3.8°C (in February) over the same time period (measured at Winnipeg International Airport). Forty-six percent of the 96 species had arrival dates significantly related to temperature, and 98% of these arrived earlier with increasing temperature. This translated to arrival dates ranging from 0.6 to 2.6 days earlier for every 1°C increase in temperature. Changes in temperature on the breeding grounds and along migration routes, in addition to other factors, also influence arrival date (e.g.,Figure 33).Footnote198

Figure 33. Trends inspring arrival date (left) and relationship between spring arrival dateand mean monthly temperature (right)for Canada goose (Branta canadensis) at Delta Marsh, 1939–2001.
Map
Source: adapted from Murphy-Klassen et al., 2005Footnote198
Long description for Figure 33

This graphic presents two scatterplots with trendlines showing trends in the spring arrival date over time and the relationship between spring arrival date and mean monthly temperature for Canada goose (Brantacanadensis) at Delta Marsh, Manitoba, between 1939 and 2001. Over the time period, spring arrival dates havebecome earlier in the year, from an average arrival date of April 1stin 1939 to an average arrival date of March 14th in 2001. The second line graph shows a negative relationship between the spring arrival date and the mean March temperature (later arrival dates are correlated with lower temperatures, whereas earlier arrival dates are correlated with warmer temperatures). On average, arrival dates were 0.6 to 2.6 days earlier for every 1°C increase in mean March temperature.

Future climate predictions

Global climate models predict that the Prairies Ecozone+ will become significantly warmer and somewhat drier over the coming century. The ecosystems and biodiversity found in the Prairies Ecozone+ are strongly controlled by climate. ThorpeFootnote199 modelled the shifts in vegetation zones in the southern part of the Prairie provinces resulting from climate change scenarios up to the 2080s. All scenarios show the grassland environment currently found in the Prairies Ecozone+ expanding northward into areas currently covered by forest. Canadian grassland types may be replaced by typesfound in the Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas, with the warmest scenario showing the southern margin of the ecozone+ shifting to the shortgrass prairie type found in Colorado.Footnote199 However, many species, particularly plants, have limited dispersal abilities andnorthward as fast as the climate is changing, leading to .. The analysis suggested the following trends for the coming century:Footnote199

  • Declines intree and shrub cover;
  • Reduced invasion of grassland patches by shrubs and poplar sprouts;
  • An increase in open vegetation suitable for livestock grazing;
  • Declines in animal species dependent on woody cover;
  • Increases in animal species dependent on open grassland;
  • Shifts in the structure of grasslands, particularly a decrease in midgrasses and anincrease in shortgrasses;
  • A decrease in cool-season grasses andan increase in warm-season grasses;
  • Northward shift in the ranges of plants and animals found in the U.S. into Canada;
  • New community types caused by differences in rates of northward migration;
  • Increased invasion by non-native plants;
  • Moderate decreases in average grass production and grazing capacity per unit area, depending on the climate scenario(however, the increase in open vegetation types associated with declining woody cover could increase the total area of rangeland); and
  • More frequent drought years with low production, but possibly also more frequent extreme wet years with flooding of low-lying pastures.

Wetlands, and the waterfowl populations that depend on them, are particularly sensitive to climatic moisture balance. Between 1955 and 1989, waterfowl productivity increased in wet years and decreased in dry years, a result of precipitation-driven changes in the extent and quality of wetland breeding habitats.Footnote200 For the Prairie Pothole Region, which includes the Prairies Ecozone+, researchers have predicted that the number of ponds and number of ducks will decrease with climate change.Footnote62 Footnote201 Footnote202 Footnote203 The most productive areas in southeastern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba will become a more episodicsource of waterfowl production, similar to the drier areas in the western part of the Prairies Ecozone+.Footnote203 Warmer and drier conditions,with a possible increase in salinity and turbidity, are expected to stress aquatic ecosystems.Footnote78 Footnote204 For the Prairies, Schindler and DonahueFootnote78 predicted larger algal blooms, accelerated eutrophication, and serious impacts on fish species owing to a combination of climate change, increasing nutrient runoff, and ever more human use of natural water systems.

Ecosystem services

Key finding 15
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.

Ecosystem services in the Prairies include water (a provisioning service), crop pollination (a regulating service), and nutrient cycling (a supporting service). These are necessary for food production and potable water. The conversion of over 70% of the natural vegetation to agricultural production, and the increasing fragmentation and alteration of remaining ecosystems, has altered the abilityof the ecosystems in the Prairies Ecozone+to deliver some ecosystem goods and services. Channeling of primary production into agricultural crops and secondary production into livestock has increasedprovisioning services but decreased many regulating and supporting services (as is evident from the trends presented throughout this report).Despite the extent of human modification to the landscape, the remaining biodiversity still provides services such as hunting, fishing, and other forms ofoutdoor recreation (e.g., hiking and camping, bird watching). Most native grasslands also support livestock grazing which, under proper management, is highly compatible with conservation goals. This section provides four examples of ecosystem services: three provisioning services related to food and a study in ecosystem valuation.

Food

Although primary productivity has shifted from wild species harvested for food to cultivated sources of food,ecosystems in the Prairies Ecozone+ provide several other important food sources, including traditional country foods, fish, and wildlife for hunting. Overall, production of food has steadily increased.

Traditional country foods

Prior to their extirpation in the late 1800s, plains bisonwere the foundation of the Aboriginal economyFootnote205 Footnote206 Footnote207 Footnote208 Footnote209 Footnote210 and the preferred meat source in the Prairies Ecozone+.Footnote206 Footnote210 Bison figure prominently in the structure, spirituality, and rituals of present-day Plains Aboriginalsocieties. The loss of the bison represented a significant impairment of the cultural services provided to Aboriginal peopleby this ecozone+.Footnote211

Similarly, although not eaten as frequently by present-day Aboriginal groups, prairie turnip (Psoralea esculenta) (other names include tipsin, teepsenee, breadroot, breadroot scurf pea, and pomme blanche) is particularly prevalent in Blackfoot legend and language, indicating that it once ranked as a species of particularimportance.Footnote205 Footnote212 Footnote213 The prairie turnip is a key component of the Natoas, or "holy turnip" bundle, featured in the Sundance, the most important ceremony in Blackfoot culture.Footnote205 Footnote214

Fish

There is a limited amount of commercial fishing in the Prairies Ecozone+, but Lake Manitoba has a significant fishery.Footnote215 From 1997/1998 to 2006/2007, the annual harvest varied from 1,000 to 2,500 tonnes per year (Figure 34). The most important commercial species harvested by weight are carp (Cyprinus carpio) and mullet (Catostomus commersoni).Footnote215

Figure 34. Trend in annual commercial harvest of fish from Lake Manitoba, 1997/1998 to 2006/2007.
Map
Source: Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, 2008Footnote215
Long description for Figure 34

This line graph presents the following information:

YearHarvest (tonnes)
19981,518
19991,734
20001,944
20012,342
20022,116
20032,287
20041,996
20051,363
20061,074
20071,212
Hunting

Sport hunting is an important recreational use associated with prairie biodiversity.Intact Prairie grasslands support several game species that are frequently hunted for sport. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is the most important big game species, with tens of thousands of animals harvested per year (Figure 35).

Figure 35. Trends in harvest of white-tailed deer by sport huntersin the three Prairie provinces, 1984–2007.
Map
Data shown are for whole provinces and include areas outside of the Prairies Ecozone+.
Sources: Alberta: My Wild Alberta, 2008;Footnote216; Saskatchewan: Saskatchewan Environment, unpublished data;Footnote217 Manitoba: Manitoba Conservation, unpublished dataFootnote218
Long description for Figure 35

This line graph shows the following information:

Annual total deer harvest
-AlbertaSaskatchewanManitoba
1984-31,006-
1985-16,674-
1986-27,432-
1987-20,300-
1988-25,348-
1989-28,028-
1990-27,712-
1991-27,286-
1992-29,605-
1993-36,9222,647
1994-36,9302,309
199516,77042,6352,968
199616,57334,2633,891
1997-35,3873,339
199819,79838,4593,242
199916,11826,7474,447
200016,33520,4663,914
200115,97119,8743,402
2002-20,5682,763
2003-17,1143,370
2004-16,1913,446
2005-17,0353,652
200619,789-2,891
200718,737--

The duck harvest in the Prairies Ecozone+ declined steeply from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s (Figure 36), mirroring the decline in breeding duck populations (see Figure 49 in Wetlands key findingon page 79). Since the early1990s, the duck harvest has increased, again related to gradual recovery of the duck population. However, by the 2000s,duck populations remained low compared to the levels of the 1970s. In contrast, the goose harvest wasrelatively stable from 1975 to 2006 (Figure 36). The slight increase since the early 1990s corresponded to the significantly higher numbers of geese, both locally nesting Canada geese,Footnote219 and geese of several species that breed in the Arctic and migrate through the Prairies Ecozone+ in fall.

Figure 36. Trends in the number of ducksand geese harvested in the southern parts of the Prairieprovinces, 1975–2006.
Map
Source: Canadian Wildlife Service,2008Footnote220
Long description for Figure 36.

This line graph shows the following information:

Annual total harvest
YearDuck harvestGoose harvest
19751,111,688343,559
19761,145,320288,479
1977796,207246,763
1978838,391291,794
1979888,764346,938
1980719,970366,339
1981609,851316,421
1982574,237307,980
1983663,340366,891
1984465,400339,162
1985382,719361,943
1986410,677297,078
1987391,737320,659
1988207,241254,557
1989230,084321,741
1990236,828279,450
1991237,540301,338
1992219,197209,384
1993180,733241,665
1994253,008267,786
1995282,659272,057
1996355,670345,699
1997375,123373,724
1998351,696405,028
1999383,995389,826
2000346,933404,149
2001297,299404,721
2002312,829374,078
2003302,673391,093
2004320,566371,903
2005340,997358,705
2006370,432402,145

In general, the Prairie provinces, like other jurisdictions in North America, have experienced a decline in hunting participation,Footnote221 in part due to a shift to increasingly urban populations. This may also be contributing to declining trends in some harvest rates.

Ecosystem valuation

Ecosystem services in the Prairies have not been systematically quantified for their economic value. However, OlewilerFootnote222 examined the "natural capital" of the Upper Assiniboine River Basin, a 21,000 km2 area in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion, to place a value on the ecological services provided by the Basin to people. The study identified the major threats to natural capital as the loss of wetlands and riparian habitat due to agricultural use, increased danger of flooding due to wetland loss, soil erosion leading to sedimentation of surface waters, and a decline in water quality due to increasing livestock density. Their best estimate of the net valueof conserving natural capital in this area was $66/ha/yr (Table 5).

Table 5. Estimates of net value of services provided by conserving natural capital in the Upper Assiniboine River Basin, 2004.
ServiceValue ($/ha/yr)
Saved government payments$12.83
Saved crop insurance premiums$3.51
Improved water quality – decreased sediment$4.62
Water-based recreation$0.91
Reduced wind erosion$2.67
Reduced GHG emissions$9.38
Carbon sequestration$19.60
Increased wildlife hunting$10.71
Increased wildlife viewing$4.16
Gross benefits$68.39
Program administration costs($2.08)
Compensation for wildlife depredation($0.64)
Net benefits$65.67

Source: adapted from Olewiler, 2004Footnote222 Case study: Implications of wetland loss for the provision of ecosystem services

Another example of the ecosystem services in the Prairies Ecozone+ is the improvement to water quality provided by wetlands. Ducks Unlimited Canada worked in partnership with the University of Guelph to develop a hydrologic modeling system to estimate water quantity and quality impacts of wetland drainage in the Broughton's Creek watershed in Manitoba. Between 1968 and 2005, 21% of wetland area was lost and 69% of the wetland basins (almost 6,000 wetlands) were negatively impacted (see also Wetlands key finding on page 24).Footnote66 Wetland drainage since 1968 resulted in an additional 32 km2 of the watershed draining into streams. These changes resulted in the following environmental impacts:

  • A31% increase in nitrogen and phosphorus export from the watershed;
  • A41% increase in average annual sediment loading;
  • A30% increase in the average annual flow;
  • A18% increase in the peak flow; and
  • A28% decrease inhabitat capacity for waterfowl.Footnote66

Top of Page

Footnotes

Footnote 24

Watmough, M.D. and Schmoll, M.J. 2007. Environment Canada's Prairie & Northern Region Habitat Monitoring Program Phase II: recent habitat trends in the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture. Technical Report Series No. 493. Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service. Edmonton, AB. 135 p. 

Return to footnote 24

Footnote 27

Riley, J.L., Green, S.E. and Brodribb, K.E. 2007. A conservation blueprint for Canada's prairies and parklands. Nature Conservancy of Canada. Toronto, ON. 226 p. and DVD-ROM.

Return to footnote 27

Footnote 62

Johnson, W.C., Millett, B.V., Gilmanov, T., Voldseth, R.A., Guntenspergen, G.R. and Naugle, D.E. 2005. Vulnerability of northern prairie wetlands to climate change. Bioscience 55:863-872.

Return to footnote 62

Footnote 66

Ducks Unlimited Canada, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 2008. The impacts of wetland loss in Manitoba. Ducks Unlimited Canada. Stonewall, MB. 4 p.

Return to footnote 66

Footnote 78

Schindler, D.W. and Donahue, W.F. 2006. An impending water crisis in Canada's western Prairie provinces. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103:7210-7216.

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Footnote 81

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.

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Footnote 104

IUCN. 1994. Guidelines for protected area management categories. Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas with the assistance of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, International Union for Conservation of Nature. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. x + 261 p. 

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Footnote 105

Environment Canada. 2009. Unpublished analysis of data by ecozone+ from: Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS), v.2009.05 [online]. Canadian Council on Ecological Areas. (accessed 5 November, 2009)

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Footnote 106

CCEA. 2009. Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS), v.2009.05[online]. Canadian Council on Ecological Areas. (accessed 5 November, 2009)

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Footnote 107

Statistics Canada. 2013. Farm environmental management survey 2011. Catalogue No. 21-023-X. Statistics Canada. Ottawa, ON. 23 p. 

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Footnote 108

Good, K. and Michalsky, S. 2008. Summary of Canadian experience with conservation easements and their potential application to agri-environmental policy. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Ottawa, ON. 46 p. + appendices.

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Footnote 109

NAWMP Committee. 2004. North American Waterfowl Management Plan: 2004 strategic guidance - strengthening the biological foundation. North American Waterfowl Management Plan Committee: Canadian Wildlife Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales. Gatineau, QB. x + 22 p. 

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Footnote 110

Statistics Canada. 2010. CANSIM table 001-0017: Estimated areas, yield, production, average farm price and total farm value of principal field crops, in imperial units. Seeded winter wheat for prairie provinces [online]. CANSIM (database). Government of Canada. (accessed 8 July, 2010)

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Footnote 111

James, P.C., Murphy, K.M., Beek, F. and Sequin, R. 1999. The biodiversity crisis in southern Saskatchewan: a landscape perspective. In Proceedings of the Fifth Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Workshop. Saskatoon, SK, February, 1998. Edited by Thorpe, J., Steeves, T.A. and Gollop, M. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 24. Provincial Museum of Alberta. Edmonton, AB. pp. 13-16.

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Footnote 112

Koper, N. and Schmiegelow, F.K.A. 2006. A multi-scaled analysis of avian response to habitat amount and fragmentation in the Canadian dry mixed-grass prairie. Landscape Ecology 21:1045-1059.

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Footnote 113

Noss, R.F. and Cooperrider, A.Y. 1994. Saving nature's legacy: protecting and restoring biodiversity. Island Press. Washington, DC. 443 p.

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Footnote 114

Thorpe, J. and Godwin, B. 1999. Threats to biodiversity in Saskatchewan. SRC Publication No. 11158-1C99. Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. 69 p. 

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Footnote 115

Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation. 2008. Data on length of municipal roads by county or municipal district in Alberta's ecoregions provided by A. Germann. Unpublished data.

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Footnote 116

Walker, B.L., Naugle, D.E. and Doherty, K.E. 2007. Greater sage-grouse population response to energy development and habitat loss. Journal of Wildlife Management 71:2644-2654.

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Footnote 117

CAPP. 2009. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) [online]. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. (accessed August, 2008)

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Footnote 118

Saskatchewan Industry and Resources. 2006. Mineral statistics yearbook 2005. Saskatchewan Industry and Resources, Petroleum and Natural Gas. Regina, SK. 

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Footnote 119

Sawyer, H., Nielson, R.M., Lindzey, F. and McDonald, L.L. 2006. Winter habitat selection of mule deer before and during development of a natural gas field. Journal of Wildlife Management 70:396-403.

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Footnote 120

Linnen, C. 2006. The effects of minimal disturbance shallow gas activity on grassland birds. Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada. Saskatoon, SK. 16 p. 

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Footnote 121

Alberta Energy. 2009. Coalbed methane FAQs [online]. Government of Alberta. (accessed 19 August, 2008).

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Footnote 122

Dale, B.C., Wiens.T.S. and Hamilton, L.E. 2009. Abundance of three grassland songbirds in an area of natural gas infill drilling in Alberta, Canada. In Tundra to tropics: connecting birds, habitats, and people.Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners In Flight Conference. McAllen, TX, 13-16 February, 2008. Edited by Rich, T.D., C.Arizmendi, D.Demarest and C.Thompson. University of Texas-Pan American Press. Edinburg, TX. pp. 1-11.

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Footnote 123

Schlaepfer, M.A., Sax, D.F. and Olden, J.D. 2011. The potential conservation value of non native species. Conservation Biology 25:428-437.

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Footnote 124

Environment Canada. Invasive alien species in Canada [online]. (accessed 10 July, 2013)

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Footnote 125

Vilá, M., Espinar, J.L., Hejda, M., Hulme, P.E., Jarosik, V., Maron, J.L., Pergl, J., Schaffner, U., Sun, Y. and Pysek, P. 2011. Ecological impacts of invasive alien plants: a meta analysis of their effects on species, communities and ecosystems. Ecology Letters 14:702-708.

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Footnote 126

Frid, L., Knowler, D., Murray, C., Myers, J. and Scott, L. 2009. Economic impacts of invasive plants in BC. Invasive Plant Council of BC and ESSA Technologies Ltd. Vancouver, BC. 105 p. 

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Footnote 127

Thomas, A.G. and Leeson, J.Y. 2007. Tracking long-term changes in the arable weed flora of Saskatchewan. In Invasive plants: inventories, strategies and action - topics in Canadian weed science. Edited by Darbyshire, S.J. Canadian Weed Science Society. Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC. pp. 43-70. 

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Footnote 128

Godwin, B., Thorpe, J., Pivnick, K. and Bantle, J. 1998. Conservation and enhancement of on-farm wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. 

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Footnote 129

Thorpe, J. and Godwin, B. 2001. Grazing and burning experiments on wildlife lands: 2000 progress report. SRC Publication No. 11179-1E01. Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. 

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Footnote 130

Thorpe, J. and Godwin, B. 2002. Grazing and burning experiments on wildlife lands: 2001 progress report. SRC Publication No. 11179-1E02. Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. 81 p. 

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Footnote 131

Delcan Western Ltd., Saskatchewan Research Council and Jone Heritage Resources Consulting. 1994. Saskatoon Natural Grasslands Resource Management Plan. Report prepared for Meewasin Valley Authority. Saskatoon, SK.

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Footnote 132

Godwin, B. and Thorpe, J. 2004. Ten-year vegetation changes at Saskatoon natural grassland. SRC Publication No. 11658-1E04. Saskatchewan Research Council, Grassland/Forest Ecology Section, Environment/Minerals Division. Saskatoon, SK. iii + 18 p. 

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Footnote 133

Coupland, R.T. 1958. Fluctuations in the composition of Saskatchewan grassland vegetation in relation to meteorological conditions, 1957. University of Saskatchewan. Saskatoon, SK. 63 p. 

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Footnote 134

Godwin, B. and Thorpe, J. 1994. Grazing assessment of Cypress Hills Provincial Park. SRC Publication No. E2520-6-E-94. Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. 37 p. 

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Footnote 135

Godwin, B. and Thorpe, J. 2001. Fort Walsh grazing assessment. Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. 

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Footnote 136

Godwin, B. and Thorpe, J. 2006. Grassland monitoring at Fort Walsh national historic site in 2005. Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. 

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Footnote 137

Looman, J. 1976. Productivity of permanent bromegrass pastures in the parklands of the prairie provinces. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 56:829-835.

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Footnote 138

Looman, J. 1969. The fescue grasslands of Western Canada. Vegetation 19:128-145.

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Footnote 139

Wilson, S.D. 1989. The suppression of native prairie by alien species introduced for revegetation. Landscape and Urban Planning 17:113-119.

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Footnote 140

Wilson, S.D. and Belcher, J.W. 1989. Plant and bird communities of native prairie and introduced Eurasian vegetation in Manitoba, Canada. Conservation Biology 3:39-44.

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Footnote 141

Romo, J.T., Grilz, P.L. and Driver, E.A. 1990. Invasion of the Canadian prairies by an exotic perrenial. Blue Jay 48:130-135.

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Footnote 142

Neufeld, C.R. 2008. Saskatchewan guidelines for use of native plants in roadside revegetation - Footnote manual. Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Saskatoon, SK. ii + 25 p. 

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Footnote 143

Henderson, D.C., Ellert, B.H. and Naeth, M.A. 2004. Grazing and soil carbon along a gradient of Alberta rangelands. Journal of Range Management 57:402-410.

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Footnote 144

Espie, R.H.M., James, P.C. and Murphy, K.M. 2002. Alien species in Saskatchewan: impacts, pathways, and possible solutions. In Alien invaders in Canada's waters, wetlands, and forests. Edited by Claudi, R., Nantel, P. and Muckle-Jeffs, E. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service. Ottawa, ON. pp. 103-110. 

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Footnote 145

Fontaine, D. 2008. Personal communication. Information on prevalence of leafy spurge in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. Saskatoon, SK.

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Footnote 146

Houston, B. 2008. Personal communication. Information on prevalence and impacts of leafy spurge in Saskatchewan. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Saskatoon, SK.

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Footnote 147

Belcher, J.W. and Wilson, S.D. 1989. Leafy spurge and the species composition of a mixed-grass prairie. Journal of Range Management 42:172-175.

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Footnote 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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Footnote 149

Haber, E. 2002. Spread and impacts of alien plants across Canadian landscapes. In Alien invaders in Canada's waters, wetlands, and forests. Edited by Claudi, R., Nantel, P. and Muckle-Jeffs, E. Natural Resources Canada, Canada Forest Service. Ottawa, ON. pp. 43-57. 

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Footnote 150

Smoliak, S. 1986. Influence of climatic conditions on production of Stipa-Bouteloua prairie over a 50-year period. Journal of Range Management 39:100-103.

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Footnote 151

Godwin, B. and Thorpe, J. 2005. Plant species at risk survey of four PFRA pastures, 2004. SRC Publication No. 11673-1E04. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. 

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Footnote 152

Environment Canada. 2008. Recovery strategy for sprague's pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada. Ottawa, ON. v + 29 p. 

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Footnote 153

Sutter, G.C. and Brigham, R.M. 1998. Avifaunal and habitat changes resulting from conversion of native prairie to crested wheat grass: patterns at songbird community and species levels. Canadian Journal of Zoology 76:869-875.

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Footnote 154

Lloyd, J.D. and Martin, T.E. 2005. Reproductive success of chestnut-collared longspurs in native and exotic grassland. The Condor 107:363-374.

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Footnote 155

Nordstrum, D. 2008. Personal communication. Information on status of purple loosestrife in the Prairies Ecozone+. Saskatchewan Invasive Species Council.

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Footnote 156

Ashcroft, P., Duffy, M., Dunn, C., Johnston, T., Koob, M., Merkowsky, J., Murphy, K., Scott, K. and Senik, B. 2006. The Saskatchewan fishery: history and current status. Technical Report No. 2006-2. Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment. Regina, SK. 58 p. + appendices.

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Footnote 157

Ralley, W. 2002. Alien aquatic species in Manitoba: present and threatening. In Alien invaders in Canada's waters, wetlands, and forests. Edited by Claudi, R., Nantel, P. and Muckle-Jeffs, E. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service. Ottawa, ON. pp. 93-102. 

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Footnote 158

Government of Saskatchewan. 2007. 2007 Stocked Waters Guide [online]. Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. (accessed December, 2008)

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Footnote 159

Manitoba Conservation. 2007. 2007 Stocking Report [PDF, 37.8Kb] [online]. Government of Manitoba. (accessed December, 2008)

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Footnote 160

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. 2008. Data on fish stocking in Alberta provided by K. Bodden. Unpublished data.

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Footnote 161

Manitoba Water Stewardship. 2013. The zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) [online]. Government of Manitoba, Conservation and Water Stewardship, Watershed Stewardship Division. (accessed 24 October, 2013)

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Footnote 162

Synatzske, D.R. 1993. The ecological impacts of feral swine. In Proceedings of Feral Swine Symposium. Kerrville, TX, 24-25 March, 1993. Edited by Hanselka, C.W. and Cadenhead, J.F. District 7 AgriLife Research and Extension Center. San Angelo, TX.9 p.

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Footnote 163

Tokaruk, B. 2003. Field notes: fall 2003. Weyburn, SK. Saskatchewan Game Warden Magazine.

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Footnote 164

Manitoba Conservation. 2008. Data on the status of various mammals in Manitoba provided by V. Crichton. Unpublished data.

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Footnote 165

Turco, E. 2008. Personal communication. Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

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Footnote 166

Pepper, J. 1999. Diversity and community assemblages of ground-dwelling beetles and spider on fragmented grasslands of southern Saskatchewan. Thesis (M.Sc.). University of Regina, Department of Biology. Regina, SK. 152 p.

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Footnote 167

Hooper, R.R. 2006. Beetles. In The encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Canadian Plains Research Centre, University of Regina. Regina, SK. Available online.

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Footnote 168

Goldsborough, L.G. 1993. Studies on the impact of agricultural and forestry herbicides on non-target aquatic plant communities. In Proceedings of the Third Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Workshop. Brandon, MB, February, 1992. Edited by Holroyd, G.L., Dickson, H.L., Regnier, M. and Smith, H.C. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 19. Provincial Museum of Alberta. Edmonton, AB. pp. 49-57.

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Footnote 169

Anderson, A.M., Byrtus, G., Thompson, J., Humphries, D., Hill, B. and Bilyk, M. 2002. Baseline pesticide data for semi-permanent wetlands in the aspen parkland of Alberta. Alberta Environment Water Research User Group, Alberta Environment Ecosystem User Group and Alberta North American Waterfowl Management Plan Partnership. Edmonton, AB. x + 91 p. 

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Footnote 170

Usher, R.G. and Johnson, D. 1993. Assessment of the geographic risk associated with insecticide use and breeding waterfowl in the prairie-parkland ecoregion of Alberta. In Proceedings of the Third Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Workshop. Brandon, MB, February, 1992. Edited by Holroyd, G.L., Dickson, H.L., Regnier, M. and Smith, H.C. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 19. Provincial Museum of Alberta. Edmonton, AB. pp. 61-64.

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Footnote 171

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 2009. Canadian soil information system [online]. (accessed September, 2008)

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Footnote 172

Choi, A.L. and Grandjean, P. 2008. Methylmercury exposure and health effects in humans. Environmental Chemistry 5:112-120.

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Footnote 173

Basu, N., Klenavic, K., Gamberg, M., O'Brien, M., Evans, D., Scheuhammer, A.M. and Chan, H.M. 2005. Effects of mercury on neurochemical receptor-binding characteristics in wild mink. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 24:1444-1450.

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Footnote 174

Basu, N., Scheuhammer, A., Grochowina, N., Klenavic, K., Evans, D., O'Brien, M. and Chan, H.M. 2005. Effects of mercury on neurochernical receptors in wild river otters (Lontra canadensis). Environmental Science & Technology 39:3585-3591.

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Footnote 175

Evers, D.C., Savoy, L.J., DeSorbo, C.R., Yates, D.E., Hanson, W., Taylor, K.M., Siegel, L.S., Cooley, J.H., Bank, M.S., Major, A., Munney, K., Mower, B.F., Vogel, H.S., Schoch, N., Pokras, M., Goodale, M.W. and Fair, J. 2008. Adverse effects from environmental mercury loads on breeding common loons. Ecotoxicology 17:69-81.

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Footnote 176

Mierle, G., Addison, E.M., MacDonald, K.S. and Joachim, D.G. 2000. Mercury levels in tissues of otters from Ontario, Canada: Variation with age, sex, and location. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 19:3044-3051.

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Footnote 177

Scheuhammer, A.M., Atchison, C.M., Wong, A.H.K. and Evers, D.C. 1998. Mercury exposure in breeding common loons (Gavia immer) in central Ontario, Canada. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 17:191-196.

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Footnote 178

Mason, R.P., Fitzgerald, W.F. and Morel, F.M.M. 1994. The Biogeochemical Cycling of Elemental Mercury - Anthropogenic Influences. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 58:3191-3198.

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Footnote 179

Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. 2004. Mercury in Saskatchewan fish: guidelines for consumption updated to 2004. Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. Regina, SK. 32 p. 

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Footnote 180

Manitoba Water Stewardship. 2007. Mercury in fish and guidelines for the consumption of recreationally angled fish in Manitoba. Manitoba Water Stewardship, Water Quality Management Section. Winnipeg, MB. 24 p. 

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Footnote 181

Chambers, P.A., Guy, M., Roberts, E., Charlton, M.N., Kent, R., Gagnon, C., Grove, G. and Foster, N. 2001. Nutrients and their impact on the Canadian environment. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Health Canada, and Natural Resources Canada. Ottawa, ON. x + 241 p. 

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Footnote 182

Christian, J.M. and Wilson, S.D. 1999. Long-term ecosystem impacts of an introduced grass in the northern Great Plains. Ecology 80:2397-2407.

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Footnote 183

Hall, R.I., Leavitt, P.R., Quinlan, R., Dixit, A.S. and Smol, J.P. 1999. Effects of agriculture, urbanization, and climate on water quality in the northern Great Plains. Limnology and Oceanography 44:739-756.

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Footnote 184

Pham, S.V., Leavitt, P.R., McGowan, S. and Peres-Neto, P. 2008. Spatial variability of climate and land-use effects on lakes of the northern Great Plains. Limnology and Oceanography 53:728-742.

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Footnote 185

Guy, M. 2008. Ideal performance standards for the nitrate ion. National Agri-Environmental Standards Initiative. Report No. 4-54. Environment Canada. Gatineau, QC. 73 p. 

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Footnote 186

Camargo, J.A., Alonso, A. and Salamanca, A. 2005. Nitrate toxicity to aquatic animals: a review with new data for freshwater invertebrates. Chemosphere 58:1255-1267.

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Footnote 187

Mcgurk, M.D., Landry, F., Tang, A. and Hanks, C.C. 2006. Acute and chronic toxicity of nitrate to early life stages of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 25:2187-2196.

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Footnote 188

Drury, C.F., Yang, J., De Jong, R., Huffman, T., Yang, X., Reid, K. and Campbell, C.A. 2010. Residual soil nitrogen. In Environmental sustainability of Canadian agriculture: agri-environmental indicator series - report #3. Edited by Eilers, W., MacKay, R., Graham, L. and Lefebvre, A. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Ottawa, ON. Chapter 12.1. pp. 74-80. 

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Footnote 189

Drury, C.F., Tan, C.S., Reynolds, W.D., Welacky, T.W., Oloya, T.O. and Gaynor, J.D. 2009. Managing tile drainage, subirrigation and nitrogen fertilization to reduce nitrate loss and enhance crop yields. Journal of Environmental Quality 38:1193-1204.

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Footnote 190

Drury, C.F., Yang, J.Y. and De Jong, R. 2011. Trends in residual soil nitrogen for agricultural land in Canada, 1981-2006. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 15. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. iii + 16 p.

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Footnote 191

Yang, J.Y., De Jong, R., Drury, C.F., Huffman, E.C., Kirkwood, V. and Yang, X.M. 2007. Development of a Canadian agricultural nitrogen budget (CANB v2.0) model and the evaluation of various policy scenarios. Canadian Journal of Soil Science 87:153-165.

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Footnote 192

Glozier, N.E., Ryan, A., Dove, A., Parent, D., Rondeau, B., de Jong, M., L'Italien, S., Wallace, E. and Phillips, R.J. 2009. Trends in nitrogen and phosphorus from 1990-2006 for select lakes and rivers in Canada. In Water quality status and trends of nutrients in Canadian surface waters - a national assessment. Edited by Environment Canada. Environment Canada, Water Science and Technology Directorate. Ottawa, ON. Draft report.

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Footnote 193

Glozier, N.E. 2009. Personal communication. Update to Glozier et al. (2004) on dissolved phosphorus in the Bow River. Water Science and Technology Directorate, Environment Canada, National Hydrology Research Centre. Saskatoon, SK.

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Footnote 194

Glozier, N.E., Crosley, R.W., Mottle, L.A. and Donald, D.B. 2004. Water quality characteristics and trends for Banff and Jasper National Parks: 1973-2002. Environment Canada, Ecological Sciences Division, Prairie and Northern Region. Saskatoon, SK. 86 p. 

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Footnote 195

Beaubien, E.G. 2001. Canada plantwatch: trends to earlier spring development. In Proceedings of the Sixth Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Workshop. Edited by Blouin, D. Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation. Winnipeg, MB.

Return to footnote 195

Footnote 196

Beaubien, E.G. and Freeland, H.J. 2000. Spring phenology trends in Alberta, Canada: links to ocean temperature. International Journal of Biometeorology 44:53-59.

Return to footnote 196

Footnote 197

Beaubien, E. and Hamann, A. 2011. Spring flowering response to climate change between 1936 and 2006 in Alberta, Canada. Bioscience 61:514-524.

Return to footnote 197

Footnote 198

Murphy-Klassen, H.M., Underwood, T.J., Sealy, S.G. and Czyrnyj, A.A. 2005. Long-term trends in spring arrival dates of migrant birds at Delta Marsh, Manitoba, in relation to climate change. The Auk 122:1130-1148.

Return to footnote 198

Footnote 199

Thorpe, J. 2011. Vulnerability of prairie grasslands to climate change. Report prepared for the Prairies Regional Adaptation Collaborative (PRAC). SRC Publication No. 12855-2E11. Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. vi + 71 p. 

Return to footnote 199

Footnote 200

Bethke, R.W. and Nudds, T.D. 1995. Effects of climate change and land use on duck abundance in Canadian prairie-parklands. Ecological Applications 588-600.

Return to footnote 200

Footnote 201

Larson, D.L. 1995. Effects of climate on numbers of northern prairie wetlands. Climatic Change 30:169-180.

Return to footnote 201

Footnote 202

Sorenson, L.G., Goldberg, R., Root, T.L. and Anderson, M.G. 1998. Potential effects of global warming on waterfowl populations breeding in the northern Great Plains. Climatic Change 40:343-369.

Return to footnote 202

Footnote 203

Johnson, W.C., Werner, Br.e., Guntenspergen, G.R., Voldseth, R.A., Millett, B., Naugle, D.E., Tulbure, M., Carroll, R.W.H., Tracy, J. and Olawsky, C. 2010. Prairie wetland complexes as landscape functional units in a changing climate. Bioscience 60:128-140.

Return to footnote 203

Footnote 204

James, P., Murphy, K., Espie, R., Gauthier, D. and Anderson, R. 2001. Predicting the impact of climate change on fragmented prairie biodiversity: a pilot landscape model. Final report to the Climate Change Action Fund. Fish and Wildlife Branch, Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management (SERM) and Canadian Plains Research Centre (CPRC). Regina, SK. 24 p. 

Return to footnote 204

Footnote 205

Peacock, S.L. 1992. Piikani ethnobotany: traditional plant knowledge of the Piikani peoples of the northwestern plains. Thesis (M.A.). University of Calgary, Department of Archaeology. Calgary, AB. 256 p.

Return to footnote 205

Footnote 206

Wilson, M.C. 1994. Bison in Alberta: paleontology, evolution, and relationships with humans. In Buffalo. Edited by Foster, J., Harrison, D. and McLaren, S. University of Alberta Press. Edmonton, AB. Chapter 1. pp. 1-17. 

Return to footnote 206

Footnote 207

Peck, T.R. 2001. Bison ethology and native settlement patterns during the old women's phase on the northwestern plains. Thesis (Ph.D.). University of Calgary, Department of Archaeology. Calgary, AB. 312 p.

Return to footnote 207

Footnote 208

Carter, S. 2004. "We must farm to enable us to live": the Plains Cree and agriculture to 1900. In Native peoples: the Canadian experience. Edited by Morrison, R.B. and Wilson, C.R. Oxford University Press. Don Mills, ON. Chapter 19. pp. 320-338. 

Return to footnote 208

Footnote 209

Dempsey, H.A. 2004. The Blackfoot Nation. In Native peoples: the Canadian experience. Edited by Morrison, R.B. and Wilson, C.R. Oxford University Press. Don Mills, ON. pp. 275-296. 

Return to footnote 209

Footnote 210

UNESCO and Government of Alberta. 2008. Buffalo tracks: educational and scientific studies from Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and Government of Alberta. 15 p. 

Return to footnote 210

Footnote 211

Flores, D. 1991. Bison ecology and bison diplomacy: the southern plains from 1800 to 1850. The Journal of American History 78:465-485.

Return to footnote 211

Footnote 212

Taylor, A.R. 1989. Review essay: two decades of ethnobotany in the northwest plains. International Journal of American Linguistics 55:359-381.

Return to footnote 212

Footnote 213

Cowen, R. 1991. The sacred turnip: dietary clues gleaned from tuber traditions: role of the prairie turnip in the life of the Blackfoot Indians. Science Service. Washington, DC. Science News: The Weekly Magazine of Science, Vol. 139, pp. 316- 317.

Return to footnote 213

Footnote 214

Reeves, B. and Peacock, S. 2001. "Our mountains are our pillows": an ethnographic overview of Glacier National Park. Final report. Glacier National Park. West Glacier, MT. xxvii + 300 p. 

Return to footnote 214

Footnote 215

Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship. 2008. A profile of Manitoba's commercial fishery. Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, Fisheries Branch. Winnipeg, MB. 14 p. 

Return to footnote 215

Footnote 216

My Wild Alberta. 2008. Resident hunter harvest [online]. (accessed August, 2008)

Return to footnote 216

Footnote 217

Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. 2008. Data on ungulates and hunting in Saskatchewan provided by A. Arsenault. Unpublished data.

Return to footnote 217

Footnote 218

Manitoba Conservation. 2008. Data on trends in harvest of white-tailed deer in Manitoba provided by M. Ryckman. Unpublished data.

Return to footnote 218

Footnote 219

Fast, M., Collins, B. and Gendron, M. 2011. Trends in breeding waterfowl in Canada. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 8. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. v + 37 p.

Return to footnote 219

Footnote 220

Canadian Wildlife Service Waterfowl Committee. 2008. Population status of migratory game birds in Canada, November 2008. CWS Migratory Birds Regulatory Report No. 25. Environment Canada. Ottawa, ON. 92 p. 

Return to footnote 220

Footnote 221

McFarlane, B.L., Boxall, P.C. and Adamowicz, W.L. 1999. Descriptive analysis of hunting trends in Alberta. Information Report NOR-X-366. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Northern Forestry Centre. Edmonton, AB. 15 p. 

Return to footnote 221

Footnote 222

Olewiler, N. 2004. The value of natural capital in settled areas of Canada. Ducks Unlimited Canada and The Nature Conservancy of Canada. Stonewall, MB. i + 36 p. 

Return to footnote 222

Return to Table of Contents

Theme: Habitat, Wildlife and Ecosystem Processes


Agricultural landscapes as habitat

Key finding 16
Theme Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Processes

National key finding
The 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.

The agricultural landscapes of Canada include a variety of land cover types: native rangeland, tame pasture, summerfallow, and 24 types of cropland, as well as woodlots, wetlands, windbreaks, and other non-farmed areas.Footnote30 Footnote223 The agricultural landscape of the Prairie provinces increased from 35 to 55 million km2 between 1921 and the early 1970s. Javorek and Grant,Footnote84 in a more detailed analysis of recent trends for this report, found that the agricultural landscape expanded by 13,000 km2 between 1986 and 1996, then remained generally stable through to 2006. They found that close to 93% of the ecozone+ in 2006 was used for some form of agriculture (Figure 37). Approximately 55% of this was cropland, with the most common crops being wheat, cereal, oilseed, and pulses (chickpeas, dry beans, dry peas, and lentils). The area of land seeded to annual crops has increased steadily since 1921 (Figure 38) and cropland increased from 42% in 1971 to 55% in 2006.Footnote84

Figure 37. Percentage of land defined as agricultural in the Prairies Ecozone+, 2006.
Map (see long description below)
Soil Landscapes of Canada polygons were the base unit used for this analysis.
Source: Javorek and Grant, 2011Footnote84

Long description for Figure 37

This heat map presents the percentage of land defined as agricultural in the Prairies Ecozone+ in 2006. Soil Landscapes of Canada polygons were the base unit used for this analysis. The map also delineates the six ecoregions within this ecozone+ (Fescue Grassland, Cypress Upland, Mixed Grassland, Moist Mixed Grassland, Lake Manitoba Plain, and Aspen Parkland). In 2006, the vast majority of the ecozone+ was defined as 90–100% agricultural, with small areas located throughout the ecozone+ as being defined 60–90% agricultural. Only small patches of the ecozone+ were defined as less than 60% agricultural.

Figure 38. Trends in total farmland area and of land seeded to annual crops in the three Prairie provinces, 1921–2006
Graph (see long description below)
Data shown are for whole provinces and include areas outside of the Prairies Ecozone+.
Source: Statistics Canada, 2007Footnote224

Long description for Figure 38

This line graph presents the following information (km2)

YearTotal farmlandLand in crops
1921355,847130,329
1931444,274161,932
1941486,147155,316
1951501,216184,004
1956512,721190,270
1961525,339191,120
1966540,158216,181
1971540,544220,773
1976544,166220,879
1981526,715246,025
1986549,949270,077
1991554,015275,120
1996553,304286,443
2001549,349298,189
2006548,166292,827

Wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land

The capacity of agricultural landscapes to provide habitat for wildlife depends upon the land cover type and management. Agricultural land in the Prairies Ecozone+ consists mainly of cultivated cropland with some extensive areas of tame pasture and native rangeland (Figure 39).Footnote84 With agriculture as the dominant land use, the population viability and persistence of many species depends upon the availability of suitable habitat on agricultural land. One way to measure the potential of these lands to support wildlife is through the Wildlife Habitat Capacity on Agricultural Land Indicator developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.Footnote84 Footnote225 The indicator ranks potential capacity of 15 “habitat categories” for terrestrial vertebrates based on the percent of the agricultural landscape occupied by 31 land cover types (e.g., cereal crops, summerfallow, tame hay, improved pasture, unimproved pasture, natural lands) and a rating of the value of each cover type as habitat to 588 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.Footnote84

Using the index, Javorek and GrantFootnote84 found that 340 species (245 birds, 71 mammals, 13 reptiles, 11 amphibians) could use agricultural land in the Prairies. Of these, 78% could use the All Other Land category (natural and semi-natural land including wetlands, riparian vegetation, and wooded areas within the agricultural landscape) for breeding and feeding, and 30% could use Unimproved Pasture (that is native rangeland) for both breeding and feeding. In contrast, only 4% were able to utilize cropland for breeding and feeding. However, when other suitable habitat was present to provide for partial life history requirements, 32% could use cropland. Godwin et al.Footnote128 showed the greatly reduced diversity in several taxonomic groups on cultivated land compared to even small remnants of native prairie.

The biggest change in land use has been the increase in area seeded to annual crops from 1971 to 2006, linked to the decrease in area of summerfallow (Figure 39). The total area of annually cultivated land, including both crops and summerfallow, declined from 66 to 62% of the agricultural landscape from 1986 to 2006, largely due to a shift of some cropland to seeded pasture (Figure 39).Footnote84 Cultivated land, offering comparatively little wildlife habitat, still represented the dominant portion of the agricultural landscape in 2006. Natural land for pasture (also known as unimproved pasture) was the second most abundant cover type and remained stable from 1971 to 2006 at about 25% of the agricultural landscape . The all other land category was also stable over that time period at about 5% of the landscape. The latter two cover types play a crucial role in determining the viability of wildlife populations in this ecozone+. It is the lower proportions of these cover types that are the primary reason for the overall low habitat capacity.

Figure 39. Trends in land cover types on agricultural land in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1971–2006.
Graph (see long description below)
Percentages were calculated as percentage of total agricultural land.
Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2009Footnote226

Long description for Figure 39

This line graph presents the following information:

Percentage of total farmland
Yearcropssummerfallowtame or seeded pasturenatural land for pastureall other land
197141%21%4%26%2%
197641%22%4% 2%
198147%20%5%26%2%
198650%17%4%24%4%
199150%17%5%24%4%
199653%13%5%23%5%
200156%10%6%24%4%
200655%7%8%24%5%

In 1986, 1996, and 2006, the average wildlife habitat capacity was "low" or "very low" on over 80% of the farmland in the Prairies Ecozone+ (over 10% of this was ranked as "very low") (Figure 40). Despite slight shifts in the relative percentage among habitat capacity categories, there was no significant change in habitat capacity at the ecozone+ level.Footnote84 Wildlife habitat capacity was constant on 92% of farmland, increased on 5%, and decreased on 3%. However, conversion of small parcels, such as grasslands on field margins and small wetlands in the Prairies,Footnote24 can represent significant degradation of habitat capacity even when little change is detected at broader scales as was found hereFootnote84 (see Grasslands key finding on page 16 and Wetlands key finding on page 24 for discussion of loss of these habitats). Wildlife habitat capacity among ecoregions varied considerably; Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion had the lowest capacity and Cypress Upland Ecoregion had the highest, which was moderate capacity (Figure 40).Footnote84

Figure 40. Wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in the Prairies Ecozone+ in 1986 (top) and 2006 (bottom).
Graph (see long description below)
HC means average Habitat Capacity for the ecoregion. All Soil Landscapes of Canada polygons with >5% agricultural land were included in the analysis.
Source: Javorek and Grant, 2011Footnote84

Long description for Figure 40

This graphic is composed of two heat maps that show wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in the Prairies Ecozone+ in 1986 and 2006. Habitat Capacity (HC) index values (± 1 standard deviation) for the whole ecozone+ and for each of six ecoregions within the ecozone+ are also provided. The Aspen Parkland Ecoregion had an HC of 39.91 ± 7.55 in 1986, and an HC of 40.72 ± 7.22 in 2006. The Lake Manitoba Plain Ecoregion had an HC of 42.25 ± 16.99 in 1986, and an HC of 42.03 ± 16.75 in 2006. The Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion had an HC of 37.16 ± 9.89 in 1986 and an HC of 37.96 ± 9.49 in 2006. The Mixed Grassland Ecoregion had an HC of 47.54 ± 14.32 in 1986 and an HC of 47.15±12.15 in 2006. The Cypress Upland Ecoregion had an HC of 62.45 ± 8.97 in 1986 and an HC of 61.53 ± 9.76 in 2006. The Fescue Grassland Ecoregoin had an HC of 46.72 ± 10.62 in 1986 and an HC of 49.76 ± 11.18 in 2006. Areas of Southeastern Alberta, including areas within, to the south of, and northwest of the Cypress Hills, had the highest wildlife habitat capacity (HC = 70–80) in both 1986 and 2006.

Habitat capacity is a key indicator of an ecozone+'s ability to support biodiversity and can act as an umbrella indicator of how well overall ecological processes are functioning. Management practices also influence the ability of the land to support wildlife. The development of best management practices and stewardship initiatives has had positive results in some regions and for some cover types (see Stewardship key finding on page 36).

Soil erosion on cropland

Between 1981 and 2006, the proportion of croplandFootnoteiii with very low risk of erosion increased from 64 to 84%, and the amount of land with moderate to very high erosion risk decreased from 18 to 7% (Figure 41).Footnote227 The reasons for these decreases in erosion risk are a combination of widespread adoption of conservation tillage, especially zero-till seeding, and a marked reduction in summerfallow. Further, some of the more erodible land has been converted from annual crops to perennial forages and tame pasture with associated dramatic reductions in erosion risk.Footnote227 Many of these changes are beneficial for biodiversity.

Figure 41. Soil erosion risk classes for cropland in the Prairies Ecozone+, 2006.
Map (see long description below)
All Soil Landscape of Canada polygons containing >5% cropland were included in the analysis and entire polygons are shown on the map.
Source: McConkey et al., 2011Footnote227

Long description for Figure 41

This map shows the classification of soil erosion risk (in t/ha/yr) for cropland in the Prairies Ecozone+ in 2006. Most of the ecozone+ was in the very low risk class (<6 t/ha/yr), with small patches scattered throughout the ecozone+ in the low risk class (6–11 t/ha/yr), and even fewer patches in the moderate risk class (11–22 t/ha/yr). These are located mostly in the southwestern part of the ecozone+. There were a few river basin areas in Alberta (within the ecozone+) that were classified in the very high risk category (<33 t/ha/yr).

Conservation tillage

Farmers have been working with conservation agencies to reduce the impact of tillage operations on soil erosion. Conservation tillage is the practice of minimizing plowing and retaining protective crop residues to reduce soil erosion Conservation tillage practices can also benefit waterfowl. The planting of winter wheat in the fall in a zero-till seeding practice eliminates the need for spring tillage thereby reducing disruption to nesting ducks. Application of these practices has increased since the early 1990s (Figure 42).Footnote110 Footnote228

Figure 42. Application of zero-till seeding practices in Saskatchewan, 1991–2006.
Graph (see long description below)
Source: Prairie Habitat Joint Venture, 2006Footnote228

Long description for Figure 42

This line graph presents the application of zero-till seeding practices in Saskatchewan between 1991 and 2006. In 1991, the percent of total area seeded using zero-till seeding practices was approximately 9%. Since 1991, the percent of total area seeded using zero-till seeding practices has increased steadily, reaching 60% in 2006.

Species of special economic, cultural, or ecological interest

Key finding 17
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.

Species at risk

As of 2014, 66 federally-listed species at risk were found in the Prairies Ecozone+: 25 listed as Endangered, 26 as Threatened, and 15 as Species of Special Concern.Footnote229The list is dominated by birds (20 species), plants (16 species) and insects (15 species) and many of these species are unique to the ecozone+. Most of them are found in small, localized areas, but a few are grassland endemics whose populations are steadily declining, although they are still relatively widespread at present. Many of the plants and several vertebrates are associated with open or sparsely vegetated sand environments (see Dunes key finding on page 34). Some are “peripheral” species, occurring at the edge of their range, while others may have a significant portion of their population in Canada but their numbers are declining, making them of global conservation concern.

Sprague's pipit

Sprague's pipit (Anthus spragueii) is listed as Threatened under Canada's Species at Risk Act.Footnote230 It is a native grassland birdFootnote231 and could be considered an indicator of grassland health for the Prairies Ecozone+. It breeds strictly in North America's northern Great Plains, with most of the population in Canada. Sprague's pipit has declined steadily over the past 45 years (Figure 43).Footnote232 Habitat loss and habitat degradation (due to human disturbance, invasion by shrubs and non-native plants, and area and edge effects), and climate change are among the principal threats to Sprague's pipit.Footnote152

Figure 43. Trends in abundance of Sprague's pipit as measured by the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in the Prairies Ecozone+ by province, 1967–2012:
Graph (see long description below)
The BBS annual index is a predicted number of birds per BBS transect based on a statistical model.
Source: Sauer et al., 2014Footnote232

Long description for Figure 43

This line graph shows the following information:

BBS annual index
YearAlbertaSaskatchewanManitoba
1967--1.11
19685.8810.280.96
19696.549.740.79
19704.459.721.02
19716.158.80.95
19725.699.350.92
19734.987.571
19744.028.120.74
19754.057.670.72
19765.477.490.58
19774.847.340.63
19783.525.880.62
19793.287.310.63
19804.976.120.77
19813.67.090.71
19824.245.970.71
19832.155.210.53
19842.14.690.52
19852.014.970.5
19862.364.920.48
19871.996.010.46
19882.214.810.44
19892.224.740.57
19901.544.420.63
19911.764.610.43
19921.663.740.51
19931.23.190.33
19941.112.980.34
19951.523.10.3
19961.43.080.32
19971.452.840.37
19981.422.840.29
19991.312.650.27
20001.292.50.26
20010.972.680.25
20021.172.830.34
20031.193.930.3
20040.852.780.29
20051.82.330.24
20061.282.120.24
20071.532.240.24
20081.242.160.23
20091.033.110.22
20100.981.880.21
20110.671.620.24
20120.621.730.25
Greater sage-grouse

Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is an indigenous North American grouse species that occurs in Canada and eleven western U.S. states. Canada's population is the sub-species C. u. urophasianus, which occupies the silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana) grassland communities of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, at the northern edge of the North American sage-grouse range.Footnote233 Greater sage-grouse is listed as Endangered under Canada's Species at Risk Act because the very small population has declined substantially.Footnote233 In 2012, based on counts of male birds at leks (areas used for courtship displays), the population was estimated at 39–58 adults in Alberta and 54–80 adults in Saskatchewan (Figure 44 ).Footnote233 Populations have declined by 98% since their highest recorded population estimates in Alberta (1968) and Saskatchewan (1988). The number of active leks has also decreased by 76% in Alberta and 93% in Saskatchewan. In 2012, there were only 5 active leks in Alberta and 3 in Saskatchewan.Footnote233

The main current and future threats to this species include drought and extreme weather conditions, West Nile virus, sensory disturbance from vertical structures and chronic noise, increased predator pressure, habitat loss and degradation, alteration of natural hydrology, and threats inherent to small populations.Footnote233

Figure 44. Population estimates for greater sage-grouse in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1980s–2012.
Graph (see long description below)
Estimates reported above are considered high estimates and use the high count of males on leks, assume a sex ratio of 2 females: 1 male, and also that only 90% of leks are known and only 75% of males attend leks. Only estimates for years in which surveys for a province were considered complete are shown.
Source: Environment Canada, 2013Footnote233

Long description for Figure 44

This line graph presents the following information:

Number of birds
YearAlbertaSaskatchewan
19801,446-
19811,572-
19831,074432
1985624-
19871,200-
1988-2,619
19891,032282
1991723-
1994210279
1995330315
1996408369
1997366183
1998372366
1999351303
2000378378
2001342318
2002273252
2003288243
2004282180
2005285186
2006270180
2007270168
2008234153
2009198135
201093126
201139105
20123954

In 2013, the Government of Canada published an Emergency Order to protect the greater sage-grouse on crown lands in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.Footnote234 The Order, which came into force on February 18, 2014, prohibits activities that are known to be harmful to the birds and their habitat. In addition to the Order, private landowners are being encouraged to undertake voluntary stewardship measures and a captive breeding program has been initiated in partnership with the Calgary Zoo.

Burrowing owl

Burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia; EndangeredFootnote230) is found across the Prairies Ecozone+ where it represents the northern limit of the species' range. Its population in Canada declined strongly from the 1960s to 2007 (Figure 45). The Canadian population of burrowing owl in 2004 was estimated at 498 birds in Saskatchewan, and 288 in Alberta, but this estimate might be low by as much as 50%.Footnote235 A variety of causes for this decline have been suggested: loss of grassland habitat (the initial cause of the decline), greater emigration than immigration of birds from Canada to the U.S., loss of burrows from declining burrowing animal populations, increased predation resulting from habitat changes, reduction in invertebrate food sources through the use of chemical pesticides, and vehicle collisions.Footnote235

Figure 45. Abundance of burrowing owls, 1969–2007.
Graph (see long description below)
Source: Canadian Wildlife Service, 2007Footnote236

Long description for Figure 45

This line graph presents the abundance of burrowing owls in Canada between 1969 and 2007. Abundance is measured by an annual index. This annual index rose from zero in 1968 to 0.118 in 1969, and then decreased to zero again in 1970. Numbers then rose again and peaked at 0.11 in 1976 before decreasing again to zero in 1978. Following another small peak of 0.045 in 1979, the annual index returned to zero and has remained at or just slightly above zero up to 2007.

Swift fox

The swift fox (Vulpes velox; ThreatenedFootnote230) is an example of a conservation success story. Originally occurring across the Prairies from Manitoba's Pembina Hills to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, it was extirpated from Canada by the late 1930s.Footnote237 Attempts to reintroduce it started in 1983. CarbynFootnote238 documented the release of 768 foxes from 1987 to 1995 and in 1996/1997, the Canadian population was estimated at 281 animals, of which 17% had been released and the rest were wild-born animals.Footnote239 By 2005/2006, the population had increased to an estimated 647 animals, with an additional 500 animals thought to be established in the adjacent region of Montana as a result of the Canadian reintroduction program. Although a success story so far, the population currently occupies only a small proportion of its original range, amounting to less than 300 km along the Canada-U.S. border in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Freshwater fish

Based on data from the American Fisheries Society,Footnote240 the number of freshwater and diadromous fish taxa in this ecozone+ classified as imperilled has increased from two in 1979 to five in 2008. However, the assessment for lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) and shortjaw cisco (Coregonus zenithicus) improved between 1989 and 2008; they were downlisted to Vulnerable and Threatened, respectively.

Ungulates

Large ungulate populations have shown varying patterns of abundance and distribution, with some species increasing and others decreasing. Hunting is now regulated to prevent overharvesting, but populations continue to vary with weather fluctuations and habitat change.

Pronghorn

The pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) is a small-sized, fast-moving ungulate with two-pointed horns that is native to interior western and central North America.Footnote241 Historically found from Manitoba's Red River to the edge of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta,Footnote242 numbers were thought to equal or exceed those of bison on the Great Plains prior to European settlement. Conversion of grassland to cropland reduced pronghorn distribution to peripheral ranges, which historically supported low-density populations.Footnote243 Pronghorn numbers at the northern end of their range in Canada have always fluctuated widely because of mass emigration across the border or high winter mortalityFootnote244and were lowest at the beginning of the 20th century (Figure 46). They have recovered somewhat since then, although their range is still restricted. SheriffFootnote241 found that pronghorn abundance was strongly positively associated with native prairie. They are also highly dependent on sagebrush communities. The largest populations coincide with large expanses of remaining natural habitat. Threats include loss of movement corridors, barriers such as fences, and roads that can increase mortality risk.Footnote243

Figure 46. Pronghorn population trends in Saskatchewan (green line) and Alberta (red line), 1900–2008.
Graph (see long description below)
Source: adapted from Arsenault, 2008Footnote243 (Saskatchewan) and Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife, 1990Footnote242 (Alberta)

Long description for Figure 46

This line graph presents pronghorn population trends in Alberta and Saskatchewan between 1900 and 2008. Population numbers prior to 1945 represent archive guesses while post-1945 numbers are based on systematic surveys. The line graph for Alberta shows the following information:

YearPopulation
19202,000
194530,000
19524,500
19535,000
19548,000
195510,000
195615,000
195712,500
195911,000
196012,200
196113,000
196211,500
196319,040
196420,177
196514,231
196612,428
196710,037
19689,660
19696,210
197011,400
19719,424
197210,411
197310,627
197411,115
197511,777
197616,813
197717,953
197810,919
197915,330
198018,637
198120,707
198221,202
198432,071
198524,174
198624,900
198728,209
198823,107
198922,314

In Saskatchewan, populations began at approximately 25,000 in 1900, and then dropped to a very small number in the 1920s. From the mid-1920s to 1950, the population increased after which it fluctuated but remained steady until 1975. After 1975, the population increased rapidly to just over 30,000 in 1990, before declining to approximately 15,000 in 2008.

Elk

Abundant in the Prairies prior to settlement, elk (Cervus elaphus) became largely restricted to pockets of forestFootnote245 but, since the 1990s, have begun to rapidly re-occupy non-forest habitats.Footnote108 Footnote164 Footnote217 Footnote246 Footnote247

Moose

Moose (Alces alces), which typically occur in the Boreal Forest, have increased and extended their range into the Prairies since the late 1970s to mid-1980s.Footnote164 Footnote217 Footnote246 This expansion was likely a result of a reduction in hunter numbers, reduction or elimination of predators such as wolves and bears, and increasing amounts of woody vegetation.

Deer

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) were the more common deer in the Prairies prior to European settlement, but are currently less abundant, being more restricted to open habitats with rougher topography.Footnote248 Footnote249 White-tailed deer (O. virginianus)may have been largely absent from the Prairies Ecozone+ before European settlement.Footnote245 Footnote248 They are very common, especially in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion. Populations expanded rapidly in the 1940s and 1950s and have generally continued to expand.Footnote250 Footnote251 Footnote252 Because the Prairies Ecozone+ is near the north end of the white-tailed deer's range, winter weather is the main factor limiting current populations, with fluctuations closely linked to severe winters.Footnote252 The main reasons for expansion over the last 50 years have been reduced competition with mule deer, high quality and abundance of food provided by agriculture, and expansion of aspen.Footnote250 Footnote251 Footnote252 Footnote253

Birds

Landbirds

The Prairies Ecozone+ includes more grassland than any other ecozone+ and is the heart of range of many grassland birds in Canada. Grassland birds declined more rapidly than any other group of birds in North America since the 1970s,Footnote50 Footnote254 Footnote255 and this is reflected in the results for the Prairies Ecozone+ (Figure 47) (see the Grasslands key finding on page 16).

In contrast, forest birds in the Prairies Ecozone+ increased by 35% in overall abundance since the 1970s (Figure 47). This assemblage benefitted from increased forest habitat as a result of tree planting on farms and in other settlements as well as the increased tree cover in areas of Aspen Parkland Ecoregion (see Forests key finding on page 15).Footnote17, Footnote256 Birds of other open and shrub/early successional habitats were relatively stable and urban/suburban birds decreased as a group (Figure 47). Birds of forest, urban, and shrub/early successional habitats are a relatively small component of prairie avifauna.Footnote49

Figure 47. Change in abundance of landbirds by habitat for the Prairies Ecozone+ from 1970s to 2000s.
Graph (see long description below)
Source: adapted from Downes et al., 2011Footnote49 using data from the Breeding Bird SurveyFootnote50

Long description for Figure 47

This bar graph presents the following information:

Species AssemblagePercentage of change from 1970 index
Forest35%
Shrub-4%
Grassland-35%
Other / Open-8%
Urban-18%
Raptors

Because of their position high in the food web, raptors are indicators of ecosystem health. Data from the Breeding Bird Survey was analyzed to look at trends in raptor populations in the Prairies Ecozone+. Of the four species showing statistically significant trends, three were positive, while one, short-eared owl (Asio flammeus), was negative (Figure 48). Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) has increased 3.3%/yr, and it has replaced Swainson's hawk (Buteo swainsoni) as the dominant Buteo and most abundant raptor in the ecozone+.257 This is probably due to the gradual expansion of tree cover.Footnote258 Footnote259

Figure 48. Population trends for raptors showing significant change in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1973–2009.
Graph (see long description below)
Only raptors with significant trends (p<0.05) are shown.
Source: Environment Canada, 20102Footnote260

Long description for Figure 48

This line graph presents population trends for four different raptor species showing significant (p<0.05) changes in the Prairies Ecozone+ between 1973 and 2009. Abundances are represented by population index values. Red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, and merlin increased while short-eared owls decreased over the time period. Red-tailed hawk had the highest population index values, substantially higher than the other three species. Red-tailed hawk populations increased steadily over the the first part of the time period, from a population index of approximately 0.9 in 1973 to 3.5 in 1995. Between 1995 and 2009, the population remained steady before decreasing slightly to a population index of just below 3.0. Great horned owl populations increased from 0.1 in 1973 to 0.6 in 2009. Merlin numbers also increased, but with a lower population index, from 0 in 1973 to 0.3 in 2009. The short-eared owl population index was highest in 1974 but decreased steadily to almost 0 in 2009.

Waterfowl

The waterfowl found in the Prairies Ecozone+ are diverse, with a variety of different habitat requirements and migratory strategies. Some species winter on Canadian coasts while the majority winter in the U.S. and Mexico.Footnote58 The Prairie Pothole Region (U.S. and Canada) is the world's most productive waterfowl habitatFootnote62 and, although it only covers 10% of the available breeding habitat in North America, it supports the highest densities of breeding waterfowl and can account for greater than 50% of annual continental duck production.Footnote58 Footnote59 The Canadian Prairies produce 50–80% of the Prairie Pothole Region's duck population.Footnote261 The Prairies Ecozone+ is also an important area for migrating waterfowl. Many ducks and geese that nest in the Arctic, sub-Arctic, and boreal forest pass through this area during migration, stopping in staging areas.

Some waterfowl species are showing long-term population increases. For example, Canada geese populations have increased by 765% since the 1970s due to their ability to adapt to a variety of habitats including farmland and urban areas.Footnote219 Footnote262 Some species have declined significantly, such as northern pintail (Anas acuta) and American wigeon (A. americana). Other species, such as blue-winged teal (A. discors) and canvasback (Aythya valisineria), have shown little long-term change in their population size since the 1970s (Table 6).

Table 6. Abundance trends for selected breeding waterfowl species in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1970s to 2000s.
Common nameNesting habitatTrend (%/yr)PAnnual abundance index (in 1000s)
1970s
Annual abundance index (in 1000s)
1980s
Annual abundance index (in 1000s)
1990s
Annual abundance index (in 1000s)
2000s
% Change
Canvasback
(Aythya valisineria)
Overwater0.3-198146.7192.7206.24.2
Redhead
(Aythya americana)
Overwater0.7*279.2202285.1307.510.1
Ring-necked duck
(Aythya collaris)
Overwater0.6n47.455.244.157.320.8
Ruddy duck
(Oxyura jamaicensis)
Overwater1.6*145.5152.7196.7234.861.3
Bufflehead
(Buchephala albeola)
Cavity2.7*59.455.592.9112.789.9
Northern pintail
(Anas acuta)
Ground-4.1*2795.3944.8816.8835.5-70.1
American wigeon
(Anas americana)
Ground-3.6*908.6398.3356.7299.6-67
Green-winged teal
(Anas crecca)
Ground-1.5*561.3220.7346.7323.8-42.3
Mallard
(Anas platyrhynchos)
Ground-1.1*3180.118012156.92221.2-30.2
Blue-winged teal
(Anas discors)
Ground-0.1-2024.51242.21636.81835-9.4
Gadwall
(Anas strepera)
Ground1.1*814.6585.2968.4986.621.1
Northern shoveler
(Anas clypeata)
Ground1.2*899.9654.71022.9125439.3
Canada goose
(Branta canadensis)
Ground7.9*47.7107.9238.6412.4765.4

P is the statistical significance: * indicates P <0.05; n indicates 0.05<P<0.1; no value indicates not significant
Source: Fast et al., 2011Footnote219, using data from CWS and USFWS Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat SurveyFootnote59

Increased conversion of marginal land to cropland over the last four decades (see Agricultural landscapes as habitat key finding on page 64) has likely had continuing negative impacts on many breeding waterfowl on the Prairies through habitat loss and changes in predation patterns. For example, nest success for mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), northern pintail, northern shoveler (A. clypeata), blue-winged teal, and gadwall (A. strepera) is negatively associated with proportion of cropland.Footnote263

Climatic conditions, such as drought in the 1980s, also had a large impact on waterfowl populations; many populations steadily increased after the drought (Table 6). Wetland abundance and distribution affects several prairie breeding ducks (see Wetlands key finding on page 24).Footnote263 Footnote264 Footnote265 Footnote266 Footnote267 Footnote268 Footnote269 Northern pintail, blue-winged teal, mallard, and northern shoveler breeding densities fluctuate with numbers of prairie ponds suggesting that these species fly over the prairies in drought years and settle in more northern ecozones+.Footnote268 These species, along with green-winged teal (Anas crecca), are dabbling ducks that are typically associated with shallow temporary and seasonal wetlands (i.e., ephemeral habitats). Consequently, some of these species may be more sensitive to fluctuating water conditions (which influences wetland densities) and wetland destruction than other species such as gadwall and diving ducks (e.g., canvasback, ruddy ducks), which are more associated with semi-permanent and permanent wetlands that are less susceptible to drought conditions and drainage.Footnote268 As such, duck species that use small wetlands prone to agricultural modification or destruction and climate fluctuations are generally the species that are declining (Table 6).

Figure 49. Population trends of selected ground nesting ducks in the Prairies Ecozone+, 1970–2006.
Graph (see long description below)
Source: Fast et al., 2011Footnote219 using data from CWS and USFWS Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat SurveyFootnote59

Long description for Figure 49

This line graph presents the following information:

Number of breeding pairs
YearAmerican WigeonBlue-winged TealGadwallGreen-winged TealMallardNorthern PintailNorthern Shoveler
19711,099,7591,905,129819,058559,0973,750,4842,474,5341,027,842
19721,133,1601,886,066868,355590,4503,888,4432,722,1061,104,025
19731,172,2941,941,069888,119657,8124,088,1872,823,2591,169,798
19741,230,0442,109,231943,605723,3494,155,9943,085,2311,233,564
19751,271,7622,308,023985,323769,5734,281,5733,309,2611,279,341
19761,300,3422,473,4411,014,746816,8314,537,8423,499,4991,333,940
19771,293,4312,572,6441,010,169814,9644,550,7353,334,4261,275,975
19781,261,2432,481,6661,006,331815,5084,498,2973,217,7441,205,695
19791,284,0632,593,169996,531846,3084,536,7413,388,3241,228,527
19801,259,7522,659,2861,005,349819,9354,544,7953,205,0961,190,384
19811,177,3352,624,324993,747762,6174,348,9442,952,9811,168,416
19821,117,8862,539,591984,617712,0494,131,5322,747,7581,145,174
19831,073,2242,509,231962,561672,3373,945,1102,501,7151,109,443
19841,032,1442,512,685947,970622,2203,745,4872,387,7431,068,586
1985959,2472,385,437912,742568,8983,579,6042,066,4831,034,460
1986872,9902,165,389895,709520,4483,429,5341,797,232996,933
1987795,8222,014,784869,636476,8393,185,6371,532,103950,852
1988760,1371,912,946838,352476,4423,043,5971,465,360947,092
1989709,4591,875,411828,630440,9812,944,7191,335,387932,809
1990627,7281,804,095829,310398,2272,838,2191,104,554908,940
1991563,3101,742,128826,719381,2392,700,464973,040902,590
1992571,7621,769,610858,160375,0252,675,025917,161907,781
1993532,7781,765,267863,946373,9352,586,890802,509878,636
1994493,9741,763,807906,860379,9792,559,055775,509891,617
1995499,6651,770,512948,545406,6982,645,403775,190946,694
1996507,7371,873,6451,010,961457,1482,760,174781,8411,015,909
1997526,1441,974,7021,076,052521,6182,883,236856,0831,145,991
1998541,4592,055,3891,180,190528,0423,039,098850,1841,190,756
1999561,8392,180,4901,253,476555,0433,232,501917,6551,301,310
2000577,9992,313,9291,284,835617,0433,398,705915,7121,386,763
2001580,5022,347,5721,288,297630,5683,456,648926,2521,417,424
2002566,2792,301,5351,293,600642,6813,506,349920,2131,412,549
2003548,3282,312,5981,324,213649,0753,576,865978,6841,506,284
2004529,2872,373,3581,355,734649,6373,631,478982,6221,557,973
2005523,7612,479,4641,355,695666,3073,659,431982,2061,641,407
2006505,3112,642,7511,426,316680,0393,668,8861,059,0401,762,013
Case study: northern pintail

Unlike most other waterfowl species, the northern pintail population in North America has remained well below the North American Waterfowl Management Plan goal of 5.6 million birds. In 2007, the population was 40% below the plan's goal and 19% below the long-term average (Figure 50).Footnote270 Typically, the number of pintails that settled on the Prairie Pothole Region had a consistent and positive relationship with numbers of wetlands counted during May surveys. Since the early 1980s, however, the strength of this relationship had weakenedFootnote271 and there was no relationship between pintails and wetlands in the mid-1990s when water conditions were excellent. Comparison of population trends between the Canadian and U.S. portions of the Prairie Pothole Region indicate that most of the decline occurred in the southern Canadian portion of the region. A primary cause for the decline is the tendency of northern pintail to nest in standing stubble, mulched stubble, or fallow fields early in the season often prior to seeding. The reduction of summerfallow and increase of spring seeding since the 1970sFootnote84 has been linked to reduced nest success and a decline in the northern pintail population in the Canadian portion of the region.Footnote272 Footnote273

Figure 50. Comparison of northern pintail population trends in Alaska/northern Canada, southern Canada, and the northern U.S., 1961–2007.
Graph (see long description below)
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2007Footnote59 and Canadian Wildlife Service Waterfowl Committee, 2008Footnote220

Long description for Figure 50

This line graph presents the following information:

Population
YearAlaska and
Northern Canada
Northern U.S.Southern Canada
19612,041,665715,5781,457,929
19621,342,4781,266,5781,014,467
19631,219,998809,6071,812,954
19641,309,236596,0331,385,958
19651,074,350894,8801,622,688
1966958,222987,1002,866,611
1967872,8301,008,8003,396,135
19681,753,379370,7001,365,320
1969850,2561,246,7003,806,958
19701,064,8981,356,1003,970,848
1971666,0791,062,1004,119,042
19721,406,4211,385,1004,187,411
19731,551,327699,9002,104,969
19741,285,561703,0004,609,543
19751,149,229933,0003,818,073
19761,179,985546,3003,749,311
19772,541,902340,4001,043,805
19781,352,6701,615,8002,139,690
19791,024,7591,122,1003,229,291
19802,141,909558,1001,808,044
19811,891,748345,5001,242,179
1982924,396880,5001,903,885
19831,368,106641,5001,501,088
19841,408,203738,800817,870
1985940,275420,7001,154,449
19861,085,765745,400908,584
19871,230,426550,400847,497
19881,358,036329,700317,746
19891,102,825315,300693,802
19901,291,647256,400708,608
19911,280,907162,200360,277
19921,194,361253,300650,558
1993979,097424,000650,413
1994905,855850,1001,216,281
1995952,363943,600861,870
1996836,867674,4001,224,706
1997840,000840,0001,600,000
19981,100,000760,000800,000
19991,214,000793,0001,052,000
20001,688,000522,000698,000
20011,611,000841,000843,000
20021,140,587362,724286,397
20031,023,592250,0731,284,562
20041,130,000379,000675,000
20051,021,000331,0001,208,000
20061,173,000521,0001,692,000
20071,374,000662,0001,299,000
Shorebirds

The Prairies Ecozone+ provides important habitat for both breeding and migrant shorebirds. This includes eight species whose breeding range in Canada is primarily or entirely in the Prairies: American avocet (Recurvirostra americana), marbled godwit (Limosa fedoa), piping plover (Charadrius melodus), Wilson's phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus), black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus), willet (Tringa semipalmata), long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus) and upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda). Data for these species was limited to the Breeding Bird Survey. Population totals of shorebird species tend to number in the tens to hundreds of thousands, with a few in the millions.Footnote274 The only species with a significant trend was marbled godwit, which declined by 1.1% per year since the 1970s.Footnote275 This is important as approximately 60% of the world's population breeds in the Canadian Prairies.Footnote276 There is little information on population trends for the 31 species of shorebirds that regularly migrate through the Prairies in the spring and fall.Footnote277 Footnote278 Footnote279

Range changes

Major range shiftshave occurred in a number of native species including white-tailed deer (see Deer on page 75), moose (see Moose on page 75), red-tailed hawk (see Raptors on page 76), and raccoon (Procyon lotor).280 LarivièreFootnote280 documented the increase in raccoons in the Prairie provinces by examining fur sale records for each of the provinces. Sales of raccoon pelts in Manitoba climbed from near zero in 1960 to almost 1,000 in 1969, peaking at over 7,000 in the early 1970s. The increase in Saskatchewan occurred slightly later, starting in 1970, and numbers in Alberta showed little fluctuation above a low baseline through to 1985.

Climate change will also enable more warm water fish species to expand their ranges. The channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is a native species that has increased its range, moving up the Qu'appelle River from Manitoba into Saskatchewan.Footnote114 Rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax), an anadromous species of North America's east and west coasts, has appeared in Manitoba with the first report occurring in Lake Winnipeg in 1975. White bass (Morone chrysops), introduced to North Dakota in 1953, appeared in Lake Winnipeg 10 years later and by 1994 had become the most abundant spiny-rayed fish in the Lake's south basin.Footnote157

Primary productivity

Key finding 18
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.

The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), calculated from remote sensing data, is an indicator of the amount and vigour of green vegetation present on a landscape. Changes in NDVI are a proxy for changes in primary productivity. Trends in annual peak NDVI values over a 22-year period (1985–2006) were analyzed by Pouliot et al.Footnote281 The significant results were then summarized by ecozone+ and visually compared to 1995 land cover (derived from Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer data by the Canadian Centre for Remote SensingFootnote282) by Ahern et al. (2011).Footnote7 Results show that, between 1985 and 2006, NDVI values increased for 157,491 km2 (35.1%) of the Prairies Ecozone+ and decreased for 1,116 km2 (0.2%) (Figure 51). Increases were distributed widely while decreases in NDVI were confined to a small area in southeastern Alberta. Broad increases in NDVI in this ecozone+ have also been shown by Slayback et al.,Footnote283 Zhou et al.,Footnote284 and Tateishi and Ebata.Footnote285

Figure 51. Change in the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index for the Prairies Ecozone+, 1985–2006.
Map (see long description below)
Trends are in annual peak NDVI, measured as the average of the three highest values from 10-day composite images taken during July and August of each year. Spatial resolution is 1 km, averaged to 3 km for analysis. Only points with statistically significant changes (p<0.05) are shown.
Source: adapted from Pouliot et al., 2009Footnote281 by Ahern et al., 2011Footnote7

Long description for Figure 51

This map shows areas of increase and decrease in the annual peak Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for the Prairies Ecozone+ between 1985 and 2006. Of areas showing change over this period, the vast majority had increasing trends. Only one small area in the southeastern corner of Alberta exhibited a negative trend in NDVI. The map shows that, from 1985 to 2006, NDVI values increased for 157,491 km2 (35.1%) and decreased for 1,116 km2 (0.2%) of the ecozone+. Areas with increasing values were concentrated largely in Saskatchewan and southern Alberta.

Natural disturbance

Key finding 19
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.

The main natural disturbance regimes that have historically shaped the Prairies include fire, drought, bison grazing, and large-scale native insect outbreaks.

Fire

Under pre-European settlement conditions, frequent fires were the predominant disturbance regime of grasslands in the Prairies Ecozone+. In addition to natural fires caused by lightning,Footnote286 some burning was anthropogenic.Footnote205 Footnote287 Footnote288 Footnote289 There is no way to measure historic fire frequency, but 5–10 years is a “reasonable” estimate of the natural fire-return interval.16 Under modern conditions, prairie fires still start under dry conditions,Footnote16 sometimes ignited by lightning.Footnote290 They do not travel as far as they did historically, however, as a network of firebreaks in the form of roads and cultivated fields break up the grassland,Footnote16 and accidental grass fires are aggressively suppressed to reduce damage to forage and facilities. No quantitative data were available for the extent or frequency of fires across the ecozone+.

In a review of threats to native areas in the Northern Great Plains of the U.S. and Canada, the Nature ConservancyFootnote291 rated “loss of fire regime” as the second-most serious threat to this region. Fire is a natural and essential process which, like grazing, creates and maintains variety in the prairie landscape. In tallgrass prairie, however, Collins and SmithFootnote292 found that frequently repeated burns reduce spatial variability and diversity, increasing the dominance of a few C4 grass species. In the mixed prairie, which covers most of this ecozone+, productivity is probably higher now than before European settlement, because fire causes a reduction in productivity that lasts for three years or more.Footnote16 Footnote17 Footnote293 Footnote294 Footnote295 In moister parts of the ecozone+, the reduction in fire frequency has led to increases in shrub and tree cover, because frequent fire tends to suppress woody plants and favour grasses.Footnote12 Footnote13 Footnote16 Footnote17 In some areas, woody invasion threatens native grassland communities, such as the northern fescue prairie. Fire suppression may also contribute to sand dune stabilization, reducing habitat for certain rare species associated with active dunes.Footnote99 PylypecFootnote296 found that some birds such as horned lark increase after grassland fire, while others such as Sprague’s pipit, Baird’s sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii), and western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) decrease after fire.

Large-scale native insect outbreaks

Insect herbivores are an integral part of prairie ecosystems, with outbreaks of some native species functioning as disturbance agents. Grasshoppers (order Orthoptera) are the most significant insect pests to grasslands and cereal crops in many parts of the Prairies.Footnote297 Their populations increase when late summers are dry and warm,Footnote298 Footnote299 and major grasshopper outbreaks occur after several consecutive years of warm, dry weather.Footnote297 No data were available on trends in the pattern of grasshopper outbreaks.

Forest tent caterpillars (Malacosoma disstria) and other insects can significantly defoliate trembling aspen in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion in some years,Footnote300 and like the grasshoppers, outbreaks occur more frequently in warm, dry summers.Footnote301 Outbreaks were much more frequent and severe in the Aspen Parkland in the 1980s and 1990s than in the 1940s to 1970s. They peaked in the early 1980s before severity declined in the early part of the 2000s (Figure 52).Footnote302

Figure 52. Trend in estimated percentage of area of aspen defoliated in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion, based on plots monitored by the Canadian Forest Service, 1940–2005.
Graph (see long description below)
The mean percent white rings from tree-ring analysis (blue line above) indicate years of severe insect defoliation. The orange line shows the estimated percent area with moderate to severe defoliation. The proportion of defoliated area is based on estimates from insect surveys of the area surrounding the plots. Defoliated aspen may have lower subsequent survival, potentially leading to underestimates of defoliation in early years based on white tree-ring method.
Source: Canadian Forest Service, unpublished dataFootnote302

Long description for Figure 52

This line graph presents the following information:

-% White tree-rings% Area defoliated
19416-
19425-
19432-
19471-
19485-
19492-
195001
195101
195213
195329
195401
195712
195826
195916
1960217
1961018
196208
1963010
1964317
196530
196601
196701
197010
197100
197230
197301
197401
197502
197607
1977114
197803
19791826
19802641
19811229
198238
198384
1984811
1985911
1986313
19871728
19881831
1989521
199059
199131
199283
1993109
19941810
19951513
199608
20044-

Another insect disturbance agent of the Prairies Ecozone+ is the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae), which is native to the unique lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) forests of Cypress Hills. A significant outbreak occurred in the 1980sFootnote303 and the population was beginning to increase again in 2008.Footnote304

Food webs

Key finding 20
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.

Changes to the food webs and trophic dynamics in the Prairies Ecozone+ have included changes in herbivore grazing patterns and intensity due to the replacement of bison herds with domestic livestock and the loss of large predators.

Herbivores

As discussed in the Grasslands key finding on page 16, the historic impacts of free-roaming bison on grasslands were thought to be very different from the impacts of confined bison herds and domestic beef cattle today. Although the relationships among grazing, grassland biodiversity, and invasive non-native plants are complex, the presence of a wide range of grazing intensities appears better for maintaining prairie biodiversity than uniform grazing management.Footnote44 Footnote45 In some areas, grazing regimes more similar to historic patterns have been implemented for conservation purposes (e.g., Grasslands National Park).Footnote305

Predators

Large predators, such as the grey wolf (Canis lupus) and grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), have been eliminated or substantially reduced as a result of European settlement (Figure 53).Footnote306 The decline of the grey wolf began with the extirpation of the plains bison in the late 1800s and continued due to over-hunting of ungulate prey and predator control.Footnote307 Across North America, the loss of the wolf has, among other impacts, resulted in increased abundances of ungulates, leading to increased browsing on vegetation.Footnote308 Although hunting has played a role similar to ungulate predation, it can also be selective based on age, sex, or other characteristics, leading to demographic effects on the overall population and decreased fecundity,Footnote309 or unintentional evolutionary consequences (e.g., selection for small antler size).Footnote310 However, studies showing these effects have not been carried out in the ecozone+.

Figure 53. Reduction in the ranges of three large carnivores in North America.
Map (see long description below)
Source: after Hummel and Ray, 2008Footnote306

Long description for Figure 53

This figure shows three maps of the current and historical distribution of the grey wolf, the grizzly bear, and the wolverine in North America. The historical distribution of the grey wolf extended south to include almost all of the U.S. The current distribution only goes as far south as the Canada–U.S. border. The historical distribution of the grizzly bear extended throughout western North America down to Mexico. The current distribution is limited to Alaska, northwestern Canada (to Hudson's Bay), and western Canada, with its southern limit being the Canada–U.S. border. The historical distribution of the wolverine was mostly delineated by the Canada–U.S. border, dipping slightly further south along the U.S. northwestern coast. The current wolverine distribution includes Alaska, the Canadian Arctic and territories, and all of B.C. and extends slightly south from BC into the Rocky Mountains.

Because wolves tend to dominate other carnivores,307 the loss of wolves has probably contributed to increased coyote (Canis latrans) populations.Footnote311 In southeastern Alberta, coyote abundance increased 135% between 1977–1989 and 1995–1996.Footnote311 Coyotes eat a wide variety of foods including rodents, rabbits, woodchucks, songbirds, fruits, and domestic livestock (especially sheep). Although they do prey upon wild ungulates, much of the ungulate meat coyotes consume is from carrion.Footnote312 The shift in top predators from wolves, that mainly hunted ungulates, to coyotes, shifted the abundance and distribution of prey species. Coyotes are also a major predator of duck nests.Footnote313 Coyotes, along with golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), are also the main predators of the reintroduced swift fox.Footnote311 Footnote314 Footnote315 Footnote316

Wildlife diseases and parasites

Ecozone+-specific key finding
Theme Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Processes

National key finding
Wildlife diseases and parasites was initially identified as a nationally recurring key finding and information was subsequently compiled and assessed for the Prairies Ecozone+. In the final version of the national report,Footnote3 information related to wildlife diseases and parasites was incorporated into other key findings. This information is maintained as a separate key finding for the Prairies Ecozone+.

A wide variety of diseases affect wildlife in the Prairies Ecozone+:Footnote317

  • Avian influenza in wild ducks;
  • Botulism in waterfowl;
  • Avian cholera in migrating geese;
  • Newcastle disease virus in double-crested cormorants (Phalocrocorax auritus);
  • Ranavirus in amphibians;
  • Chytrid fungus in amphibians;
  • Epizootic hemorrahic disease and Bluetongue virus in deer and pronghorns;
  • Chronic wasting disease in deer and elk;
  • Brainworm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis) in deer, elk, and moose;
  • Winter tick in moose;
  • Tuberculosis in elk;
  • Lyme disease in deer;
  • Morbillivirus in carnivores such as the reintroduced swift fox and black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes); and
  • Plague bacterium in colonial ground squirrels and prairie dogs, which could also spread to black-footed ferret.

One disease (chronic wasting disease) and one parasite (botulism) are described in more detail below as examples of the known and potential impacts on native wildlife populations, along with an example of a disease impacting tree populations (Dutch elm disease).

Chronic wasting disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal disease to members of the deer family (cervids; family Cervidae) resulting from ingestion of a misfolded version of a normal body protein called the prion protein.Footnote318 Footnote319 CWD was first recognized as a clinical disease in 1967 in mule deer housed at a research station in Colorado.Footnote319 The disease has spread widely in the U.S. and Canada (Figure 54), often in association with the sale and transport of farmed cervids. CWD was first reported in Canada in 1996 in captive elk on game farms in Saskatchewan.Footnote320 In 2000 it was detected in a wild mule deer and has since been detected in four separate geographical areas of the Prairies Ecozone+ in mule deer, white-tailed deer, and elk. CWD is a serious ecological and economic concern to Canada. The approximately 1.8 million white-tailed deer, 350,000 mule deer, 100,000 elk, and 900,000 moose in Canada are susceptible to CWD and there are no natural barriers to prevent its spread from its current locations to the rest of the country.Footnote321 A CWD disease control and eradication policy was implemented by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in October 2000. Testing is mandatory in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Yukon. Where captive animals have tested positive, exposed herds have usually been destroyed to minimize the risk of spread.Footnote322

Figure 54. Distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease in North America, 2013.
Map (see long description below)
"Depopulated" means that all cervids on the farm were killed by government authorities as per the North American response to CWD.
Source: USGS National Wildlife Health Center, 2013Footnote323
Long description for Figure 54

This map presents the distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in North America in 2013. In Canada, CWD was found in free ranging populations in southern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta. In the U.S., it was known from free ranging populations in three major areas (although other scattered smaller areas are also known): a larger area encompassing six states centred around Wyoming and Colorado, southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, and a small patch of on the southern New Mexico–western Texas border. Prior to 2000, CWD was only known from free-ranging populations in Wyoming and Colorado. Captive facilities previously depopulated of animals with CWD ("depopulated" means that all cervids on the farm were killed by government authorities as per the North American response to CWD) were located around the areas of CWD in free-ranging populations, including in Saskatchewan and Alberta, but also scattered more broadly throughout the northwestern U.S., southwest of the Great Lakes. In 2013, captive facilities that currently had CWD were found in Nebraska, Colorado, Minnesota, and Indiana. There were no captive facilities that currently had CWD in Canada.

Botulism

Botulism is a form of food poisoning associated with the ingestion of powerful toxins produced by various strains of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Although it has occurred in other ecozones+, type-C botulism has caused large and recurrent epidemics only in the Prairies Ecozone+, affecting waterfowl, especially ducks. The alkaline wetlands of the Prairies Ecozone+ are habitats favourable to type-C botulism. In the mid-1990s, repeated years of high mortality occurred in southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. For example, over 100,000 ducks died in late fall at Old Wives' Lake in southern Saskatchewan in 1996, and total mortality from June to October was approximately one million birds.Footnote324 Footnote325 These outbreaks were associated with summer drought conditions during which many of the small wetlands used by waterfowl for nesting were dry and large numbers of birds were concentrated on a small number of large wetlands where suitable habitat remained available. There was a marked reduction in mortality from botulism in subsequent years when precipitation relieved drought conditions.Footnote325

Dutch elm disease

Dutch elm disease is a fungal disease of elm trees. Since its introduction to Canada in Quebec in about 1940, it has spread quickly, invading Ontario by 1946, the Maritimes by 1957, Manitoba by 1975, and Saskatchewan by 1981.Footnote326 Control measures have generally focused on urban areas and as a result, wild trees have suffered high mortality rates. In Saskatchewan, mortality rates exceeded 80%.Footnote327 In Winnipeg, 40,000 city elms were lost over the past 20 years, with 200,000 remaining.Footnote328 Isolated pockets of wild trees occur as far west as Saskatoon and Assiniboia and these are probably the only natural populations in Canada that remain uninfected.Footnote327

Top of Page

Footnotes

Footnote iii

Cropland in this analysis also includes areas defined as Improved Pasture and Summerfallow in the Census of Agriculture. See McConkey et al., 2011Footnote227 for more information.

Return to footnote iii

Footnote 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.

Return to footnote 3

Footnote 7

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.

Return to footnote 7

Footnote 12

Bailey, A.W. and Wroe, R.A. 1974. Aspen invasion in a portion of the Alberta parklands. Journal of Range Management 27:263-266.

Return to footnote 12

Footnote 13

Scheffer, E.J. and Bailey, A.W. 1972. Ecology of aspen groves and their invasion into grasslands. In 51st Annual Feeder's Day Report. University of Alberta, Department of Animal Science. Edmonton, AB. pp. 49-50.

Return to footnote 13

Reference 16

Wright, H.A. and Bailey, A.W. 1982. Fire ecology: United States and southern Canada. John Wiley and Sons. New York, NY. 501 p.

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Footnote 17

Anderson, H.G. and Bailey, A.W. 1980. Effects of annual burning on grassland in the aspen parkland of east-central Alberta. Canadian Journal of Botany 58:985-996.

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Footnote 24

Watmough, M.D. and Schmoll, M.J. 2007. Environment Canada's Prairie & Northern Region Habitat Monitoring Program Phase II: recent habitat trends in the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture. Technical Report Series No. 493. Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service. Edmonton, AB. 135 p. 

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Footnote 30

Statistics Canada. 2008. 2006 census of agriculture [online]. Government of Canada. (accessed 8 August, 2008

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Footnote 44

McCanny, S.J., Fargey, P., Sutter, G.C. and Finnamore, A. 1999. The effect of cattle removal on biodiversity in Grasslands National Park. In Proceedings of the Fifth Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Workshop. Saskatoon, SK, February, 1998. Edited by Thorpe, J., Steeves, T.A. and Gollop, M. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 24. Provincial Museum of Alberta. Edmonton, AB.109.

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Footnote 45

Bock, C.E., Saab, V.A., Rich, T.D. and Dobkin, D.S. 1993. Effects of livestock grazing on neotropical migratory landbirds in western North America. In Status and management of neotropical migratory birds. Estes Park, CO, 21-25 September, 1992. Edited by Finch, D.M. and Stangel, P.W. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-GTR-229. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. Fort Collins, CO. pp. 296-309.

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Footnote 49

Downes, C., Blancher, P. and Collins, B. 2011. Landbird trends in Canada, 1968-2006. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 12. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. x + 94 p.

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Footnote 50

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2010. The North American Breeding Bird Survey [online]. U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior.

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Footnote 58

Bellrose, F.C. 1980. Ducks, geese and swans of North America. Stackpole Books. Harrisburg, PA. 540 p.

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Footnote 59

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2007. Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey [online]. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Bird Management and U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. (accessed 20 July, 2010).

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Footnote 84

Javorek, S.K. and Grant, M.C. 2011. Trends in wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in Canada, 1986-2006. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 14. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. vi + 46 p.

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Footnote 99

Gummer, D.L. and Barclay, R.M.R. 1997. Population ecology of Ord's kangaroo rats (Dipodomys ordii) in the proposed Suffield National Wildlife Area, Alberta. Report prepared for the Endangered Species Recovery Fund, World Wildlife Fund Canada. Toronto, ON. 

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Footnote 108

Good, K. and Michalsky, S. 2008. Summary of Canadian experience with conservation easements and their potential application to agri-environmental policy. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Ottawa, ON. 46 p. + appendices.

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Footnote 110

Statistics Canada. 2010. CANSIM table 001-0017: Estimated areas, yield, production, average farm price and total farm value of principal field crops, in imperial units. Seeded winter wheat for prairie provinces [online]. CANSIM (database). Government of Canada. (accessed 8 July, 2010)

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Footnote 114

Thorpe, J. and Godwin, B. 1999. Threats to biodiversity in Saskatchewan. SRC Publication No. 11158-1C99. Saskatchewan Research Council. Saskatoon, SK. 69 p. 

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Footnote 152

Environment Canada. 2008. Recovery strategy for sprague's pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada. Ottawa, ON. v + 29 p. 

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Footnote 157

Ralley, W. 2002. Alien aquatic species in Manitoba: present and threatening. In Alien invaders in Canada's waters, wetlands, and forests. Edited by Claudi, R., Nantel, P. and Muckle-Jeffs, E. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service. Ottawa, ON. pp. 93-102. 

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Footnote 164

Manitoba Conservation. 2008. Data on the status of various mammals in Manitoba provided by V. Crichton. Unpublished data.

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Footnote 205

Peacock, S.L. 1992. Piikani ethnobotany: traditional plant knowledge of the Piikani peoples of the northwestern plains. Thesis (M.A.). University of Calgary, Department of Archaeology. Calgary, AB. 256 p.

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Footnote 217

Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. 2008. Data on ungulates and hunting in Saskatchewan provided by A. Arsenault. Unpublished data.

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Footnote 219

Fast, M., Collins, B. and Gendron, M. 2011. Trends in breeding waterfowl in Canada. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 8. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. v + 37 p.

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Footnote 220

Canadian Wildlife Service Waterfowl Committee. 2008. Population status of migratory game birds in Canada, November 2008. CWS Migratory Birds Regulatory Report No. 25. Environment Canada. Ottawa, ON. 92 p. 

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Footnote 223

Huffman, T., Ogston, R., Fisette, T., Daneshfar, B., Gasser, P.Y., White, L., Maloley, M. and Chenier, R. 2006. Canadian agricultural land-use and land management data for Kyoto reporting. Canadian Journal of Soil Science 86:431-439.

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Footnote 224

Statistics Canada. 2007. Selected historical data from the Census of Agriculture [online]. Catalogue No. 95-632-XWE. Government of Canada. (accessed 22 October, 2013)

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Footnote 225

Lefebvre, A., Eilers, W. and Chunn, B. (eds.). 2005. Environmental sustainability of Canadian agriculture. Agri-Environmental Indicator Report Series. Report No. 2. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Ottawa, ON. 220 p. 

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Footnote 226

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 2009. National Land and Water Information Service (NLWIS) [online]. www.agr.ca/nlwis-snite/index_e.cfm?s1=data_donnees&s2=details&page=ica-ira_plus (accessed 4 November, 2009).

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Footnote 227

McConkey, B.G., Lobb, D.A., Li, S., Black, J.M.W. and Krug, P.M. 2011. Soil erosion on cropland: introduction and trends for Canada. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 16. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. iv + 22 p.

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Footnote 228

NAWMP. 2010. Canadian NAWMP National Tracking System. North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Environment Canada. Ottawa, ON. 

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Footnote 229

Government of Canada. 2014. Species at risk public registry [online]. Government of Canada. (accessed 12 March, 2014).

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Footnote 230

Government of Canada. 2010. Species at risk public registry [online]. Government of Canada. (accessed 7 July, 2010)

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Footnote 231

Anstey, D.A., Davis, S.K., Duncan, D.C. and Skeel, M. 1995. Distribution and habitat requirements of eight grassland songbird species in southern Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan Wetland Conservation Corporation. Regina, SK. 

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Footnote 232

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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Footnote 233

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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Footnote 234

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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Footnote 235

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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Footnote 236

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

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Footnote 237

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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Footnote 238

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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Footnote 239

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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Footnote 240

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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Footnote 241

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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Footnote 242

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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Footnote 243

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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Footnote 244

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. 2002. Pronghorn status [online]. Government of Alberta. www.srd.alberta.ca (accessed August, 2008).

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Footnote 245

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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Footnote 246

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

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Footnote 247

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

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Footnote 248

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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Footnote 249

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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Footnote 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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Footnote 251

Smith, A.R. 1996. Atlas of Saskatchewan birds. Special Publication No. 22. Saskatchewan Natural History Society. Regina, SK. 456 p. 

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Footnote 252

Schmidt, A. 2008. Personal communication. Information on white-tailed deer in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment.

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Footnote 253

Saskatchewan Department of Natural Resources. 1962. White-tailed deer in Saskatchewan. Conservation Bulletin No. 2. Saskatchewan Department of Natural Resources. Regina, SK. 16 p. 

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Footnote 254

Sauer, J.R., Hines, J.E., Thomas, I., Fallon, J. and Gough, G. 2000. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-1999. Version 98.1. U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Laurel, MD. 

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Footnote 255

Sauer, J., Hines, J.E., Thomas, I., Fallon, J. and Gough, G. 2000. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-1999. Version 2000. [online]. U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

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Footnote 256

Peltzer, D.A. and Wilson, S.D. 2006. Hailstorm damage promotes aspen invasion into grassland. Canadian Journal of Botany 84:1142-1147.

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Footnote 257

Downes, C.M. and Collins, B.T. 2008. Canadian bird trends website: version 2.3 [online]. Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada. (accessed 4 November, 2009)

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Footnote 258

Schmutz, J.K. 2004. Does an ecosystem change correlate with changes of a prairie raptor community near Hanna, Alberta? In Proceedings of the Seventh Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference. Calgary, AB, February, 2004. Edited by Trottier, G.C., Anderson, E. and Steinhilber, M. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 26. Provincial Museum of Alberta. Edmonton, AB. pp. 91-94.

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Footnote 259

Houston, S. 2008. Personal communication. Information on reasons for changes in raptor populations in the Prairies Ecozone+. Independent bird expert.

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Footnote 260

Environment Canada. 2010. North American Breeding Bird Survey - Canadian Results and analysis website version 3.00. [online]. Environment Canada. Gatineau, QC.

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Clair, T., Warner, B.G., Robarts, R.D., Murkin, H.R., Lilley, J., Mortsch, L. and Rubec, C.D.A. 1998. Canadian inland wetlands and climate change. In The Canada country study: climate impacts and adaptation. Edited by Koshida, G. and Avis, A. Environment Canada. pp. 189-218. 

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Drever, M.C., Nudds, T.D. and Clark, R.G. 2007. Agricultural policy and nest success of prairie ducks in Canada and the United States. Avian Conservation and Ecology 2:5-21.

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Footnote 264

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Krapu, G.L., Pieta, P.J., Brandt, D.A. and Cox Jr., R. 2000. Factors limiting mallard brood survival in prairie pothole landscapes. Journal of Wildlife Management 64:553-561.

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Footnote 266

Cowardin, L.M., Gilmer, D.S. and Shaiffer, C.W. 1985. Mallard recruitment in the agricultural environment of North Dakota. Wildlife Monographs 92:1-37.

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Footnote 267

Devries, J.H., Citta, J.J., Lindgerg, M.S., Howerter, D.W. and Anderson, M.G. 2003. Breeding-season survival of mallard females in the prairie pothole region of Canada. Journal of Wildlife Management 67:551-563.

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Footnote 268

Johnson, D.H. and Grier, J.W. 1988. Determinants of breeding distributions of ducks. Wildlife Monographs 100:1-37.

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Footnote 269

Dufor, K.W. and Clark, R.G. 2002. Differential survival of yearling and adult female mallards and its relation to breeding habitat conditions. Condor 104:297-308.

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Footnote 270

Wilkins, K.A., Otto, M.C., Zimmerman, G.S., Silverman, E.D. and Koneff, M.D. 2007. Trends in duck breeding populations, 1955-2007. Administrative Report - July 11, 2007. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Bird Management. Laurel, MD. 23 p. 

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Footnote 271

Miller, M.R. and Duncan, D.C. 1999. The northern pintail in North America: status and conservation needs of a struggling population. Wildlife Society Bulletin 27:788-800.

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Footnote 272

Austin, J.E. and Miller, M.R. 1995. Northern pintail (Anas acuta). In The birds of North America online. Edited by Poole, A. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Ithaca, NY.

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Footnote 273

Podruzny, K.M., Devries, J.H., Armstrong, L.M. and Rotella, J.J. 2002. Long-term response of northern pintails to changes in wetlands and agriculture in the Canadian Prairie Pothole Region. Journal of Wildlife Management 66:993-1010.

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Footnote 274

Morrison, R.I.G., McCaffery, B.J., Gill, R.E., Skagen, S.K., Jones, S.L., Page, G.W., Gratto-Trevor, C.L. and Andres, B.A. 2006. Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2006. Wader Study Group Bulletin 111:67-85.

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Footnote 275

Sauer, J., Hines, J.E. and Fallon, J. 2008. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2007. Version 5.15.2008 [online]. U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. (accessed 20 October, 2009)

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Footnote 276

Gratto-Trevor, C.L. 2000. Marbled godwit (Limosa fedoa). In The birds of North America online. Edited by Poole, A. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Ithaca, NY.

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Footnote 277

Skagen, S.K., Sharpe, P.B., Waltermire, R.G. and Dillon, M.B. 1999. Biogeographical profiles of shorebird migration in midcontinental North America. U.S. Geological Survey Biological Science Report No. 2000-0003. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fort Collins, CO. 167 p. 

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Footnote 278

Alexander, S.A. and Gratto-Trevor, C.L. 1997. Shorebird migration and staging at a large prairie lake and wetland complex: the Quill Lakes, Saskatchewan. Occasional Paper No. 97. Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada. Ottawa, ON. 47 p. 

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Footnote 279

Gratto-Trevor, C.L., Beyersbergen, H.L., Erickson, P., MacFarlane, R., Raillard, M. and Sadler, T. 2001. Prairie Canada shorebird conservation plan. Prairie Habitat Joint Venture. Prairie Canada Shorebird Conservation Drafting Committee: Canadian Wildlife Service and Ducks Unlimited Canada. Edmonton, AB. viii + 63 p. + appendices.

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Footnote 280

Larivière, S. 2004. Range expansion of raccoons in the Canadian prairies: review of hypotheses. Wildlife Society Bulletin 32:955-963.

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Tateishi, R. and Ebata, M. 2004. Analysis of phenological change patterns using 1982-2000 Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) data. International Journal of Remote Sensing 25:2287-2300.

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Nelson, J.G. and England, R.E. 1971. Some comments on the causes and effects of fire in the northern grasslands area of Canada and the nearby United States, ca. 1750-1900. Canadian Geographer 15:295-306.

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Footnote 287

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Footnote 288

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Footnote 290

Rowe, J.S. 1969. Lightning fires in Saskatchewan grassland. Canadian Field-Naturalist 83:318-324.

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Footnote 291

Northern Great Plains Steppe Ecoregional Planning Team. 1999. Ecoregional planning in the northern great plains steppe. The Nature Conservancy. Arlington, VA. viii + 181 p. 

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Footnote 292

Collins, S.L. and Smith, M.D. 2006. Scale-dependent interaction of fire and grazing on community heterogeneity in tallgrass prairie. Ecology 87:2058-2067.

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Clarke, S.E., Tisdale, E.W. and Skoglund, N.A. 1943. The effects of climate and grazing practices on short-grass prairie vegetation in southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. Publication No. 747, Technical Bulletin No. 46. Canadian Department of Agriculture. Ottawa, ON. 54 p. 

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Coupland, R.T. 1973. Producers I: dynamics of above-ground standing crop. Technical Report (Matador Project) No. 27. University of Saskatchewan, National Research Council of Canada and Canadian Committee for the International Biological Programme. Saskatchewan, SK. 159 p. 

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Footnote 295

Redmann, R.E., Romo, J.T., Pylypec, B. and Driver, E.A. 1993. Impacts of burning on primary productivity of Festuca and Stipa-Agropyron grasslands in central Saskatchewan. American Midland Naturalist 130:262-273.

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Footnote 296

Pylypec, B. 1991. Impacts of fire on bird populations in a fescue prairie. Canadian Field-Naturalist 105:346-349.

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Footnote 297

Johnson, D.L. 1993. Insects and climate change: prospects for population changes and implications for environmental quality. In Proceedings of the Third Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Workshop. Brandon, MB, February, 1992. Edited by Holroyd, G.L., Dickson, H.L., Regnier, M. and Smith, H.C. Natural History Occasional Paper No. 19. Provincial Museum of Alberta. Edmonton, AB. pp. 94-98.

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Footnote 298

Powell, L.R., Berg, A.A., Johnson, D.L. and Warland, J.S. 2007. Relationships of pest grasshopper populations in Alberta, Canada to soil moisture and climate variables. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 144:73-84.

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Footnote 299

Gavloski, J. 2009. Manitoba grasshopper forecast for 2009 [online]. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives. (accessed 4 November, 2009)

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Footnote 300

Brandt, J.P. 1997. Forest health monitoring in west-central Canada in 1996. Information Report NOR X-351. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Northern Forestry Centre. Edmonton, AB. viii + 39 p. 

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Footnote 301

Ives, W.G.H. 1981. Environmental factors affecting 21 forest insect defoliators in Manitoba and Saskatcehwan 1945-69. Information Report No. NOR-X-233. Northern Forest Research Centre, Canadian Forestry Service, Environment Canada. Edmonton, AB. ix + 142 p. 

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Footnote 302

Canadian Forest Service. 2008. Trends in estimated percentage of area of aspen defoliated in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion in plots monitored by Canadian Forest Service. Data provided by T. Hogg. Unpublished data.

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Footnote 303

Brandt, J.P. and Amirault, P. 1994. Forest insect and disease caused depletions to forests of west-central Canada: 1982-87. Information Report NOR-X-333. Canadian Forest Service, Northwest Region, Northern Forestry Centre. Edmonton, AB. vii + 28 p. 

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Footnote 304

McIntosh, R., Moore, R. and Gooliaff, J. 2008. Forest pest conditions in Saskatchewan, 2008. In Proceedings of the Forest Pest Management Forum. Gatineau, QC, 2-4 December, 2008. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service. pp. 95-107.

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Footnote 305

Parks Canada Agency. 2008. Plains bison in Grasslands National Park of Canada [online]. (accessed 12 November, 2008)

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Footnote 306

Hummel, M. and Ray, J.C. 2008. Caribou and the North: a shared future. Dundurn Press. Toronto, ON. 320 p.

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Footnote 307

Paquet, P.C. and Carbyn, L.N. 2003. Gray wolf. In Wild mammals of North America: biology, management and conservation. Second Edition. Edited by Feldhamer, G.A., Thompson, B.C. and Chapman, J.A. Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD. Chapter 23. pp. 482-510. 

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Footnote 308

Beschta, R.L. and Ripple, W.J. 2009. Large predators and trophic cascades in terrestrial ecosystems of the western United States. Biological Conservation 142:2401-2414.

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Footnote 309

Milner, J.M., Nilsen, E.B. and Andreassen, H.P. 2007. Demographic side effects of selective hunting in ungulates and carnivores. Conservation Biology 21:36-47.

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Footnote 310

Coltman, D.W., O'Donoghue, P., Jorgenson, J.T., Hogg, J.T., Strobeck, C. and Festa-Bianchet, M. 2003. Undesirable evolutionary consequences of trophy hunting. Nature 426:655-658.

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Footnote 311

Cotterill, S.E. 1997. Status of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Alberta. Alberta Wildlife Status Report No. 7. Alberta Environmental Protection, Wildlife Management Division. Edmonton, AB. 17 p. 

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Footnote 312

Bekoff, M. and Gese, E.M. 2003. Coyote. In Wild mammals of North America: biology, management and conservation. Edition 2. Edited by Feldhammer, G.A., Thompson, B.C. and Chapman, J.A. Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD. pp. 467-481. 

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Footnote 313

Emery, R.B., Howerter, D.W., Armstrong, L.M., Anderson, M.G., Devries, J.H. and Joynt, B.L. 2005. Seasonal variation in waterfowl nesting success and its relation to cover management in the Canadian prairies. Journal of Wildlife Management 69:1181-1193.

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Footnote 314

Kitchen, A.M., Gese, E.M. and Schauster, E.R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology 77:1645-1656.

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Footnote 315

Gehrt, S.D. and Clark, W.R. 2003. Raccoons, coyotes, and reflections on the mesopredator release hypothesis. Wildlife Society Bulletin 31:836-842.

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Footnote 316

Moehrenschlager, A., List, R. and Macdonald, D.W. 2007. Escaping intraguild predation: Mexican kit foxes survive while coyotes and golden eagles kill Canadian swift foxes. Journal of Mammalogy 88:1029-1039.

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Footnote 317

Leighton, F.A. 2011. Wildlife pathogens and diseases in Canada. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Thematic Report No. 7. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. iv + 53 p.

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Footnote 318

Pruisner, S.B. 1982. Novel proteinaceous infectious particles cause scrapie. Science 216:136-144.

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Footnote 319

Williams, E.S., Kirkwood, J.K. and Miller, M.W. 2001. Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. In Infectious diseases of wild mammals. 3rd edition. Edited by Williams, E.S. and Barker, I.K. Iowa State University Press. Ames, IA. Chapter 17. pp. 292-301. 

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Footnote 320

Kahn, S., Dube, C., Bates, L. and Balachandran, A. 2004. Chronic wasting disease in Canada: part 1. Canadian Veterinary Journal 45:397-404.

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Footnote 321

Bollinger, T.K., Caley, P., Merrill, E., Messier, F., Miller, M.W., Samuel, M.D. and Vanopdenbosch, E. 2004. Chronic wasting disease in Canadian wildlife: an expert opinion on the epidemiology and risks to wild deer. Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre. Saskatoon, SK. 32 p. 

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Footnote 322

Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 2014. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) - fact sheet [online]. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (accessed 31 March, 20140)

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Footnote 323

USGS National Wildlife Health Centre. 2013. Distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease in North America [online]. U.S. Geological Survey. (accessed 5 November, 2013)

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Footnote 324

Rocke, T.E. and Bollinger, T.K. 2007. Avian botulism. In Infectious diseases of wild birds. Edited by Thomas, N.J., Hunter, D.B. and Atkinson, C.T. Blackwell Publishing. Ames, IA. Chapter 21. pp. 377-416. 

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Footnote 325

Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre. 2008. Canada's national wildlife disease database [online]. (accessed 23 January, 2009)

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Footnote 326

Rioux, D. 2003. Dutch elm disease in Canada: distribution, impact on urban areas, and research. XII World Forestry Congress. Natural Resources Canada, Canada Forest Service. Quebec City, QC. 

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Footnote 327

Hyde, S. 2008. Personal communication. Information on Dutch elm disease in Canada. Ecological Protection Specialist, Government of Saskatchewan.

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Footnote 328

Elm Care. 2007. Quality tree and shrub seeds. [online]. (accessed September, 2008).

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Theme: Science/Policy Interface

Biodiversity Monitoring, Research, Information Management, and Reporting

Key Finding 21
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.

Monitoring, research, information management, and reporting on biodiversity vary widely in the provinces comprising the Prairies Ecozone+.

The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Program was initiated in the late 1990s, with the goal of linking policy development, resource management, and science using appropriate measures of biodiversity.Footnote329 A regular grid of sample points at 20 km intervals covers the entire province. At approximately five-year intervals, biological surveys are conducted for vascular plants, mosses, lichens, birds, mammals, fish, invertebrates, and algae.Footnote330 These data will measure trends in these taxa and relate them to land use. No other province has a comparable program. However, although the program has established a regular grid across Alberta, sampling has not been initiated in most of the Alberta portion of the Prairies Ecozone+ at this time.

Since the 1970s, Alberta has also maintained a Rangeland Reference Area Program to monitor trends in productivity and species composition in a network of plots (183 plots in 2004) representing different types of rangeland.Footnote331 Similar programs initiated in Saskatchewan and Manitoba have fewer numbers of plots. AlbertaFootnote332 and SaskatchewanFootnote333 also developed standardized rangeland health assessment methods, although these have not yet been applied to a monitoring program for the Prairies Ecozone+.

The Breeding Bird SurveyFootnote50 provides the most complete information on non-game and non-colonial bird populations for the Prairies Ecozone+. Because the transects are randomly selected in one-degree blocks (within the constraint of using roads as routes), the results are relatively representative of common habitats in the region and therefore representative of the most common bird species. The results are best used as an index of population trends rather than for estimating actual numbers of individuals.

Breeding Bird Survey routes in the Prairies tend to be located in agricultural areas where there is a good road network and where there has been substantial loss of native grassland. The remaining areas of extensive grassland in the prairies are concentrated in a relatively small area, often with poor road access, and so there is sparse Breeding Bird Survey coverage in areas where the grassland bird density is high.The Grassland Bird Monitoring program,Footnote53 which began in 1996, provides supplemental data to the Breeding Bird Survey. Surveys are located in areas of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan where grassland is still common.

The best data on waterfowl species distribution, abundance, and community composition come from the joint Canadian Wildlife Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Waterfowl Breeding Population, and Habitat Survey.Footnote59

The provinces also conduct targeted surveys for big game animals and other species of special concern, while both provincial and federal agencies are involved in targeted surveys for individual species at risk.

All three Prairie provinces have conservation data centres under the umbrella of NatureServe Canada. These centres develop lists of plant and animal species for their jurisdictions, maintain data on recorded occurrences of these species, and assign conservation status ranks.Footnote334 Footnote335 Footnote336

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Rapid Change and Thresholds

Key Finding 22
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.

Predictions of future climate change (see Climate change key finding on page 57) focus on trends in average climate. However, changes in climatic variability may be of even greater concern. The Prairies Ecozone+ is characterized by wide fluctuations in precipitation from year to year, and multi-year droughts occurred in the 1890s, 1910s, 1930s, 1960s, 1980s, and 2001 and 2002. Drought in the mixed prairie causes an immediate reduction in grass growth, while multi-year drought causes a shift in composition from taller to shorter grass species.Footnote199 The result is poorer habitat for those species that require taller vegetation. Research in North Dakota has shown that most grassland birds are less abundant in dry years, with species such as grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), Sprague's pipit, clay-coloured sparrow (Spizella pallida), and Baird's sparrow being most likely to decline.Footnote337, Footnote338 Drought also reduces the area of shallow lakes and wetlands, resulting in reduced waterfowl populations. Climate change over the coming century is predicted to increase the frequency and severity of droughts.Footnote339 If droughts occur often enough to prevent complete recovery of species and ecosystems in the intervening moist years, this could lead to more rapid ecological changes than implied by the average trends. In addition, it could also threaten the viability of prairie agriculture.

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Footnotes

Footnote 50

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2010. The North American Breeding Bird Survey [online]. U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior.

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Footnote 53

Dale, B.C., Norton, M., Downes, C. and Collins, B. 2005. Monitoring as a means to focus research and conservation - the grassland bird monitoring example. In Bird conservation implementation and integration in the Americas: proceedings of the Third International Partners in Flight Conference. Asilomar, CA, 20-24 March, 2002. Edited by Ralph, C.J. and Rich, T.D. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-191. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. Albany, CA. pp. 485-495.

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Footnote 59

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2007. Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey [online]. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Bird Management and U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. (accessed 20 July, 2010).

Return to footnote 59

Footnote 119

Sawyer, H., Nielson, R.M., Lindzey, F. and McDonald, L.L. 2006. Winter habitat selection of mule deer before and during development of a natural gas field. Journal of Wildlife Management 70:396-403.

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Footnote 329

Herbers, J. 2005. Biodiversity information needs in Alberta: a detailed analysis. Report prepared for the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Program. Edmonton, AB. x + 61 p. 

Return to footnote 329

Footnote 330

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2010. Terrestrial field data collection protocols (10001), version 2010-04-20. Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. Edmonton, AB. 89 p. Report available at: www.abmi.ca (accessed 29 October, 2013).

Return to footnote 330

Footnote 331

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. 2004. Rangeland reference area program for the Province of Alberta. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Public Lands and Forests Division. Edmonton, AB. 

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Footnote 332

Adams, Barry W., Ehlert, G., Stone, C., Lawrence, D., Alexander, M., Willoughby, M., Hincz, C., Moisey, D., Burkinshaw, A., Carlson, J. and France, K. 2009. Rangeland health assessment for grassland, forest and tame pasture. Publication No. T/044. Government of Alberta, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Lands Division, Rangeland Management Branch. Edmonton, AB. 128 p. 

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Footnote 333

Saskatchewan PCAP Greencover Committee. 2008. Rangeland health assessment: native grassland and forest. Prairie Conservation Action Plan. Regina, SK. 82 p. 

Return to footnote 333

Footnote 334

Manitoba Conservation Data Centre. 2013. Manitoba Conservation Data Centre: about the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre [online]. Government of Manitoba. (accessed 29 October, 2013)

Return to footnote 334

Footnote 335

Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre. 2013. Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre: Informing Conservation [online]. Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. (accessed 29 October, 2013)

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Footnote 336

Government of Alberta. 2013. Alberta Conservation Information Management System (ACIMS) [online]. Government of Alberta.

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Footnote 337

George, T.L., Fowler, A.C., Knight, R.L. and McEwen, L.C. 1992. Impacts of a severe drought on grassland birds in western North Dakota. Ecological Applications 2:275-284.

Return to footnote 337

Footnote 338

Igl, L.D. and Johnson, D.H. 1997. Changes in breeding bird populations in North Dakota: 1967 to 1992-93. The Auk 114:74-92.

Return to footnote 338

Footnote 339

Bonsal, B. and Regier, M. 2006. The 2001 and 2002 Canadian drought: historical context and potential future occurrence. CCIAP A932 "Canadian agricultural adaptations to 21st century droughts: preparing for climate change". Environment Canada. Ottawa, ON. 58 p. 

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Conclusion: Human Well-Being and Biodiversity

Human/ecosystem interactions have been a the key driver of changes in this ecozone+, with over 70% of the original landscape converted from natural vegetation to cropland over a span of about a century. Remaining natural areas are fragmented and, in many cases, have been further altered by changes to natural disturbance regimes. This has altered the capacity of the landscape to support biodiversity and deliver ecosystem goods and services. Channeling of primary production into agricultural crops and of secondary production into livestock has increased provisioning services but decreased many regulating and cultural services. Superimposed on this structural change has been change in community composition resulting particularly from invasion of non-native species, with more subtle effects on the delivery of ecosystem goods and services.

The addition of fertilizers has altered nutrient cycling on agricultural land. Nutrient loading from agricultural runoff and municipal effluents has accelerated the eutrophication of water bodies, causing algal blooms and reducing habitat for some fish and other biota. Habitat capacity has been reduced through fragmentation and large-scale land conversion. The reduction in this capacity is manifested in the decline of grassland birds in general, and of many species at risk.

Accelerated climate change threatens the productivity of the landscape. Primary productivity has been harnessed for the benefit of humans, but those benefits do not translate positively for all biodiversity. As a result, ecosystems have been converted in their composition and structure to ones that support human life in a way much different from pre-European settlement. One consequence these interactions have on biodiversity is a reduction in the landscape's resiliency to disturbance.

Despite the extent of human modification to the landscape, the remaining natural areas, including grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands, are still significant for biodiversity, supporting important and unique flora and fauna. Many grasslands continue to support both biodiversity and livestock grazing, which under proper management can be highly compatible with conservation goals. The landscape also provides services such as water, crop pollination, nutrient cycling, traditional foods, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.

The key to conserving biodiversity and preventing further fragmentation, loss, and degradation of habitats and ecosystems will be continued application and strengthening of federal and provincial regulations and policies complemented by work with landowners and industry to increase stewardship activities. With respect to stewardship, advances have been made in this area, particularly with agricultural producers; nevertheless, losses and degradation continue.

It is difficult to gauge the impacts to biodiversity, natural disturbances, and ecological processes due to the lack of an adequate monitoring network.

The Prairies Ecozone+ represents a unique challenge to find methods to conserve biodiversity in a region so important to human food production. The two are inextricably linked, as without the supporting services of healthy ecosystems, food production is not sustainable.

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