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Taiga Plains Ecozone+ Evidence for Key Findings Summary

Ecozone+ Basics

The Taiga Plains ecozone+ is the large extent of boreal forest sweeping from the Arctic coast south along the Mackenzie River. The ecozone+ with its extensive peatlands, wetlands and intact blocks of forest provides important habitat for wildlife, especially waterfowl, endangered whooping cranes, the threatened wood bison, and caribou, including the threatened boreal caribou. The footprint from human development is greatest in the south (especially northeastern BC), along parts of the Mackenzie Valley, and around Inuvik. Oil and gas projects and pipelines, existing and potential, are the focus of industry and economic development, though hunting, fishing, trapping, and berry gathering remain very important to residents. Climate change is apparent in the ecozone+, with an average increase of 2°C year-round and over 5°C in winter since 1950 and corresponding changes in growing season, permafrost, and river ice.

Table 1. Taiga Plains ecozone+ overview.
Area604,628 km2 (6.2% of Canada)
TopographyExtended plains and a few isolated, low-elevation plateaus.

Landscape modified by rivers that have cut deep gorges and created meandering channels and ox-bow lakes.
ClimateStrong north-south gradient, with Growing Degree Days about double in the south compared to the northReference 16.

Precipitation relatively low as are both summer rainfall and evapotranspiration rates. Snow pack accumulates mostly in the fall, with typically light snow from December to MarchReference 16.
River basinsDrainage to the Arctic Ocean through the Mackenzie River Basin, including through Great Slave and Great Bear lakes.
GeologyUnderlain by sedimentary rocks with horizontal layers of sandstones, shales, conglomerates, and limestoneReference 17

Retreating ice sheets from the last ice age deposited till over most of the ecozone+ (Figure 2).
Land Cover68% forest; 20% shrub cover (Figure 3)

North: vegetation open with stunted stands of white spruce

Further south: more closed canopy forests – species include black and white spruce, jack pine, Alaska paper birch, aspen, and balsam poplarReference 13
PermafrostNorth: continuous permafrost over shallow active layer

Central: extensive discontinuous permafrost

South: sporadic permafrost
SettlementPopulation increased 36% from 1971 to 2006 (Figure 4).

9 communities with populations over 600 (Table 2); 7 smaller communities in NWT and additional small population centres in Indian reserves in BC.
EconomyHistorical and current economy centred on: 1) wildlife and fish abundance, 2) oil and gas reserves, 3) transportation (including pipelines).
DevelopmentRoads are in the north and south portions of the ecozone+ (Figure 1).
Additional minor roads and linear features are mainly related to access to oil and gas or, in the southern part of the ecozone+, forestry.

Industrial development is primarily oil and gas exploration and development, focused on the Mackenzie Delta and parts of the Mackenzie Valley. Major pipelines and associated infrastructure extending the length of the ecozone+ along the Mackenzie Valley are proposed and were approved in 2010 to proceed to the permit application stageReference 18.
National/global significanceLower portion of Mackenzie River, longest river in Canada, draining 20% of the nationReference 19.

Ramsar sites (wetlands of international significance): Hay-Zama Lakes and Whooping Crane breeding wetlandsReference 20.

World Heritage Site: Wood Buffalo National ParkReference 21

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Jurisdictions: Mainly within the Northwest Territories; extends into northeast BC and northwest Alberta and includes a very small section of southeastern Yukon (Figure 1). Four settled land claims with jurisdiction in the ecozone+: Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, Sahtu, and Tlicho, plus the Deh Cho Interim Measures Agreement.

Figure 2. Surficial materials, Taiga Plains Ecozone+
Map
Source: based on data from Geological Survey of Canada, 1994Reference 17
Long description for Figure 2

This map shows the distribution of surficial materials in the Taiga Plains Ecozone+. The majority of the ecozone+ is covered with till blanket, with some large areas of till veneer in the north. In the river drainages there tends to be a mix of coarse and fine grained glaciolacustrine deposits, with a large alluvial deposit in the Mackenzie Delta.

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Figure 3. Land cover, Taiga Plains Ecozone+
Map
Source: data for ecozone+ provided by authors of Ahern et al., 2011Reference 13
Long description for Figure 3

This graphic depicts a map and stacked bar graph of land cover classification in the Taiga Plains Ecozone+. This ecozone+ is heavily dominated by forest (68%), with substantial shrublands (20%) in the Mackenzie River Delta and south of Great Slave Lake. Fire scars, accounting for only 6% of the land cover, are concentrated near the shrubland areas in the Mackenzie Delta, and south and west of Great Slave Lake. A minimal amount of low vegetation and barren ground (6%) is found in the west-central part of the ecozone+, and agricultural land (<1%) is centred around Hay Lake, Alberta. A small map showing the location of the Taiga Plains Ecozone+ in Canada is located in the top right corner.

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Figure 4. Human population trends, Taiga Plains Ecozone+, 1971-2006
Graph
Source: population data for the ecozone+ compiled from Statistics Canada 2000Reference 23 and census reports for Wrigley, Fort Resolution, Fort Smith and Inuvik.
Long description for Figure 4

This bar graph depicts the following information:

Human population trends, Taiga Plains Ecozone+, 1971-2006.
YearNumber of people
197120,910
197623,641
198124,160
198626,200
199127,456
199630,092
200126,165
200628,435

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Table 2. Main communities and their 2006 populations
CommunityPopulation
Fort Nelson BC4,514
Hay River NT3,648
Inuvik NT3,484
Fort Smith NT2,364
Fort Simpson NT1,216
Hay Lake 209 Indian Reserve AB951
Fort McPherson NT776
Norman Wells NT761
Fort Providence NT727

Source: Statistics Canada, 2009Reference 24

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