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Taiga Plains Ecozone+ Evidence for Key Findings Summary

Conclusion: Human Well-Being and Biodiversity

The Taiga Plains Ecozone+, with its forested plateaus and river valleys dotted with thousands of lakes and wetlands, forms a broad, uninterrupted corridor extending from Canada’s boreal forest ecozones+ in the south almost to the Arctic Ocean. It is bordered to the west by the Taiga Cordillera and to the east by the Taiga Shield, both with predominantly patchy, often sparse, forest stands and bare rock. Continuation of the trend of expansion and intensification of settlement, agriculture, and industrial development along the southern zone of Canada’s boreal forest brings with it increases in fragmentation and landuse conversion. Associated forest harvest and fire suppression alter age characteristics and structure of the forest in the more densely settled parts of Canada’s boreal ecozones+. The Taiga Plains may increasingly become nationally important as a refuge and a corridor for boreal forest biota that require large intact tracts of mixed-age and mature coniferous forest.

This is illustrated by the distribution of boreal caribou in Canada (Figure 49). The range of the woodland caribou, including the boreal population, has retracted significantly from historical distributions. The southern limit of distribution has progressively receded in a northerly direction since the early 1900s, a trend that continues now.Reference 183, Reference 185-Reference 187 The Taiga Plains Ecozone+ is also important as a migration corridor and connecting habitat for other species, including predators and migratory birds. Two iconic at-risk species, wood bison and whooping crane, extirpated throughout most of their North American ranges through habitat change, were left with tiny remnant populations in the Taiga Plains. Both have been subjects of decades of recovery actions and the continuation of both species is still dependent upon large blocks of intact, protected habitat within the ecozone+.

Figure 49. Current distribution of boreal caribou and historical (early 1900s) distribution of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Canada
Source: Environment Canada, 2012Reference 109
Long description for Figure 49

This map shows the current distribution and historical (early 1900s) range limits of boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) across northern Canada.  The current distribution aligns with the boundaries of the Taiga Plains Ecozone+ and then stretches across the northern half of Saskatchewan, and the central parts of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Labrador. The historical southern limits of the species’ range extend substantially further south, down through most of BC and into Montana, along the edge of the prairies and includes most of Ontario, Quebec and eastern Canada.

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The people who live in the Taiga Plains are well aware of the value of their land. Hunting, fishing, berry and plant gathering, and trapping remain important cultural and economic activities for many residents – for example, almost all households in Gwich’in communities collect berries and 20 to 30% of Taiga Plains households in the NWT obtain most or all of their meat and fish from the land. Forest harvest in the south, wilderness tourism, recreation, and guided hunting and fishing are other economic sectors dependent upon healthy ecosystems.

Because of this strong attachment to the land and because the Taiga Plains and the lands and the sea to its north contain oil and gas reserves, this ecozone+ has a rich history of grappling with issues around sustainable development. The ecozone+ is a centre of studies, dialogue, and co-operatively managed work aimed at balancing the goal of conservation of (and respect for) the land (encompassing ecosystems and traditional cultures) with the goal of creating flourishing, sustainable community economies.

Processes and initiatives centred in the Taiga Plains have influenced land claim settlements, co-management processes, and ideas and practices around involving Aboriginal Peoples and Traditional Ecological Knowledge across much of the North. Proposed oil and gas and pipeline developments led to assessments, consultations, and recommendations, from the Berger inquiry of the 1970sReference 302 to the recent Mackenzie Gas Project assessment. Reference 303, Reference 304 Agencies and renewable resource management boards and councils in the ecozone+ have supported major research and monitoring programs and projects on cumulative effects, ecological indicators, baseline information, land-use planning, and methods and promotion of the use of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in environmental monitoring, planning, and management.Reference 59 Examples are the Mackenzie River Basin Impact Study,Reference 305 the West Kitikmeot Slave Study,Reference 306 the NWT Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program,Reference 217 and the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op.Reference 99

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