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Boreal Plains Ecozone+ evidence for key findings summary

Ecozone+ Basics

Extending from northeastern British Columbia, across northern and central portions of Alberta and central Saskatchewan, to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba (Figure 1), the Boreal Plains Ecozone+ is characterized by a cool climate, generally flat topography, thick surface organic soil layers, poor drainage, low nutrients, and discontinuous permafrost (Table 1).Reference 11 Over 60% forested (Figure 2), with low tree species diversity and relatively slow tree growth, the ecozone+ is interspersed with wetlands, shrublands, and some of Canada's largest water bodies. Frequent wide-spread natural disturbances including fire, insect outbreaks, and wind drive the structure of the ecozone+. The Boreal Plains Ecozone+ is rich in renewable and non-renewable resources, with resource-based industries being the primary economic drivers. At almost 21% of its landbase, the region provides Canada's second largest contribution of agriculture land. It has a robust forestry industry, and a rapidly growing energy sector (including the oil sands).

Table 1. Taiga Plains ecozone+ overview.
Area701,750 km2 (7.0% of Canada)
TopographyTypically flat to gently rolling, hummocky and kettled terrain; generally decreasing in elevation in an eastward direction.
ClimateCool, northern continental climate, with long, cold winters and short cool summers; maintaining average annual temperatures around 0°C.

Climate varies with cooler and wetter conditions in the north, and warmer and drier conditions in the south.

Total annual precipitation generally remains below 500mm, typically occurring in the summers.
River basinsFalls within Great Slave Lake, Western and Northern Hudson Bay, and Nelson River drainage areas. Tributaries provide for the Peace–Athabasca Delta, Lake Winnipeg, Lake Winnipegosis, and Lake Manitoba.

Major rivers include the Peace, Athabasca, and Saskatchewan
GeologyPostglacial terrain consists primarily of glacial till deposits and some morainal, lacustrine, and aeolian deposits over Cretaceous shales and sandstones.
PermafrostPatchy distribution of permafrost, confined to peatlands along the northern edge coinciding with the southern edge of the sporadic permafrost zone.
SettlementSmall groups of Aboriginal peoples have inhabited the area for the last 5000 years.

European settlement started in the mid-1800s following the fur trade and subsequent agricultural expansion and resource extraction.

Settlement typically along the south and near areas of high resource concentration.

Major municipalities include Fort St. John, Peace River, Grand Prairie, Fort McMurray, Prince Albert, The Pas, and Gimli.
EconomyPredominantly resource-based including agriculture, forestry, and energy development, particularly oil and gas extraction.
DevelopmentExtensive development is focused around resource deposits and human access.

Most agricultural and forestry activity occurs along the southern edge or near population centres.
National/global significancePeace–Athabasca Delta is Canada's largest inland delta and is designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance as one of the world's largest freshwater deltas, and as an Important Bird Area for migratory waterfowl on all four continental flyways.

Wood Buffalo National Park is the world's second largest national park and a World Heritage Site.

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Jurisdictions: The Boreal Plains Ecozone+ includes parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. The major Aboriginal groups that overlap the Boreal Plains Ecozone+ boundaries are the Cree, Denesuline, and Dunne-za.Reference 12

Figure 2. Broad (1 km resolution) landcover classification for the Boreal Plains Ecozone+, 2005.
Source: data for ecozone+ provided by authors of Ahern et al., 2011Reference 13
Long description for Figure 2

This map shows that forest occupies the majority of the ecozone+ (62%) and agricultural land occupies 24%, mostly in the south and northwest. Shrubland occupies 12% and fire scars occupy 2% both throughout the ecozone+.

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Figure 3. Human population trends, Boreal Plains Ecozone+ from 1971 to 2006.
Source: Statistics Canada, 2000Reference 14 and 2009Reference 15
Long description for Figure 3

This bar graph shows the following information:

Human population trends, Boreal Plains Ecozone+ from 1971 to 2006. (Population)

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The population of the Boreal Plains Ecozone+ has been steadily increasing and reached 809,169 in 2006 (Figure 3). Population growth is driven largely by the need for labour as resource development expands; for example the population of Fort McMurray expanded almost ten-fold between 1971 and 2007 (from 6,847 to 64,441).Reference 16

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Reference 11

Pojar, J. 1996. Environment and biogeography of the western boreal forest. Forestry Chronicle 72:51-58.

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Reference 12

Karst, A. 2010. Conservation Value of the North American Boreal Forest from an Ethnobotanical persective. Canadian Boreal Initiative; David Suzuki Foundation; Boreal Songbird Initiative. Ottawa, ON;Vancouver, BC; Seattle, WA.

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Reference 13

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.

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Reference 14

Statistics Canada. 2000. Human activity and the environment 2000. Human Activity and the Environment, Catalogue No. 11-509-XPE. Statistics Canada. Ottawa, ON. 332 p.

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Reference 15

Statistics Canada. 2009. Human activity and the environment: annual statistics 2009. Human Activity and the Environment, Catalogue No. 16-201-X. Statistics Canada. Ottawa, ON. 166 p.

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Reference 16

Fort McMurray Tourism. 2008. Fort McMurray Tourism [online]. (accessed 17 March, 2008).

Return to reference 16