Photo: boreal peatlands © Global Forest Watch
Boreal peatlands

Status of peatlands

Canada has about 1.1 million km2 of peatlands, which represents about 12% of its land area74 and the majority of its total wetland area.75 Ninety–seven percent occur in the boreal and subarctic regions.74 In addition to their significance to biodiversity, Canadian peatlands, which are wetlands that have accumulated more than 40 cm of organic soil,2, 76 are important globally as carbon stores.77-79 Although it is estimated that 90% of Canada's peatlands remain intact in terms of total area,13 comprehensive data do not exist. Some example estimates of peatland loss through direct human activity include:

  • 9,000 km2 flooded for hydroelectric development throughout Canada between 1960 and 2000;13, 80
  • 250 km2 drained for forestry in the Boreal Shield between 1980 and 2000;80
  • 240 km2 drained for horticultural peat across Canada by 2007, including a 56% increase in area under active extraction from 1990 to 2007;81
  • 237 km2 disturbed by oil sands mining in Alberta by mid–2009;82
  • 110 km2 converted to agriculture in Quebec prior to 2001.83

Approximately 60% of the peatlands in Canada, particularly those in Hudson/James Bay lowlands, Mackenzie River Basin, and parts of northern Alberta and Manitoba, lie within areas expected to be severely affected by climate change.74, 84 Climate change is already affecting northern peatlands through permafrost thaw and other changes in hydrology. These impacts show rapid changes with lake expansion in some areas, shrinkage or disappearance in others,85 including the replacement of forests in some areas by wet sedge meadows, bogs, and ponds and lakes86 (see Ice Across Biomes). Climate change may also result in changes to the carbon balance of Canada's extensive peatlands.74