Wetlands loss in Alberta, Canada

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Summary:

Wetlands are widespread throughout the Alberta landscape. Approximately 18% of the province is covered by wetlands of which Peatlands comprise about 90.4% of the total wetland area (Ducks Unlimited Canada). Wetlands in Alberta have been significantly altered and degraded over time by settlement, agricultural and industrial development, and the conversion process is still occurring (Wetlands Alberta).

Critical Statistics:
  1. 85% of wetlands have been lost in Canada due to agricultural expansion (Ducks Unlimited Canada) and 0.53% of wetlands were drained annually during 1980 to 1985 (Turner et al. 1987)

  2. The Institute of Wetlands and Waterfowl Research estimates that approximately 64% the slough/marsh wetlands in the settled areas of Alberta has disappeared (Wetlands Alberta).

  3. Annually 0.5% of wetlands of Alberta were lost during 1981-1989 (Wilson et al. 2001).The wetland area declined by 16-17% between 1985 and 1987 (Wilson et al. 2001).

  4. Wetlands have been declined at an estimated rate of 0.28% per year between 1961 and 1996 (Wilson et al. 2001).

  5. 21,500 sq.km. (about 60%) of wetlands of Alberta had disappeared by 1999 (Wilson et al. 2001).

  6. Between 1991 and 1996 pesticide levels exceeded the allowable limit in Alberta wetlands (Wilson et al. 2001).

  7. The number of ponds in Southern Alberta has declined between 1961 and 1999 as reported by Waterfowl breeding population survey (Wilson et al. 2001).

Causes:
  1. Dredging, draining, and filling wetland areas especially for agriculture and urban uses are widespread.

  2. Population growth and urban development around wetlands are slowly encroaching on these fragile areas.

  3. Mining and resource (peat, timber) extraction activities have led to widespread degradation of Alberta's wetlands.

  4. Waste disposal in wetlands has become a major concern.

  5. There are various financial incentives that play a role in draining wetlands for agricultural purposes (Wilson et al. 2001).

  6. The current wetland policy introduced by the Government of Alberta is over 14 years old and applies only to already developed areas (Water Matters) and is thus inadequate for protection of undeveloped natural wetlands.

Impacts:
  1. Pollution, siltation and conversion of wetlands are already happening and are threats to the natural habitats and wetland ecosystems.Conversion of wetlands into other uses may have a permanent impact on the hydrological process of this region.

What is Next:
  1. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan has targeted over 2.5 million hectares of wetlands in Canada for conservation.Over 700,000 hectares of wetlands were secured between 1988 and 1993 in Canada, Mexico and United States (Natural Resources Canada).

  2. The conversion and pollution of wetlands has to be halted and managed at the earliest to save the remaining wetlands of this unique ecosystem.A comprehensive wetland policy may stop the ongoing conversion and anthropogenic impacts on wetlands in Alberta (Alberta Wilderness Association. 2007, Water Matters).

  3. Some recently proposed oil-sand mining projects could result in an additional wetland loss of up to 22,786 hectares.

Citations:
  1. Agriculture and Rural Development, Government of Alberta, http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex10306 (Last accessed 23 November 2009).

  2. Alberta Wilderness Association. 2007. Recommendations for Renewal of Water for Life: Alberta's Strategy for Sustainability. Bow Riverkeeper, New York 10533.

  3. Ducks Unlimited Canada, Wetland Policy Development in Alberta

  4. Natural Resources Canada. http://atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/learningresources/theme_modules/we... (Last accessed: 23 November 2009).

  5. Turner, B.C.; Hochbaum, G.S.; Caswell, F.D.; Nieman, D.J. 1987, Agricultural Impacts on Wetland Habitats on the Canadian Preiries 1981-85. North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, 52:206-215.

  6. Water Matters, http://www.water-matters.org/topic/wetlands (Last accessed: 23 November 2009).

  7. Wetlands Alberta, http://www.wetlandsalberta.ca/wetland-loss (Last accessed: 23 November 2009).

  8. Wilson, S., Mary Griffiths and Mark Anielski, 2001. The Alberta GPI Accounts: Wetlands and Peatlands, Report 23, Pembina Institute.