"A major challenge facing DU is not only to understand individual development impacts in the western boreal forest, but also the cumulative effects associated with multiple disturbances," says Gary Stewart, DU Canada's manager of conservation programs for the boreal region. "DU is working to identify the most important wetland resources in this vast region and to find ways of working with resource managers, owners, and users to ensure that the region continues to support an abundance of waterfowl and other wildlife in perpetuity."
An initial priority of DU's Western Boreal Forest Initiative is to map wetlands across this vast region. Utilizing geographic information systems (GIS), which project layers of landscape data in a user-friendly map format, DU is creating a comprehensive waterfowl habitat inventory of the western boreal forest.
DU biologists and government mapping specialists also are conducting extensive air and ground surveys to verify satellite land cover images, classify wetland habitats, determine baseline water chemistry parameters, and monitor waterfowl populations throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
To date, DU has mapped or is mapping more than 164 million acres of wetlands and associated uplands across the western boreal forest, including 140 million acres in Alaska and 24 million acres in northwestern Canada.
Additional research will study the importance of these habitats to waterfowl and other wildlife, and the potential impact resource development will have on the ecological health of boreal wetlands. This information will be used by DU and its partners to prioritize, plan, and deliver future efforts to conserve wetland and waterfowl habitats in the region.
Although waterfowl production in the western boreal forest will never match the numbers of birds raised on the prairies during wet years, the region is a critical breeding, molting, and staging area for several species, especially when the pothole country is dry.
Since large-scale development has just begun to impact the western boreal forest, DU and its partners are seizing this opportunity to begin to preserve and sustain the ecological health of the region for breeding waterfowl and a wide variety of other wildlife for future generations.