Table of contents

Overview

Alberta is blessed with a diversity of natural landscapes. This includes grassland, parkland, foothills, boreal forest, Rocky Mountains and Canadian Shield. The province is also home to over 60,000 wild species.

Alberta's landscapes can be categorized into 6 unique natural regions:

  • Boreal Forest
  • Rocky Mountains
  • Foothills
  • Grassland
  • Parkland
  • Canadian Shield

These regions contain a vast array of landscapes, resources and biodiversity. Alberta’s parks and protected areas cover over 15% of the province. For our provincial Crown lands outside of parks and protected areas, we often refer to these lands as working landscapes because they are managed for the many values of Albertans.

Alberta is focused on protecting and conserving its rich, diverse landscapes and biodiversity for future generations in a sustainable way, based on the social, economic and environmental values of Albertans.

Alberta’s Crown Land Vision

Alberta’s Crown Land Vision is a common-sense approach to Crown land management that strikes a balance between conservation, recreation and economic use. It guides work on all aspects of that management – policy, planning, programs, delivery, and monitoring and evaluation. It also recognizes the importance of shared stewardship and emphasizes the need to work collaboratively.

Cumulative effects management

Alberta has a cumulative effects management system in place to understand and manage the effects of multiple activities on the environment, while considering social and economic value.

Success stories

The following success stories illustrate Alberta’s approach to biodiversity conservation and management in action.

  • Effective planning: A foundation for achieving conservation and biodiversity outcomes

    Alberta uses a comprehensive land use planning system to meet present needs without compromising Alberta’s natural resources and environment for future generations. The province’s Land-use Framework sets the foundation for the planning system. working with Albertans to set economic, social and environmental outcomes and objectives. The Land-use Framework includes a commitment to a cumulative effects management approach that recognizes Alberta’s watersheds, airsheds, and landscapes have a finite carrying capacity. It also provides for the combined effects of past and reasonably foreseeable future human activities to be considered when setting environmental objectives. A current focus for Alberta is the development and implementation of land-use plans for sub-regional areas across the province. This includes planning:

    • In sub-regional areas that include caribou ranges to achieve caribou recovery goals while maintaining a working landscape that can support economic, recreational and traditional land-use values of multiple users.
    • In sub-regional and local areas to provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and other uses while supporting sustainable landscapes.
    • In local areas, such as Moose Lake, to allow the carefully managed development of resources while meeting the unique cultural needs and practices of Indigenous communities and maintaining the area’s ecological integrity.

    Conservation and biodiversity management objectives are incorporated into land use planning, which integrates these values into land-use decisions.

    Since implementing the land-use planning system, Alberta has seen the importance of working closely with those who live on and use the lands. Engaging Albertans early, and continuing to work with them as plans develop and are implemented, has become paramount in land-use planning.

  • World’s largest protected boreal area: Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Expansion

    Protected areas are a key part of Alberta’s approach to managing for biodiversity conservation. Alberta is home to the world’s largest protected boreal area, made up of Alberta provincial parks and protected areas, and Wood Buffalo National Park. Together, these conserve a 7.1 million hectare area of contiguous boreal forest—an area the size of Ireland.

    A key part of this area is the recently expanded Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland. This expansion was made possible through collaboration between the Alberta government, federal government, Indigenous communities and industry. The Mikisew Cree First Nation led the discussions, which began in 2019, and several companies surrendered Crown mineral agreements to contribute to making the establishment of the wildland possible.

    This protected area connects landscapes, conserves wilderness, supports Indigenous peoples’ traditional activities and protects watersheds and habitats for species at risk.

  • Robust data and open information: Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute

    Access to robust data is a cornerstone of Alberta’s biodiversity management approach. We provide $4 million CAD every year to the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) — a non-profit organization that reports on the status of thousands of species and their habitats in Alberta. Since 2007, the ABMI has collected data at terrestrial and wetland sites distributed across the entire province using consistent, scientifically rigorous methods.

    The ABMI tracks and models species and habitat trends, creates spatial layers for different habitat and land cover types, and estimates the relative effects of various industry sectors on biodiversity. They incorporate a variety of datasets (e.g., soil characteristics, climate data, aerial photos) to better understand the habitats species use and how the landscape is changing over time. All of the ABMI’s data is available online, for free, for anyone to access. Alberta also uses this data to inform land-use planning.

    Publicly accessible data ensures there is open and transparent access for Albertans active in land stewardship, for industries managing their operations with consideration of biodiversity, and for public land managers such as municipal, provincial and federal governments.

  • Grassland stewards: Working together

    Albertans have a long history of stewarding grasslands. In fact, responsible ranching and good range science have protected much of Alberta’s remaining native grasslands.

    Because of the key role cattle grazing plays on grasslands, Alberta supports ranchers through the issuance of livestock grazing dispositions on Crown lands. Over 3 millions hectares of public land is used for the purpose of grazing in Alberta – an area larger than Belgium. Alberta invested in developing detailed knowledge of rangeland plant communities, their ecology and capabilities over 20 years ago and has developed rangeland plant community and carrying capacity guides specific for each natural sub-region. The province has also developed rangeland health assessment tools that provide a practical and effective approach to monitoring grassland health, and help to ensure the long-term management practices are sustainable. This range science is used by ranchers who further apply their extensive experience and knowledge to ensuring long-term sustainability of grasslands on Crown land.

    Grasslands require management to be sustained, and rancher’s excellent stewardship is management that Albertans rely on. It is by working together with the ranching community that Alberta is able to support healthy landscapes on the province’s remaining grasslands, and support the wildlife that live there, including many of Alberta’s species at risk.

  • Protection for wetlands: Policy and Replacement Program

    Wetlands play an important role in Alberta’s ecosystems. They are critical habitats for plants and animals, they purify water for rivers and lakes and they reduce negative impacts from floods and droughts. That’s why in 2013, Alberta endorsed the Wetland Policy, which solidifies the province’s commitment to maintain wetlands by avoiding, minimizing and replacing lost wetland area when avoidance is not possible.

    If a land user or owner has plans that would impact a wetland, they can choose to construct or restore a wetland nearby or pay an equivalent amount to replace the wetland somewhere else (within the same municipality or watershed). This offset program which involves a dedicated wetlands replacement fund is unique within Canada.

    Alberta has distributed over $10 million CAD from cash-in-lieu payments to restore or construct 350 hetctares of wetland area since the program was introduced three years ago. These projects are funded from start to finish, including four years of monitoring. Once the new wetlands are established, they are protected under the Water Act to avoid future impacts.

  • Improving on the past: Caribou Habitat Recovery Program

    Alberta has identified restoration of legacy seismic lines as an opportunity to reduce landscape fragmentation and impacts on biodiversity. The province is committed to long term investment in this work and is doing this in a way that involves local and Indigenous peoples.

    Seismic lines in Alberta were primarily created to assess the occurrence of sub-surface oil, gas and mineral resources. Modern seismic practices and technology have reduced the residual disturbance associated with seismic operations. However, assessments have shown that many legacy seismic lines are not supporting forest re-growth as was expected and remain on the landscape long after they were created.

    Alberta has established the Caribou Habitat Recovery Program (CHRP) to direct restoration priorities, guide operations, and continue to involve local and Indigenous peoples. Since 2017 more than $33 million dollars has been invested into the CHRP and over 1 million trees have been planted to re-establish trees in Alberta’s forests.

    Alberta will continue to allocate funding to support the CHRP, including more than $10 millon annually starting in 2023-24. Restoring these features requires coordinated efforts, and ongoing partnerships, including funding arrangements with industry and the federal government, which are vital to this work.

  • Protection against invasives: Aquatic Invasive Species Program

    In 2012, Alberta quickly mobilized to take a robust prevention approach to the introduction and management of aquatic invasive species, establishing partnerships with key stakeholders along the way. A potentially large vulnerability to invasive species was identified at provincial borders. Invasive mussels ‘hitchhike’ on boats and boat trailers between waterbodies and can establish new populations at new locations if precautions are not taken. Invasive mussels could cost Albertans $75 million CAD per year if they spread in Alberta.

    Currently, Alberta employs 7 full-time staff and a fleet of seasonal boat inspectors to prevent and respond to aquatic invasive species. They operate inspection stations at provincial borders, promote awareness and education and inspect thousands of trailers and watercrafts travelling between Alberta’s 600+ lakes and across provincial and national borders. Three specially-trained dogs (Hilo, Diesel and Seuss) are also instrumental in sniffing out invasive mussels.

    Visitors to provincial lakes are encouraged to “Clean, Drain and Dry” their gear, watercrafts and trailers upon leaving or entering waterbodies. Boaters are required to pull their drain plugs while transporting their watercraft. This helps prevent the transfer of water that may be harbouring invasive species. In the past ten years, the program has expanded beyond invasive mussels to manage all aquatic invasive species.

    Alberta works with local governments and stakeholders to help them respond to aquatic invasive species, providing the expertise to guide them through quick and successful responses. Alberta values partners throughout Canada and beyond who share information about potential threats and best practices, helping the province protect its aquatic biodiversity.

    For more information, see Aquatic invasive species.

  • Recovery success: Trumpeter swans in Alberta

    One of Alberta’s most graceful species, the trumpeter swan, faced major population declines until recovery efforts brought them back from the brink and even led to a down-listing of their risk status.

    In the 1930’s, concerns were raised about the rapid reduction of the number of swans in North America. Hunting, disturbance and habitat loss was leading to declines in the species and an eventual listing in Alberta’s Wildlife Act as a Threatened species.

    Recovery efforts began in the 1980’s with renewed efforts to regularly count the number of swans in the province, followed by efforts to re-introduce swans to Elk Island National Park and continued through efforts to secure key breeding wetlands in partnership with conservation organizations. The application of industrial setbacks at important swan breeding habitats was also a vital part of the recovery plan as Trumpeter swans are particularly sensitive to human disturbance, quickly abandoning nest sites if they feel threatened. Education and outreach were also used to connect private landowners with the habitat needs of the threatened species. Because trumpeter swans winter in the United States, cooperative conservation efforts on wintering ranges was also a key part of the species recovery. Today, the overall breeding range of Alberta trumpeter swans has expanded, including a re-colonization of parts of Alberta that have not seen breeding success in over 150 years!

    As a result of the efforts of wildlife managers, non-governmental conservation organizations, landowners and industrial developers, trumpeter swan were down-listed from Threatened to Special Concern in 2014. This marks a major accomplishment of the species at risk program in Alberta and continues to showcase how species recovery is possible, even in industrially active landscapes.

  • Successfully working with partners: MULTISAR

    Southern Alberta ranchers have a strong connection to the land. Many use vast areas of grasslands and native habitat to graze their cattle. These same areas provide important habitat for wildlife species, including species at risk. Their stewardship of native grasslands and management actions have allowed many species at risk to continue to exist within the Alberta landscape. Sustainable ranching operations are facing changing pressures to modernize their approach, which could potentially conflict with the habitat requirements of sensitive species using the area.  

    Focused on multi-species conservation at the landscape level, MULTISAR is a program that promotes stewardship through voluntary participation of landholders on both Crown and private lands. The program develops and maintains important partnerships between landowners, non-government agencies and government agencies to implement collaborative strategies to manage for multiple species on a defined working landscape. The Government of Alberta has been a managing partner in the program for over 20 years. 

    Working with the ranchers, habitat conservation strategies are created for ranchers and provide the tools to maintain sustainable practices, while allowing the operations to align with modern practices. Additionally, MULTISAR has an education, outreach, and awareness program that develops beneficial management practices for various species and creates species at risk conservation plans, which are completed for landholders outside the priority landscapes but provide similar tools as the habitat conservation strategies. 

    The relationships established and collaborative efforts between landholders and agencies have resulted in the voluntary stewardship of grassland species on over 750,000 acres in southern Alberta.

    For more information, see the MULTISAR website.

Working with others

Alberta’s working landscapes play an important role in achieving biodiversity and conservation outcomes. Key to their management is working with those who also use those lands. Below are some examples of the ways we work together with our partners, communities, Indigenous groups and industry to manage for conservation and biodiversity in Alberta.

Working with Indigenous Peoples

Our government is listening to the Indigenous peoples of Alberta who share a deep connection with the land.

Alberta is advancing discussions with several Indigenous communities regarding cooperative management of five northeast wildlands parks. Cooperative management allows for traditional knowledge to inform management planning and operation and is a commitment towards reconciliation through respecting the roles of different worldviews in stewarding these lands.

Alberta has an Indigenous Wisdom Advisory Panel that advises the Chief Scientist and the Government of Alberta regarding how to respectfully apply traditional ecological knowledge and Indigenous wisdom to Alberta’s Environmental Science Program.

Sub-regional planning

Sub-regional plans make good on the government’s commitment to take action on caribou recovery while maintaining local industry and jobs and building strong communities. In April 2022, the government finalized the Cold Lake and Bistcho Lake sub-regional plans, the first two of 11 sub-regional plans covering 15 caribou ranges in Alberta. Planning for other sub-regions is currently underway, with recommendations coming from the province’s caribou sub-regional task forces.

Moose Lake Access Management Plan

The Moose Lake Access Management Plan, finalized in February 2021, respects the exercise of traditional land uses and cultural practices of the Fort McKay First Nation, the Fort McKay Métis, and other Indigenous Peoples, and the maintenance of the area’s ecological integrity, while allowing the carefully managed development of resources. The plan sets a maximum of 15 per cent of the planning area that may be disturbed by industrial development at any given time, and significant measures must be in place to mitigate potential environmental effects related to development activities.

Recreation management

Recreation management in Alberta balances conservation of our natural resources and biodiversity with the growing desire for outdoor recreation opportunities, as well as economic development and the exercise of Treaty rights. This includes sustainably establishing and maintaining trails and trail networks, working collaboratively with partners, ensuring funding to support management and stewardship efforts, and providing “boots on the ground” resources to support good management.

Parks and protected areas

Parks and protected areas are a key tool to manage for biodiversity conservation in the province. Alberta is home to over 470 unique parks and protected areas, accounting for more than 15% of the province.

Alberta’s 6 UNESCO sites

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) works with countries around the world to identify World Heritage sites. These are special places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa's Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America. Alberta is home to 6 UNESCO World Heritage sites

Species management

The Alberta government plays an active role in recovering species at risk through policy and on-the-ground actions, ensuring healthy and robust wildlife populations through disease monitoring and management. Alberta works collaboratively with resource users and Indigenous groups. Below are some examples of the ways we manage the species in our province.

Species-at-risk recovery

Alberta’s government is committed to stabilizing, recovering and ultimately achieving naturally self-sustaining populations of at-risk species. To do so, we employ a combination of legislation, regulations, policy, land-use planning practices, stewardship and on-the-ground actions to conserve species at risk. Input from stakeholders, Indigenous groups and the public are used to develop practical recovery plans and build partnerships to implement effective conservation actions.

Native Trout Recovery Program

Alberta’s Native Trout Recovery Program is a comprehensive, long-term initiative aimed at conserving native trout and other coldwater fish populations in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes, including Athabasca rainbow trout, bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. Mountain whitefish and arctic grayling, which are species of conservation concern, also benefit from actions taken under this program as they have overlapping habitat.

Wildlife health and management

Wildlife health is a key indicator of a healthy environment that sustains all species. Monitoring the health of wildlife species provides insight into potential risk to many sectors of our economy, health and wellness, including agriculture, tourism, recreation and human health. Alberta is actively involved in the surveillance and management of avian influenza, chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis.

Ronald Lake Bison Herd

Under Alberta’s Wildlife Regulation, wild wood bison are now designated and protected as Threatened in specified Wildlife Management Units in northern Alberta. Alberta’s government has taken action to prohibit non-Indigenous hunting on the Ronald Lake bison population and establish the Ronald Lake Bison Herd cooperative management board and the Ronald Lake Bison Herd technical team in order to better support wood bison management and conservation.

Key programs

The use of targeted programs and funds is also a key approach in Alberta. See below for some examples of programs in the province that support biodiversity management.

Land Stewardship Program

The Land Stewardship Fund uses proceeds from the sale of public land to promote conservation of Alberta’s natural landscapes. The fund supports the conservation of land through either the Land Trust Grant Program or the Land Purchase Program. These grants support provincial conservation priorities, such as:

  • maintaining large patches of native landscape
  • conserving connecting corridors for biodiversity
  • sustaining disconnected pockets of native habitat within fragmented landscapes
  • supporting watershed functions for healthy aquatic ecosystems and water quality

Wetland Replacement Program

Wetlands are a vital part of Alberta’s ecological landscape and necessary for a sustainable economy and healthy communities. The Wetland Replacement Program provides financial resources for wetland restoration projects undertaken by municipalities, First Nations and non-profit organizations. The program prioritizes watersheds that have had the greatest loss of wetlands since 2015 and areas with the highest historical rates of wetland loss.

Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program

The Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program (WRRP) increases the natural ability of the province's watersheds to reduce the intensity, magnitude, duration and effects of flooding and drought through watershed mitigation measures. Since its launch in 2014, the WRRP has funded the restoration, enhancement and conservation of more than 750 hectares of wetlands and over 1,500 hectares of riparian areas covering more than 150 kilometres of streambank.

Contact

Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Phone: 780-427-2711
Toll free: 310-0000 before the phone number (in Alberta)

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